Extinct in the wild: news reports – part 1

Thirty years ago today, 19 April 1987, the “last wild” California condor was captured and taken to the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

In this post I note reports of this event that were published the next day in 4 major newspapers. I also show an editorial cartoon that appeared in the Los Angeles Times 2 days after the capture.


The New York Times for 20 April 1987 included a 2-paragraph article titled “Last Wild California Condor Netted in Breeding Program”. This item referred to the captured bird by his code name, AC-9, and noted that his capture was

for a captive-breeding program intended to save the giant birds from extinction.

USA Today’s article “Last Condor Taken from Calif. Wild”, by Suzanne Hill, began

For the first time in at least 10,000 years, no California condor soars the skies.

Hill’s article concluded by quoting Joseph Dowhan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Man must reverse what he’s done.

By “done”, Dowhan was referring to decades of human activities that had nearly driven the condor to extinction.

The Washington Post carried a substantial article by Jay Mathews titled “Last Wild Condor of Species Netted”. Here are excerpts:

A team of six biologists and a veterinarian managed to fire a net over the massive-winged creature at 10:15 a.m. (PDT) after a seemingly endless wait in the rugged terrain of the new Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge ….

Scientists with the Audubon Society and the Interior Department … hope to breed enough new [condors] in zoo refuges … to eventually return some to the wild.

Demonstrators, who argue that captive breeding means permanently removing the species from the wild, recently picketed the Los Angeles Zoo.

The world’s California condor population … now includes four adult males, one adult female, four immature males and five immature females at San Diego; and two adult males, two adult females, three immature males and six immature females at Los Angeles.

A photograph accompanying this article shows Peter Bloom and Gregory Sanders removing AC-9, also known as Igor, from the capture net.

In the Los Angeles Times, the detailed article by David Smollar was titled “California’s Last Condor in Wild Captured”. Here are excerpts:

Team members had mixed emotions as AC-9 was driven away, certain that they were helping to save the species but keenly aware that in looking at the condor, they were seeing the last thing that a saber-toothed tiger might have seen 15,000 years ago while sinking in the La Brea Tar Pits.

Marti Pletcher, a team member from the California Department of Fish and Game who watched the capture, recalled seeing AC-9 when he was a 1-month-old hatchling discovered in a cliff-side nest near Saugus. “He was so cute …”.

The decision to bring in all the remaining birds was made … because officials believed that they could no longer guarantee the condors’ safety in nature.

On 21 April 1987, the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times featured a cartoon by Paul Conrad. (I have an original of the entire issue of this day’s Los Angeles Times.)

01 Conrad cartoon

That cartoon has stuck with me since I first saw it.

To put that cartoon in historical context, consider the titles of the editorials that accompanied Conrad’s cartoon:

02 Page view - Conrad cartoon

Now 30 years later, I am in awe of what hundreds of dedicated professionals have accomplished. There are now over 200 California condors in the wild, and not just in California. This is a remarkable achievement.

According to the 2014 “studbook” for California condors, AC-9 was released back into the wild on 1 May 2002, after 15 years in captivity. As of 16 October 2013, the 33-year-old AC-9 was living in the wilds of California.

To see a photograph of AC-9 just after his capture, see the post Ebb and flow.

My next post will look out how the news of AC-9’s capture was presented in magazines published later in 1987.