Background and Recovery
Then and Now
When Europeans arrived in North America, condors could be found all throughout the mountain regions along the Pacific Coast. But due in large part to habitat loss, illegal shootings, and lead poisoning, by 1985 the entire wild known population had been reduced to just nine birds. That’s when a decision was made to bring all of the remaining wild birds into captivity to preserve the species through captive breeding and eventual reintroduction.
The last free-flying California condor was captured in April of 1987. Fortunately, California condors breed well in captivity and by 1991, a sufficient number of California condors had been bred to allow the bird to be reintroduced into the wild. Today, there are nearly 400 condors in the world, with more than 200 flying high in the wild.
Key Recovery Milestones
In 1953, the condor was listed as a Fully Protected Species under California state statute. Over the next two decades, the birds gained additional state and federal protections, strengthened by the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973.
From 1987 to 1991, the entire population of California condors existed in two captive breeding facilities—one at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the other at the Los Angeles Zoo. Then, on January 14, 1992, two captive-reared juveniles were released into the wild along with two juvenile Andean condors. This day marked the official return of the California condor to the wild.
In October 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to protect California condors from lead poisoning by requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting big game within the condor’s current and historic range. Two months later, the California Fish and Game Commission passed historic regulations as a result of the new law. These regulations went into effect on July 1, 2008.