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THE REGION

Last of 3 Wild Condor Chicks Is Found Dead

October 23, 2002|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

Despite high expectations and intensive monitoring, a new generation of California condors born in the wild became officially extinct Tuesday, when the last of three chicks was found dead in a remote sandstone cave.

The cause of death is unknown, but wildlife officials say the chick's demise is a blow to the $35-million program aimed at reintroducing North America's largest bird to the wild.

"It's an emotional loss and more of a step backward than we wanted," said Bruce Palmer, coordinator of the California Condor Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We wanted these fledglings out there, but we never would have guessed that we would have had three chicks this year."

The birds were the offspring of adults raised in captivity and later released. Biologists hoped the chicks would be the start of a new generation of condors uncontaminated by human contact. Before these chicks hatched, it had been 18 years since a condor was born in the wild.

The chicks, which lived in separate caves in Los Padres National Forest, were all about 5 months old and on the verge of flying when the first one died three weeks ago. The second died last week and the third was found Tuesday.

Although the first bird's cause of death remains undetermined, the second chick had numerous foreign objects in its stomach and gizzard. During a necropsy at the San Diego Zoo, pathologists found 12 bottle caps, shards of glass, electrical fixtures, screws and washers inside the turkey-sized chick.

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