‘Time Jockey ’: CONDOR RECOVERY

by Joe Castillo

Extinction  ….   The California Condor is the largest North American land bird with a wing span averaging over 9 feet and a weight of over 26 pounds making it one of the largest North American bird species. It is one of the most durable of birds living up to an age of 60 years old. The condor is known as a scavenger bird of the vulture family and eats large amounts of carrion. In 1987, the California Condor became extinct but today has been re-introduced into the wilds of Southern California. This is the story of one attempt to re-introduce a condor into the California environment; it is the story of Chocuyens (cho-KOO-yens) which is the Chumash name meaning “valley of the moon.” Chocuyens was born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1991. His parents were AC8, the last female condor captured from the wild and AC5 also brought in from the wild in 1987. As part of being introduced into the wild, Chocuyens and three other condors were transported in enclosures to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in northern Ventura County on October 10, 1991. The condors remained in their pens for 3 months while being re-introduced into the environment and were then released to fly free into the Los Padres National Forrest. These were the first California condors to fly in California since 1987. Biologist fitted the condors with tracking devices and transmitters to follow their movements and placed carcasses near their release site in order to provide them with a steady source of lead-free food. On the afternoon of October 7, 1992, nearly one year after being re-introduced into the California environment, Chocuyens transmitter emitted a mortality signal indicated he had ceased moving. Trackers were sent to locate him and found his body and his 66 inch wingspan with no apparent cause of death. An autopsy revealed that Chocuyens had been poisoned by ingesting propylene glycol, a chemical used as a preservative in many food and tobacco products, and in animal products such as dog food.  The source of the poisoning could not be determined but before the incident Chocuyens was in good condition for the seven months he was set free to the wild. Since he and the other condors were the first to be released, they had no other adult mentors to guide them through life in the wild. Over a decade later, over 180 condors have been re-introduced into the California wild. With each new condor hatched in captivity, an adult condor is available to mentor them on living in the wild. The story of Chocuyens demonstrates the success and challenges of the California Condor Recovery Program. The successful recovery of the California Condor continues today but it still has a long way to go for a complete and successful recovery of the California Condor. In commemoration of Chocuyens, the first of the re-introduced California Condors, his story along with his preserved frame including his 66 inch wingspan are on display at California State University, Channel Islands…..

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