Condor Rescue in the Grand Canyon

Posted at 9:23 am March 3, 2006 by Valerie Stoddard

In 1996, six California condors were released into the wild near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Condors hadn’t been seen in this area since the turn of the 20th century, and it was the beginning of an ongoing effort to reestablish the nearly extinct species.

Yesterday (March 2), the Wild Animal Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Center (HVMC) received an urgent call from the Phoenix Zoo, which medically supports the condor release program in Arizona and had just received a desperately ill bird. Condors in this ongoing cooperative release program are regularly monitored visually and with radio transmitters. The 10-year old male condor, ” Condor 9601,” that was part of the group released 9 years ago was discovered on the floor of the Grand Canyon, sick and unable to move.

Upon arrival to the Phoenix Zoo, veterinarians gathered data from blood samples that revealed dangerously high levels of lead in the condor’s body. It is unclear where the lead poisoning had originated, but now time was of the essence and a blood transfusion was the chosen treatment at this critical stage.

Phoenix Zoo has no condors available at their facility from which to obtain the much-needed blood, so their veterinarian contacted Wild Animal Park Condor and Veterinary Services departments, urgently requesting donor blood for the emergency transfusion. The departments acted quickly and with as much concern for the bird as they would have if it were still in our care. The critically ill bird was hatched here at the Wild Animal Park in 1996, so being given the opportunity to participate in its treatment is considered a privilege by our animal care staff.

Arrangements were made by Wild Animal Park staff to get another condor’s blood to Arizona first thing this morning. Condor ” Simerrye” was chosen as the donor, and quickly brought to the hospital where veterinarian Jack Allen and hospital support staff prepared for the emergency procedure.

Simerrye’s blood was drawn and carefully bottled in preparation for overnight shipment to Phoenix. The bird was monitored for a time and then released back to his enclosure, unaware that he was contributing, along with HVMC and Phoenix Zoo hospital staff, to the rescue of his distant cousin so far away.

The blood was delivered this morning, and the transfusion scheduled to take place immediately. We don’t yet know the outcome of condor ” 9601″ in Arizona, but are anxiously awaiting word from Phoenix Zoo medical staff. No matter the outcome, the many people reaching across hundreds of miles to help one free-flying condor has been a valiant effort.

An update of the condor’s condition will be available in the next HVMC blog.

Valerie Stoddard is the senior administrative assistant at the Wild Animal Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center.

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13 Responses to “Condor Rescue in the Grand Canyon”

  1. Delanie says:

    Poor bird…lead poisoning??? That’s rather odd.

  2. Valerie Stoddard says:

    Hi Delanie, thanks for reading about our condor rescue! Lead poisoning in condors doesn’t happen often, but it does happen from time to time. This could be due to the fact that their source of food is most often dead animal carcasses (condors are vultures, after all). Unfortuately, some of the carcasses that they consume are from animals that were shot with lead bullets and left behind. If they have ingested the lead in this way, over time it builds up in their bloodstream, making them very sick.

  3. Stacy says:

    Sending a little prayer for ” 9601″ . Please let us know his outcome.

  4. Shirley Sykes says:

    Thank you, Valerie, for letting us know. I’m sure many prayers are with 9601. His illness highlights one of the many problems facing animals trying to repopulate areas now pretty much taken over by that most dangerous of all ominvores, the human being. Until we all become concerned about the consequences of our actions and take steps to prevent those consequences, the many critically endangered species will continue to walk a precarious tightrope. We all owe many, many thanks to the HVMC, CRES, the Phoenix Zoo, and all the other zoos and institutions participating in the Species Survival program!!

  5. Valerie Stoddard says:

    Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, Stacy. I have no doubt that Mr. ” 9601″ is getting the best care available, and there will be a detailed update next week as to his recovery. The last information we received is that he is ” perkier” and responding to treatment.

  6. S. Venard says:

    Thank goodness a tranfusion is even possible. Wishing the best outcome possible.

  7. Valerie Stoddard says:

    It is critical and rewarding work that is done by institutions participating in the Species Survival Program. This is just one example of their dedication. It makes me proud to be a part, and to be able to share the good work with all of you!

  8. Pamela G says:

    Thank you, Valerie. I am holding 9601 in my thoughts. Once he is stronger, is there any way to help him purge the lead from his system? And have the released condors had any chicks? Saving these great birds from the very edge of extinction has been a long struggle. You and your colleagues should be very proud.

  9. Stacy says:

    Thank you, Valerie, for ” talking” with us. I will look forward to the update, as it sounds like 9601 is doing better. Perky is good! You and your team should be very proud of the work you are doing. And thanks to Simerrye for being a donor!

  10. Jeannie says:

    Thanks, Valerie, for telling us about…oh, let’s call him ” Harry” (I hate numbers – he needs a real name :o) ). I’ve been watching the site all week hoping for an update – any word yet on our precious bird? I’m just so happy there are people like all of you who work in zoos around the world who can help in situations like this. I’m just curious, who found ” Harry” and took him to the Phoenix Zoo? Thank God they did.

    Thanks Valerie!

  11. jennifer given says:

    I adore all birds, what is the status of this one?

    thank you!

    birdlover jenn given

  12. Valerie Stoddard says:

    Hi again, and thanks to all of you for your great comments and questions! Regarding purging the lead from ” Harry’s” :o) system, there are medications used to treat birds that have lead poisoning. However, in severe cases there can be damage that might take anywhere from a few days to weeks to recover from, even after the lead is removed from their bodies.

    On a brighter note, I can tell you (thanks to Joy DiGenti from our bird department for this information!) that there have been several successful egg hatches from these birds in the wild. Out of more than 20 eggs laid between 2002 to present, there are half as many chicks remaining in the wild. There are many circumstances that cause eggs to fail or why chicks don’t survive, which adds to the difficult task of protecting these beautiful birds. We’re grateful for each one that defies the odds, and hopeful that the number of successful hatches will rise in the future.

    Lastly, we are hoping for an update on ” Harry’s” (9601) condition sometime today or tomorrow, and I’ll be sure to pass that information along to you here. Your good wishes are appreciated by all!

  13. Steve says:

    Valerie & Shirley,

    All I can say is thank you and well done. I just returned from the Grand Canyon 29th of April and was privileged to see these magnificent birds up close circling above me, for about 25 minutes on and off. All six of them, so I assume your transplant was a success! My first sighting, I thought they were turkey vultures but their size was massive. I have seen many raptors across East and Southern Africa over the years, but this was truly special. Correction, I see you have had 10 hatches there, so does that mean you are now monitoring 16 in the Wild at the Canyon? If so, I do hope that bird recovered well. Looking at research back to the 80s, it seems that all involved have done a phenomenal job considering the odds and the patience and the committment to get to this level. I had not really known about or paid attention to this bird prior to last week, but now having seen them (courtesy of you and those like you), I would like to see how I can contribute in any way. Thankfully, Steve (in San Francisco)

    P.S. You may have done this already, but if not, I assume you have educational videos on these birds, would be a good idea to play over the next PBS pledge drive as a source of funds, also the type of people giving to PBS, (perhaps many like me not having really previously known about the plight of these birds, and the uplifting story, of course) would surely be like-minded and willing to contribute. Regardless, good luck, I can only but admire people who can be so focused on something so difficult.