Oakland Zoo Partners With Wildlife Group On Interactive Condor Camera

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A rare and endangered California condor lands on a ledge in Marble Gorge, east of Grand Canyon National Park, on March 24, 2007 west of Page, Arizona. Condor managers taking blood samples from the 57 wild condors in Arizona both before and after hunting season find that all 57 condors test positive for contamination by lead matching the isotropic fingerprint of the lead commonly used in ammunition, and that those levels rise significantly by the end of the season. Many of the condors become so sick that biologists must re-capture them for lead-poisoning treatments. Several die each year. Experts believe the condors are ingesting the lead as they scavenge gut piles left behind hunters because lead bullets shatter and fragment inside the kill. Officials in Arizona are encouraging hunters to use copper bullets instead of lead-based ammunition and in California, a coalition of conservation groups has sued the California Fish and Game Commission in an effort to force a ban on lead ammunition in Condor ranges. The condors in the Marble Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs area easily fly as far west as Lake Mead, by way of the Grand Canyon, and to Zion National Park and far into Utah. With a wingspan up to 9 ? feet, they are the largest flying birds in North America. In 1982, when the world population of California condors dropped to only 22 and extinction was believed eminent, biologist captured them and began a captive breeding and release program which has increased the total population to 278, of which 132 now live in the wild in Arizona, California, and Baja California, Mexico. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A rare and endangered California condor. (David McNew/Getty Images)

BIG SUR (CBS SF) – The Oakland Zoo and a Monterey County wildlife group on Monday debuted a live “Condor Cam” that allows the public to view endangered California condors in a remote mountain area above Big Sur.

The zoo partnered with the Salinas-based Ventana Wildlife Society on the webcam project. The camera, located in a canyon about 2 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, is connected to a wireless system that allows the online feed, Ventana’s chief biologist for condors Joe Burnett said.

The camera was installed beside a feeding station where Ventana places meat from calves discarded by ranchers for the condors to eat, allowing biologists to monitor the endangered birds, Burnett said.

“We’ll be able to account for the birds better,” Burnett said. “The only way you can tell if they are surviving is to get a head count.”

The feeding station provides the scavenger birds with clean meat, free of the lead that can be found in animals such as coyotes and squirrels that have been shot by farmers.

Condors sometimes eat those animals and can suffer from lead poisoning, which is a leading cause of death for the birds, he said.

Currently, condors with lead poisoning have to be driven about eight hours to the Los Angeles Zoo, which has the nearest animal hospital able to treat the birds.

However, in a couple of months, the Oakland Zoo will begin treating sickened condors at its veterinary hospital, making the drive much shorter, Burnett said.

The clean-meat feeding stations are “not something we want to do, but we have to do,” Burnett said.

The non-profit Ventana group, which worked on the reintroduction of the endangered American bald eagle in the 1970s, is licensed by the federal and state governments to rehabilitate condors that were sick or raised in captivity and release them to the wild, Burnett said.

The camera project, which cost between $15,000 and $20,000, is the result of a collaboration with the Oakland Zoo, which secured the wireless connection and enlisted FedEx to donate funds for it, Burnett said.

A camera firm called Camzone built and provided the special pan-tilt camera, Burnett said.

The condor cam can be found at www.ventanaws.org.

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