Six California Condors Fly to Mexico—By Plane!

Allyson poses with pilots Phil and John, who generously volunteer their time to fly the condor to Mexico.

Allyson poses with pilots Phil and John, who generously volunteer their time to fly the condors to Mexico.

Each year, a small group of young California condors are selected from the pool of birds being bred by the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Oregon Zoo, and The Peregrine Fund for release to the wild at our reintroduction site in Baja California, Mexico. While genetics determines which are selected, a large amount of paperwork and logistics coordination between US and Mexican partners is required to determine a date for the transfer. This year, the date was set for April 4, 2014, and the transfer of six birds—the largest ever transfer to occur—involved two small planes and two four-wheel drive trucks to move our precious cargo from Los Angeles to its intended destination in the Sierra San Pedro de Martir National Park, Mexico.

The second plane, carrying its precious avian cargo, arrives at the small landing strip.

The second plane, carrying its precious avian cargo, arrives at the small landing strip.

Every step of this move is carefully planned and executed to ensure the safest, smoothest possible trip for the birds. As you may know, international travel can be stressful. It starts with visas and passports. All the birds have to have adequate documentation and permits prior to their move. Then comes the packing. Each bird has a specially fitted kennel to ensure a safe and secure environment for travel. Next, it’s time to head to the airport and through security. Los Angles Zoo staff delivered the birds to the Burbank airport, where Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors made sure all the paperwork was valid and in place. Dr. Mike Wallace and I accompanied our birds.

We flew to Burbank from San Diego early in the morning to meet the team and birds. Two of us accompanied the birds on this trip because two planes were necessary to fly all six birds to Mexico. Why two planes? Our destination runway is short—only small planes can land on the airstrip! This knowledge made me just a little nervous, since this was my first trip to Mexico, and flying is not my favorite mode of transportation. Dr. Wallace, on the other hand, has had years of experience in making this very special trip; so, too, had our pilots, Phil and John, who generously volunteer their time in the spirit of true conservationists. This knowledge was my mantra to keep my nerves in check!

MIke Wallace observes a condor exiting its travel crate.

MIke Wallace observes a condor exiting its travel crate.

After loading the birds onto the planes, our first destination was the Tijuana airport. Mexican officials greeted us and checked our cargo and paperwork. After that, we flew on across the Baja Peninsula, through the clouds and over beautiful layered mountain ranges to a ranch close to the Sierra San Pedro de Martir National Park. Flying in, the runway did look a little on the short side. We landed with dust billowing out behind the two small planes and me breathing a huge sigh of relief!

On the runway, an entourage of park staff, the condor staff team, and the military—in a Hummer—met us. The soldiers cheerfully inspected our cargo and were genuinely happy to learn about the return of the California condor to Mexico. Many hands meant the birds were swiftly transferred to two four -wheel drive trucks for the short drive up to the top of the National Park and to our quarantine aviary.

At the aviary, all six crated birds were lined up inside for release. Dr. Wallace opened the crate doors carefully and observed the behavior of each bird as it exited into its new environment. All six birds behaved normally, and after a few final observations, we left them to settle into their temporary new home. Several of them stretched their wings and seemed to revel in the fresh breeze blowing and the smell of the pine trees surrounding them on this very special sunny day in Mexico.

The condors can acclimatize to their new habitat in the safety of the quarantine aviary.

The condors can acclimatize to their new habitat in the safety of the quarantine aviary.

The birds will go through a short period of quarantine and will be released to the wild in late spring, joining the growing population of California condors flying free over this most spectacular national park. I was honored to bear witness to their safe transfer to Mexico and extend my immense gratitude to all the partners and donors who help make this incredible bi-national conservation program possible.

Allyson Walsh, Ph.D., is an associate director in the Applied Animal Ecology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Planning a Perfect Desert (Tortoise) Getaway.

10 Responses to Six California Condors Fly to Mexico—By Plane!

  1. This is wonderful news. :-) We had heard that Baja was getting a lot of birds this time. Best wishes to all of them in their new life. Thanks again to the team for all you do!

  2. I have been on the condorcam over the last week, and that cam is STILL NOT on the egg that’s supposed to hatch this month! All I see is a WALL, not the nest with the egg in it. Will you PLEASE put the cam BACK ON THE EGG, OK?? We will all appreciate it alot!! Hope to see the egg and momma condor sitting on that egg TOMORROW when I get back on the condorcam!
    Thanks,
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

  3. Most awesome to the safe delivery of the condors.

    And yeah, would be nice to have the camera back on the egg opposed to the wall eventually :)

  4. I would love to see condors and/or an egg rather than the unattractive wall that’s been on the cam for too long. Thanks!

    Monitor’s note: Poppy and Judy, we apologize. You should see it now. We’ve been having some power fluctuations at the Park, so sometimes the cam does not respond. We are working on resolving this issue.

  5. Where any of the birds in the April Mexico release from SDZ Safari Park?

    Allyson responds: No, these particular birds were bred by The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and transferred and held for a period of time by the Los Angeles Zoo.

  6. Just got on the condorcam tonite, and you finally got the cam back on momma condor sitting on her egg! Thanks!! Haven’t seen a chick yet, but will keep a close watch for the new chick to hatch out real soon. What’s your due date, anyway? Momma doing a great job sitting on her egg right now. What’s the momma condor’s name that’s on the condorcam now? Please let us know, ok? Will be back later on.
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

    Monitor’s note: We’ll have a new blog soon that will update Condor Cam viewers.

    • Thanks for letting us know about your new update about the condor egg.
      The condorcam is looking at the wall again! Just thought I let you know! I was getting on the cam to check on the momma condor and her egg, but I saw the wall instead. Hope you can get the cam issues fixed real soon. We all want to see momma condor and her new chick instead of the wall!
      Chari Mercier :)
      St. Petersburg, FL

  7. Got on the condorcam today, and I saw THE EGG instead of the wall! Thanks for straightening out the cam for us! What is the due date for that egg to hatch? Anybody know? Is Towich the mom or dad? Is Sulu the mom or dad? Can’t tell right now! Let us know what’s going on in there, ok? You are doing a great job helping these condors keep going and repopulate the wild condors in California!
    Chari Mercier :)
    St. Pete, FL

    Monitor’s note: Towich is the male, Sulu the female.

  8. Hi again! I just got on the condorcam today, and the flight pen cam is on instead of showing Towich and Sulu’s egg in the nest box. What happened there? Looking for your update about their egg because I’m wondering if this egg hatched or not! Looks like you all are not having a good year with condor eggs this year! Let us know what’s going on there, ok?
    Thanks,
    Chari Mercier :(
    St. Pete, FL

    Monitor’s note: We’ll have a blog to post by Friday about the comings and goings of the condors—it’s all good!

  9. Monitor, Thank you for the note. I’m glad to hear it’s all good for the condors. I was getting really worried because we keep seeing outside instead of inside the nest box.