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Blaze also endangers population of condors

Times Staff Writer

Among the residents of Big Sur displaced by the fire are dozens of endangered California condors that have been carefully bred and released into the Ventana Wilderness.

Two weeks ago, the Coast Guard airlifted eight young birds that were not ready for release from a holding pen at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur to another shelter at Pinnacles National Monument east of the Salinas Valley.

But wildlife experts are worried about the 43 condors living in the wild in the Big Sur area -- particularly three chicks in nests within the fire zone.

“We can’t presume anything, but those chicks have a major uphill battle to survive,” said biologist Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

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Sorenson said the fire had kept observers out of condor territory for a week. Aerial surveillance indicated that one of the nests, high in a redwood tree, may have burned.

Thirty of the more mature condors living around Big Sur are banded with transmitters that beam a radio signal a short distance. Of the remaining 10, which carry more sophisticated GPS devices, one has been spotted as far away as Atascadero, about 100 miles southeast of Big Sur.

“It’s a really challenging time -- not only for the birds but for us,” said Sorenson, who said his organization was the only nonprofit group releasing condors and managing them in the wild. Its base of operations, which includes a staff cabin and two large pens for the condors, is in a Big Sur canyon that has been severely burned.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com


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