A Historic Milestone: San Diego Zoo Safari Park Welcomes 200th Critically Endangered California Condor Chick
At a quiet off-exhibit area at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, animal care staff is celebrating a momentous milestone for the California condor breeding program. Kiwanan (pronounced key-won-on), became the 200th critically endangered California condor to hatch at the Park since the program started almost four decades ago. This brings the world’s total California condor population to well over 470 individuals—more than half of which are now flying free in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.
Kiwanan, which means “goodbye” in the Native American Chumash language, was born 36 days ago to father Siwon (pronounced see-won) and mother Sola (pronounced so-la). The chick will soon go through a health assessment, in which staff will weigh the chick, administer a West Nile virus vaccination and a take a blood sample to determine its sex.
Animal care staff said each condor hatching and rearing experience is deeply personal for them. They said there is always wonder in seeing a chick emerge from its egg and knowing that with each California condor hatched, the species is moving further from extinction.
“Every single condor chick is such a monumental thing,” said Erin Womack, senior bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “I grew up in Escondido. I grew up learning about the California condor and what the Safari Park has done for them. To actually be involved in what’s happening up here is such an incredible experience.”
California condors are listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In the early 1980s, scientists counted only 22 California condors left in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked San Diego Zoo Global and the Los Angeles Zoo to step in to safeguard the species, in an effort to save it from imminent extinction. The first successful reproduction of these condors in a breeding center occurred in 1988 at the Safari Park—and since then, at least one chick as been born at the Safari Park each year, making the California condor a noteworthy conservation success story.
“This milestone highlights our efforts to end extinction,” said Michael Mace, curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We expect the chick to leave the nest at approximately five months old. Soon after, we plan to move it to our remote socialization pen to prepare it for eventual release in California, Arizona, or Mexico.”
The chicks at the breeding site are only viewable through monitors or online—and that goes for both staff and guests. This strict hands-off approach while the chicks are young keeps them naturally wary of humans, which is vital for increasing their survivability once they are released. Guests can get a glimpse one of this year’s young condor chicks and its parents by viewing San Diego Zoo Global’s live Condor Cam.