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California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

History of Managed Care

Zoos, general (D'Elia and Haig 2013; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)

  • 1967: A single California Condor brought to the Los Angeles Zoo
    • The sole individual in any zoo at this time
    • Named “Topatopa” (sometimes spelled “Topa Topa”)
  • 1976, 1978: Serious discussions of managed care breeding programs to save the species (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
  • 1982: Only 22 California Condors remain
  • 1983-1987: Managed care breeding programs established (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • Eggs laid by wild pairs brought into managed care for artificial incubation and hatching
      • Promotes replacement clutching to increase the number of eggs laid annually (i.e., reproductive rate)
    • Some mature birds brought into managed care when obvious that the last wild condors would die without a managed environment
  • 1987
    • Last wild California Condor brought into managed care
    • The species is extinct in the wild
    • 27 California Condors in managed care (10 reared in the wild, 17 reared in managed care)
  • 1988: First successful reproduction in managed care (at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park)
  • 1992: First California Condors released into the wild (in California)
  • 1993: The Peregrine Fund joins the San Diego Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo in managed care breeding efforts
  • 2003: Oregon Zoo becomes a breeding facility


San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

  • 1929: San Diego Zoo receives its first California Condor (California Condor: San Diego Zoo Animals)
    • Bird had a badly injured wing and could not be rehabilitated for release
  • 1940s-early 1950s: San Diego Zoo breeds Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) successfully
    • 1942: First breeding in managed care
    • Scientists and keepers demonstrate that breeding pairs can produce more than one egg per year (“replacement clutching”) (Toone and Risser 1988; D'Elia and Haig 2013)
  • 1949-1952: Belle Benchley, Director of the San Diego Zoo from 1927 to 1953, proposes breeding in managed care of California Condors to the Department of Fish and Game (Wildlife) (D'Elia and Haig 2013; Historical Correspondence of Belle Benchley, ZSSD-786)
    • Breeding in managed care, but not release of offspring, approved
    • Protested by some biologists and the National Audubon Society
    • San Diego Zoo’s trapping efforts fail
  • 1954: Opponents of managed care breeding take legal action, convincing the California Legislature to forbid the collection of any wild California Condors; efforts by the San Diego Zoo to capture wild birds for managed care breeding cease (D'Elia and Haig 2013)
  • 1966: San Diego Zoo hosts a landmark world conference: "The Role of Zoos in International Conservation of Wild Animals" (San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)
    • Pin with a condor depicted on it symbolizes the San Diego Zoo’s innovation and dedication towards these efforts
  • 1981 (San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline; Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • California Fish and Wildlife approves a managed care breeding program
    • Construction is completed on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s managed care breeding facility, dubbed " The Condorminium”
    • A wild pair is housed at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
  • 1983: San Diego Zoo hatches its first California Condor chick, “Sisquoc” (Scott and Snyder 1985; Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • Egg originated from the wild
    • Artificially incubated and hatched
    • Widely celebrated in the media
    • A second chick, “Sespe,” hatches later in the year (see photo, right)
  • 1983-1984: 12 chicks reared by San Diego Zoo Global (Toone and Witman, Condor Papers, ZSSD-786)
    • Eggs originate from the wild
    • Artificially incubated and hatched
  • 1987: Last bird from the wild is taken to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)
  • 1988: First successful egg-laying and hatching in managed care (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • Chick named “Molloko”
  • 1989: An additional California Condor breeding facility is completed at the Safari Park (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
  • 2000: Condor Ridge exhibit opens at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)
  • 2002-time of this writing (2016): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance leads effort to reintroduce California Condors to Baja California (Ignacio "Nacho" Vilchis, personal communication, 2017)
    • 50 condors released
    • 6 wild-hatched, as of 07 Feb 2017
    • Increase from 3 wild birds in 2002 to 35 wild birds in 2016
  • 2004: San Diego Zoo implements a “mentoring program,” where puppet-reared chicks learn from mature birds (Bukowinski et al. 2007; San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)
  • 2012: San Diego Zoo’s Condor Cam goes live, giving public audiences glimpses of two condors incubating an egg, and later, the chick hatch (San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)


Typical diet of adults (Snyder and Synder 2000; Michele Gaffney, personal communication, 2016)


  • Combination of small mammal meats and fish (trout)
    • Rabbit, mice, beef spleen, etc.
  • Condors eat 2-3 days per week
    • Mimics feeding under natural conditions
  • Averaged over one week, consume about 800 g (28 oz) of food daily




  • California Condors on exhibit (for guest viewing)
    • San Diego Safari Park: Condor Ridge
    • San Diego Zoo: Elephant Odyssey
  • Off-exhibit facility dedicated to breeding and rearing California and Andean Condors (Toone and Risser 1988)
    • Large housing areas, 6-7 m (19-23 ft) high
      • Allows limited flight
    • Water for drinking and bathing
    • Roosting and nesting areas
    • Facility areas from which keepers make behavior observations
    • Condor Cam: Live from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park


Breeding and rearing in Managed Care (Bukowinski et al. 2007; Toone and Witman, Condor Papers, ZSSD-786)

  • Eggs
    • Incubation temperature and humidity regulated
    • Eggs examined and turned to ensure proper embryo development
  • Hatchlings/chicks
    • Often monitored remotely via camera feeds during hatching; minimizes human disturbance and promotes full parent interaction
    • Hatchlings measured and weighed
    • If adult birds not able to raise, chicks sometimes raised by keepers using a puppet-like condor model (see photo, right)
  • Immatures and adults
    • Young condors may be "mentored" by adults birds
      • Promotes natural social behaviors, especially in preparation for survival and breeding in the wild
      • At 30 days old, chick given visual access to adults
      • After fledging (5-6 months), transferred to a large outdoor pen and housed with an adult condor
        • Remains with this "mentor" for 6-12 months prior to release
    • May be trained for release or incorporated into a managed care breeding program

Breeding Condors

a CA Condor breeding house

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park houses an off-exhibit facility for breeding and raising California and Andean Condors.

When only 22 California Condors remained in the wild in the early 1980s, this critical facility was developed to prevent the species from going extinct.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

200 Condor Chicks and Counting...

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Safari Park's condor breeding center.

© San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Light Reveals a Condor Embryo

San Diego Zoo candling a CA Condor egg

This technique, known as "candling," helps keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park monitor the growth and development of California Condor embryos.

Here, Senior Keeper Debbie Marlow holds a 2-week-old egg up to the light.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Birthday Cake—Flavored for a Scavenger

a CA Condor with a cake

California Condor, "Sespe," examines a special 30th birthday cake, made for her by San Diego Zoo Safari Park keepers.

The enrichment cake was constructed of cardboard and filled with treats that a condor would appreciate: mice, rats, meatballs, and beef spleen.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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