Scientists search for survivors after the Thomas fire scorches a condor sanctuary | 12/31/2017 | Staff
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Pushed by instinct and age, a fledgling California condor had been expected to step to the edge of its cliff-side cave sometime in December and make its first flight over the scrubby terrain of the Los Padres Sespe Condor Sanctuary.

But then the Thomas fire broke out.

Blaze - Los - Padres - National - Forest

The blaze ripped across Los Padres National Forest and into the 53,000-acre sanctuary, where 80 of the state's 172 free-flying condors spend much of their time.

On Dec. 15, the 11th day of the fire, scientists lost contact with a radio transmitter attached to the turkey-size chick known as No. 871 as flames raced toward its closet-size cave. Days later a biologist chaperoned by a strike team from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection picked up a faint ping with an uneven tempo coming from the vicinity of the condor's nest, but the findings were inconclusive.

Sunrise - Wednesday - Team - Biologists - Telemetry

At sunrise Wednesday, a team of biologists armed with telemetry equipment fanned out across charred wilderness that had been closed for weeks northeast of the community of Fillmore on a mission to pick up signals that could, perhaps, lead them to the 4-month-old condor, or its carcass.

With a 9 {-foot wingspan, the federally endangered California condor is the largest scavenging bird in the nation and a symbol of both a species on the brink of extinction and successful, yet still precarious, efforts to restore imperiled populations.

Biologists - Bird - Parents—No - No - Descendants

The biologists tried to remain optimistic. The young bird and its parents—No. 513 and No. 206—were descendants of a species that has survived since the Pleistocene Age of a million years ago.

But as the Thomas fire grew to become the biggest in California history, there was reason for concern.

Dense - Brush - Telemetry - Antenna - US

Before barging through dense, thorny brush with a telemetry antenna held high, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Joseph Brandt took stock of a worrisome scene...
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