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Condor in Wild Electrocuted by Power Lines

June 02, 1993|JEFF MEYERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — For the second time in nine months, an endangered California condor from a Ventura County sanctuary has been accidentally killed by a man-made hazard, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported Tuesday.

The deaths of the two giant birds--the first killed by ingesting antifreeze and the second electrocuted Friday when it brushed against high-voltage power lines--have wildlife officials planning to move six surviving condors to a more remote area in Santa Barbara County.

A 1-year-old female condor named Niko was electrocuted in the hills above Fillmore while attempting to join six other condors atop a power pole. Witnesses said the bird touched a wing and its body against separate lines, completing a circuit that jolted the condor with 17,000 volts.

Of the eight condors released into the Sespe Condor Sanctuary since January, 1992, six survive. Last October, a 15-month-old condor died near Pyramid Lake after ingesting antifreeze that had been dumped on the ground.

The deaths of the condors--in addition to the arrests last March of two men who allegedly tried to shoot one of the birds--have convinced Fish & Wildlife officials that the Sespe sanctuary is too close to civilization, especially with condors capable of ranging over hundreds of square miles a day.

The agency is planning to move the birds out of Ventura County to the more remote San Rafael Wilderness in Santa Barbara County.

"We want to move them as far away as possible," Fish & Wildlife biologist Jennifer Gibson said.

The condors will not be physically removed but will be "manipulated" into vacating the Sespe sanctuary, Gibson said. "We'll control their behavior by moving their feeding sites west" toward San Rafael's Lion's Canyon, where the next brood of condor chicks will be released in December.

Releasing condors into the wild is part of a $15-million program to bring the species back from the edge of extinction. Only 76 California condors exist, all but six in zoos.

In the next year, Gibson said, the Fish & Wildlife Service intends to release condors in Santa Barbara County, the Grand Canyon and New Mexico. By 1997, experts expect 30 to 40 condors to be living in the wild. Some will not survive, Gibson said.

The 19-pound condor was taken to the San Diego Zoo, where an examination found no additional signs of injury or disease but did turn up an interesting twist: Niko was female, not male as originally believed. Of the six remaining condors, only two are male.

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