May 26, 2000


San Diego Wild Animal Park Soars to New Heights With Debut of the "Condor Ridge" Habitat in May

For the first time ever, guests will see majestic California condors at the San Diego Wild Animal Park with the spring debut of Condor Ridge, a new North American wilderness adventure.

Condor Ridge, which opens May 27, celebrates the diversity of North American habitats and their rare and endangered animal inhabitants including a dozen species of birds, mammals and reptiles. Desert bighorn sheep will sprint nimbly up granite boulders; fast-flying aplomado falcons will swoop down on prey hiding in the prairie grasses; and brilliant, green thick-billed parrots will be seen and heard in towering pine forests.

"We've designed Condor Ridge to introduce guests to unique animals from our own continent in a setting that utilizes the inherent views and spacious surroundings of our 1,800-acre park," said Bob McClure, Wild Animal Park general manager. "Condor Ridge affords us the opportunity to educate our guests about the importance of preserving our native species and local habitats. It also enables us to tell the survival stories of North American species that have experienced decline and recovery."

Guests will enter the $3.48 million Condor Ridge area via the Wild Animal Park's mature Conifer Forest, planted with pine, spruce, fir and redwood trees. At its entrance, marked by a rocky outcropping with Condor Ridge etched in stone, guests will receive a self-guided tour journal before beginning their journey on a winding path past a variety of exhibits.

The first habitat is a pine forest that provides roosting places to endangered thick-billed parrots, which once occupied forests across Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico. At the base of the trees, visitors may see Western greater roadrunners gliding among the native shrubs.

A grassland habitat is home to Northern porcupines and rare aplomado falcons. Since the 1940s the steel-gray falcons have been rarely seen in the skies of the United States. Well known for their prickly guard hairs, the Northern porcupine is a more common but still significant denizen of North American forests.

Next along the trail is a prairie ecosystem featuring a series of exhibits for endangered black-footed ferrets and desert tortoises as well as black-tailed prairies dogs, Western burrowing owls, American magpies and Western Harris hawks.

"Although some of the animals at Condor Ridge are critically endangered, others are what we call `indicator species,'" said Michael Mace, curator of birds. "These animals are great indicators of the health of the environment. By monitoring them we can assess the status of the ecosystem in which they live."

At the end of the 430-foot-long trail is an observation deck with an interpretive center that focuses on California condor and bighorn sheep recovery efforts. From the observation deck, guests can get up-close perspective of an elusive bighorn sheep herd as the animals scramble along a rocky hillside.

Nearby, North America's largest flying bird, the California condor with its 10-foot wingspan, can be seen on boulders and cliffs inside a six-story aviary. The California condor, which has never before been displayed at the Wild Animal Park, is symbolic of successful native species recovery programs.

In 1983, fewer than 30 California condors existed in the wild. In a desperate effort to save the species, the last wild condor was taken into captivity in 1987. In subsequent years, successful hatchings at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, World-Famous San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo and the World Center for Birds of Prey, enabled the first condors to be reintroduced in the wild in 1992. The California Condor Recovery Program has flourished since then with a current worldwide population of more than 150 birds, including more than 50 condors flying wild in the skies above parts of California and Arizona.

This significant conservation program, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a collaborative effort among the Zoological Society of San Diego, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Peregrine Fund and the Bureau of Land Management.

"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share first-hand with guests information about the California Condor Recovery Program and to let them see these magnificent birds," said Mace.

The 1,800-acre San Diego Wild Animal Park (more than half of which has been set aside as protected native specifies habitat) is operated by the not-for-profit Zoological Society of San Diego. The Zoological Society, dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats, engages in conservation and research work around the globe. The Zoological Society also manages the 100-acre World-Famous San Diego Zoo and the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES), and is working to establish field stations in five key ecological areas.

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