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Public Invited to Witness First Flight of Two Juvenile California Condors

On Saturday, November 1, up to 2 California condors will be released into the wild at Pinnacles National Monument, 80 miles south of San Jose. The public is invited to attend the event, with ceremonies beginning at 10:00 a.m., to witness the first free flights of these condors from a viewing area located approximately 3/4 mile from the release site. This viewing area is normally closed to the public. The release will take place on the east side of the park off of Highway 25. Shuttle services from designated parking areas will transport guests to within 1.5 miles of the viewing area. Guests unable to walk the trail can request special assistance. Spotting scopes or binoculars, water, layered clothing, portable chair, a picnic lunch, and good hiking shoes are highly recommended. Car pooling is encouraged since parking is limited, and is on a first come, first served basis. Arrival between 7:30 and 8:30 is recommended in order to reach the viewing area before 10 a.m. Because of the significance of this event, Superintendent Eric Brunnemann has waived the entrance fees for the day so that everyone has the opportunity to participate.

"We are encouraged by the success of this program and the support of the local communities and park neighbors," said Brunnemann. "The return of the California condor to the central coast of California provides excellent opportunities for condor viewing in the park, and we are proud to be a part of the recovery of this magnificent species."

Seven juvenile condors -- 3 female and 4 male -- will be set free in Pinnacles National Monument this fall, joining the park's fifteen wild resident condors. Up to 2 birds may be "soft released" through a double-door trap released on November 1, and once these birds give indications that are acclimating to their new surroundings, the park plans to release the remaining juveniles over the following weeks. There is a chance that no birds will enter the trap on the day of the event. However, there is a good chance to see previously released free flying birds. The 1-2 year old juvenile condors are a result of successful captive breeding programs at the Peregrine Fund World Center of Birds of Prey in Boise, ID and the Los Angeles Zoo. All of Pinnacles' releases have been "soft releases" using a double-door trap because it is less stressful on the birds. This technique relies on using a special trap built into the side of the flight pen, one door being open to the inside of the pen and the other to outside and freedom. The interior door normally remains open to allow the condors to become familiar with the interior of the trap. For release purposes, once a condor enters the trap, the inner door is closed and the outer door is opened to allow it to fly free.

This is the fifth release of the endangered birds at Pinnacles. Ultimately, project biologists anticipate building a sustainable population of up to 30 condors at Pinnacles, a historic condor nesting area, over the next several years. The reintroduction of California condors to Pinnacles is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles Partnership in collaboration with the California Condor Recovery Team.

Pinnacles Partnership, a friends group formed by several local citizens in 2006, supports projects at Pinnacles that are critical to protecting and restoring park lands. These projects range from supporting condor recovery efforts at Pinnacles, celebrating the park's centennial anniversary, and supporting schools' abilities to use Pinnacles as an outdoor classroom. This non-profit organization exists thanks to caring contributors in the community.

Ventana Wildlife Society, which has been conducting condor releases in Big Sur, California since 1997, teamed up with the National Park Service in 2002 to reintroduce condors to Pinnacles National Monument.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho and the Oregon Zoo breed condors destined for release in California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico. The Pinnacles condor release is an important link in the overall condor recovery effort.

From a population low of 22 birds in the mid-1980s, condors have rebounded through intensive captive breeding efforts and rigorous educational programs explaining human-caused threats to condors' survival. Especially important is work that the Institute for Wildlife Studies is doing to demonstrate the connection of lead ammunition fragments to condor mortality and the availability of non-lead alternatives. As of September 30, 2008, the total world population of California condors was 165 in captivity and 162 are in the wild.

Further details of the release event are available on the Pinnacles National Monument website or by calling Pinnacles National Monument at 831-389-4485.

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