FILLMORE, Calif. -- Two endangered California condors made biological history yesterday as the first of their kind allowed to roam the wild since 1987, but for their first several hours of freedom, the birds refused to take flight.
Yesterday's momentous release -- viewed as a major test of the U.S. endangered species program -- had been eagerly awaited by biologists ever since a controversial captive breeding program to save the majestic vulture from extinction was launched 10 years ago.
"I've waited for this minute for five years," said Jan Hamber, a University of California, Santa Barbara, biologist who was involved in capturing the last condor on Easter Sunday in 1987. "We're the ones who were here when the last ones were brought in. It's just incredibly exciting to see the birds come back into the wild."
The newly freed birds, however, savored their first hours of freedom on foot, hopping through chaparral in the rugged Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Scientists speculated that gusty winds may have discouraged the 8-month-old birds from taking their first flight.
At first, they seemed unsure of what to do. Within an hour, however, both 8-month-old condors were venturing on foot beyond the formerly fenced perimeter as a huge group of scientists and reporters from throughout the world looked on.
In 10 years, biologists have increased the California condor population to 52. There were only 27 when the last bird was captured.