The Critically Endangered California condor (Gymnogps californianus) once ranged from British Columbia to Baja California, Mexico, but declined to just 22 individuals in the wild in 1982.
After the removal of all surviving birds into captivity in 1987, an intensive conservation program involving reintroduction and release of captive-bred birds has led to a small but increasing population of this species in the wild. Human-caused threats pose the major obstacle for wild condors to survive without costly intervention; lead poisoning and eating garbage such as bottle caps are the biggest threats to this iconic bird.
This SOS - Save Our Species project, implemented through the San Diego Zoo, will restore the critically endangered California condor to the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir of northern Baja California.
The San Diego Zoo team, lead by Dr. Allyson Walsh began releasing captive-hatched condors into these mountains in 2003 and at the start of this project in 2012 had a population of 19 free-flying condors and the beginnings of reproduction activities at the site. The team planned to release four to eight condors annually until the anticipated carrying capacity of 20 pairs is reached.
Given their flight capabilities, Walsh and her team anticipated that reintroduced condors will ultimately range from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of California, as well as northward across the U.S. border, providing an important link to existing reintroduced populations in California and contributing significantly to long-term species recovery goals.
Specific outcomes include: long-term monitoring of released birds as they expand their range, form territories and reproduce, using radio-telemetry and satellite GPS technology, in-depth behavioral research to help conservationists produce the most successful and socially-adept release candidates, scientific capacity-building and educational outreach in local communities.
The primary objective is to establish a self-sustaining population of condors in the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir, Baja California, Mexico, as a counter measure to their extinction elsewhere in their former range.
As a release site, Baja has been spared intensive human development and therefore the risks from the two major factors limiting recovery elsewhere, microtrash and lead ammunition, are much reduced here, giving the birds a higher chances of success.