Four healthy chicks, new condor couples offer hope for endangered species
The Oregon Zoo concluded its longest California condor breeding season ever last week. The zoo's fourth and last chick of the year hatched Monday, June 29, at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in rural Clackamas County — more than five months after the season's first egg was laid on Jan. 27.
The newest hatchling's parents — male Alishaw and female Elewese — are typically the slowpokes of the breeding season, according to the zoo's senior condor keeper Kelli Walker.
"They're usually about a month behind the other breeding pairs every year," Walker said. "That's the way Elewese always does it."
This year, though, was the latest hatch date since the zoo started breeding the critically endangered birds in 2003 — a full two months after all the other chicks had hatched.
"Alishaw and Elewese just shut down for a couple weeks during breeding season," Walker said. "We thought they were done — and then they weren't. It was bizarre."
Walker described this season's batch of chicks as healthy, loud and full of fight — traits that could serve them well once they grow large enough for release into the wild.
Other breeding condor pairs this year were Kojjati and No. 295, whose chick hatched March 24; Willie and Timocho, whose chick hatched April 5; and Atishwin and Ojai, whose chick hatched on April 29.
This year — using GoPros purchased with a grant from the Oregon Zoo Foundation — the zoo is getting an inside-the-nest-box look as condor parents Willie and Timocho raise their chick.
"For years, the Jonsson Center has had low-resolution surveillance cameras in place to allow keeper observations of the birds," said zoo photographer Michael Durham. "But now we've got full HD video — this is some of the clearest close-up footage of a condor chick I've ever seen."
The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act and is classified as critically endangered. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained in the wild and by 1987, the last condors were taken into captivity in an attempt to save the species. Thanks to breeding programs like the Oregon Zoo's, condor numbers now total more than 400, with the majority of those flying free.