Stretching 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip, these exquisite birds are a critically endangered species. Only 23 condors existed worldwide as recently as 1982.
One of the primary threats to the survival of these scavenger birds is lead ammunition, as eating animal remains laced with lead can poison and kill them, and DDT insecticides, which thin condor eggshells and cause them to break prematurely.
By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program, including one at the Oregon Zoo. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing captive-bred condors back into the wild in 1992.
In 2021, the majestic scavenger returned to the Pacific Northwest’s skies after a century’s absence, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Yurok Tribe. Today the global population of wild and captive condors is more than 500. But another threat to these birds looms in the distance.
More than 20 condors have died this year from the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, which is typically spread during seasonal migrations. The USDA approved the emergency use of a HPAI vaccine trial conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and three West Coast zoos, including the Oregon Zoo. Early results offer some hope: 60% of condors that received the vaccine produced measurable antibodies.
“If left unchecked, the disease could undo decades of conservation work in the blink of an eye,” said Dr. Carlos Sanchez, director of animal health at the Oregon Zoo.