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California Condors To Be Released In Baja, California

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Aired 12/23/11

California condors may soon fly over Baja, California, as part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's conservation efforts.

Four California condors left the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this week for their new home in Sierra de San Pedro Martir in Baja, California. The birds will be released into the wild in April after finishing a Mexican-mandated quarantine, and acclimating to their new surroundings.

These condors date back to the Pleistocene era. The huge birds faced extinction because of eating carcasses contaminated with poisons like strychnine.

In the 1980s, there were only 27 birds left in the world. Conservation efforts have increased that number to 391 today.

Condors have a wingspan of nine-and-a-half feet and can soar for miles without flapping their wings.

"They are breathtaking," said Safari Park Conservation Manager Michael Wallace. "Flying in the Grand Canyon, flying in the Sierra San Pedro, sometimes you don't even see the bird, you might see a big shadow, you might hear the wind going through their wings. That's hard to forget."

But condors continue to face problems in their environment: They can be poisoned from eating animals killed with lead bullets, and the birds feed small pieces of trash - like bottle caps - to their chicks, thinking they are bones.

According to Wallace, leadless bullets, now on the market, will help reduce the danger. Hikers' awareness to pick up trash will also help; in fact, Wallace said awareness about the environment is key to the condors' survival.

"When you change the environment too fast for them to adapt, species will go extinct. And man has a habit of changing the environment very quickly. And we have to be careful because we could fall prey to the same problems," said Wallace.

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