Coast Guard rescues condors from fire

June 24, 2008 10:31:49 PM PDT
The California wildfires are not only threatening homes and lives but the California condor population. Birds had to be evacuated from a sanctuary in Big Sur, while the so-called Gallery Fire continues to burn nearby.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter carried precious cargo.

Inside each kennel was a California condor. Eight of the endangered birds were rescued from their pen at the Ventana Wildlife Society, in Big Sur. It was a sanctuary surrounded by wildfire.

"These fires are burning right in the core range of these birds, this is their home, this is where they know where to roost, to find food, and now their whole entire home has been turned upside down," said Kelly Sorenson, from the Ventanta Wildlife Society.

And considering there are only 75 wild California condors in the state and 40 live at Ventana, saving the ones too young to fly freely, was crucial. On Sunday Kelly Sorenson decided he needed help.

"I don't think the U.S. Coast Guard has ever done a bird rescue before," said Petty Officer Kevin Neff with the California Coast Guard.

It was an extraordinary assignment. While district command decided exactly how to navigate a helicopter through the fire, they got a phone call from the governor's office. Schwarzenegger himself wanted the job done.

Four hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter arrived in Big Sur, but the safest place to land was three miles from the sanctuary. The biologists on board found an all-terrain vehicle and started transporting the condors.

While they saved the ones on the ground, they worried about the dozens they couldn't.

"They just don't fly at night and if a fire burns up to their location or if they're engulfed in smoke in the middle of the night, they'd be disoriented, they wouldn't know which way to fly," said Sorenson.

Flying the helicopter was also becoming a problem.

"They were flying through the smoke at different points and the fire was never that far from where they were at," said Officer Neff.

While the birds recovered at Pinnacles National Monument, outside of Hollister on Monday, the Gallery Fire is still burning. That means the threat to half the state's condor population is far from over. MAP: Google Reference Map of California Fires
(From the Governor's Office of Emergency Services).


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