L.A. Zoo Celebrates the 50th Birthday of Critically Endangered California Condor Topatopa

CONTACT: L.A. Zoo Press

April 25, 2016

Genetically Valuable Breeding Condor Sired His 34th Chick This Month!
Links To B-Roll Of Topatopa And His 34th Chick Below!

North America’s oldest known California condor turns 50 this month! Topatopa, or Topa for short, was the first wild-born California condor brought into captivity in 1967. Although the exact day of his birth is unknown, experts are almost certain he was born in April 1966 as 90 percent of wild condors hatch in April. Topa has since thrived at the Los Angeles Zoo’s California Condor Breeding Facility, siring 34 chicks and counting while strengthening the population of a critically endangered species that was once on the brink of extinction.

“Topa is one of the most, if not the most, genetically valuable California condor in the world,” said Mike Maxcy, Curator of Birds at the Los Angeles Zoo. “He is so special because he is of wild stock and unrelated to many of the original founders. Topa came to us at a critical time when there were only 22 birds left in the wild, and he has been instrumental in increasing the population of California condors in captivity and the wild.”

Los Angeles Zoo Condor TopatopaTopatopa, named after the Topatopa Mountain Range of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, could have remained a wild bird had he not left his nest prematurely. At around nine months old without the nurturing of his parents, the young bird began to starve. The National Audubon Society and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service captured the bird after spending eight days observing him sitting in a tree without eating. If something was not done soon, both parties knew the bird would die of starvation or an attack from other predators.

The sickly bird was transported to the L.A. Zoo in hopes that animal care staff could rehabilitate him by regaining his strength and increasing his weight so that he may be released back into the wild. The attempted release later that month was unsuccessful, and he returned to the L.A. Zoo for further treatment and rehabilitation. It was decided that he would remain at the L.A. Zoo because any further reintroductions into the wild might result in the loss of the bird.

Topa grew into a fearless and strong adult bird with a wing span of nine to 10 feet and a weight of 25 pounds. The condor began breeding in 1993 at 23 years old and has proven to be an excellent breeder with the two female condors he has been paired with over the years, Malibu and Tsuts. He went on to sire 34 chicks, one of which recently hatched on April 4 and is being foster raised by wild condors at the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in Fillmore, California. Topa will continue to breed for as long as he is willing and able, but animal care staff doesn’t know when that day will come.

Photo by Mike Clark

Photo by Mike Clark

“No one really knows what the life expectancy of a California condor is,” said Maxcy. “Of the wild birds Topa is the only one left that we know the exact age. He’s turning 50 this month, and we don’t really know if that’s middle age or nearing the end of his life. But, Topa is still fathering eggs and doing great, so we are hopeful he’ll be around for a long time yet.”

It is estimated that there are around 415 California condors left in North America, and the number fluctuates daily due to many outside influences that leave the birds sick and injured such as habitat loss, DDT contamination, consumption of microtrash in their environment, and above all, lead poisoning from eating bullet fragments in animals killed with lead bullets.

The California Condor Recovery Program is a joint effort between many different organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Peregrine Fund, Ventana Wildlife Society, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the Oregon Zoo. The Los Angeles Zoo has been a key player in the recovery program since its inception in 1982. The zoo’s veterinarians provide medical care for the majority of the condors in California. The animal care staff who care for the Zoo’s condors, both the permanent residents and those passing through for medical treatment or rehabilitation, also venture into condor territory to assist with field work. The L.A. Zoo’s interactive play space, the California Condor Recovery Zone, educates young visitors about this majestic bird and the L.A. Zoo’s role in its recovery.

B-roll of Topatopa at the Los Angeles Zoo’s California Condor Breeding Facility:
https://we.tl/Lb7nTQVfHR (Video credit: Mike Clark, L.A. Zoo Condor Animal Keeper)

Topa’s 34th chick hatched on April 4 and is being foster raised by wild birds at the Sespe Condor Sancturary. The following live feed shows the chick in the nest with his foster family and is a joint project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

About the Los Angeles Zoo
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the landmark Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, drawing 1.6 million visitors each year, is home to a diverse collection of 1,100 animals representing 250 different species, many of which are rare or endangered. Its lush grounds on 113 acres feature a botanical collection comprising over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. The Zoo is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $20 for adults and $15 for children ages 2 to 12. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo Web site at www.lazoo.org.