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On Saturday, April 21, up to three California condors will be released into the wild at Pinnacles National Monument, 80 miles south of San Jose. The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 9:30 a.m., to witness the first free flights of these condors from a viewing area located approximately ¾ mile from the facility. The release will take place on the east side of the park off of Highway 25. Shuttle services from designated parking areas will transport guests to within a mile and a quarter of viewing area. Guests unable to walk the remaining mile can request special assistance. Spotting scopes, binoculars, water, layered clothing and good hiking shoes are highly recommended. Parking is limited, and is on a first come, first served basis. Car pools are encouraged; arrival by 7:30 a.m. is recommended. Because of the significance of this event, Superintendent Eric Brunnemann has waived the entrance fees for the day so that everyone has the opportunity to participate.
“We are extremely encouraged by the success of this program and the support of the local communities and park neighbors,” said Park Superintendent Eric Brunnemann. “The birds are thriving, the visitors are thrilled with routine condor sightings in the park, and we are proud to be a part of the recovery of this magnificent species.”
Five juvenile condors -- 2 female and 3 male -- will be set free in Pinnacles National Monument this spring, joining the park’s thirteen wild resident condors. Up to three birds may be “soft released” through a double-door trap on April 21, and once these birds give indications that are acclimating to their new surroundings, the others will likely be released over the following week. There is a chance that no birds will enter the trap. If this happens, the release will be postponed. The five juvenile condors are 10 months old and were hatched at the Peregrine Fund World Center of Birds of Prey in Boise, ID and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
All of Pinnacles’ releases have been “soft releases” using a double-door trap because it is less stressful on the birds. This technique relies on using a special trap built into the side of the flight pen, one door being open to the inside of the pen and the other to outside and freedom. The interior door normally remains open to allow the condors to become familiar with the interior of the trap. For release purposes, once a condor enters the trap, the inner door is closed and the outer door is opened to allow it to fly free.
This is the fourth release of the endangered birds at the park. Ultimately, project biologists anticipate releasing a sustainable population of up to 30 condors at Pinnacles, a historic breeding ground for the massive birds, over the next several years. The reintroduction of California condors to Pinnacles is a cooperative effort between Pinnacles Partnership, the Ventana Wildlife Society, and the National Park Service in partnership with the California Condor Recovery Team.
Pinnacles Partnership, a friends group formed by several local citizens, was established last fall to support projects at Pinnacles that are critical to protecting and restoring park lands. These projects range from sustaining the California condor reintroduction project, celebrating the park’s centennial anniversary, and supporting schools' abilities to use Pinnacles as an outdoor classroom. This fledgling organization exists thanks to caring contributors in the community.
Ventana Wildlife Society, which has been conducting condor releases in Big Sur, California since 1997, teamed up with the National Park Service in 2003 to reintroduce condors to Pinnacles National Monument.
The San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho and the Oregon Zoo breed condors destined for release in California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico. The Pinnacles condor release is an important link in the overall condor recovery effort.
From a population low of 22 birds in the mid-1980s, condors have rebounded through intensive captive breeding efforts and rigorous educational programs explaining the connection of lead to condor mortality and the availability of non-lead alternatives. As of March 1, 2007, 151 California condors are in captivity, and 128 are in the wild. The initial goal for California is to have 150 free-flying condors in the state.
Further details of the release event are available on the Pinnacles National Monument website at www.nps.gov/pinn or by calling Pinnacles National Monument at 831-389-4485 extension 265. General park information can be obtained by visiting www.nps.gov/pinn or by calling 831- 389-4485 extension 0.