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PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: California Condor Loses Battle With Cancer, But Is Not Forgotten
California-Nevada Offices , May 11, 2015
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Almiyi appeared on a 1996 U.S. postage stamp.
Almiyi appeared on a 1996 U.S. postage stamp. - Photo Credit: Courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Almiyi receiving radiation therapy to treat squamous cell carcinoma.
Almiyi receiving radiation therapy to treat squamous cell carcinoma. - Photo Credit: Courtesy of San Diego Zoo

By Cindy Sandoval

While there may not be a formal obituary marking the passing of Almiyi, a 32 year old female California condor, her loss is felt throughout the conservation community. Almiyi was hatched in 1983 when the California condor species teetered on the edge of extinction with less than three dozen individual condors remaining worldwide.

The egg containing Almiyi was brought to the San Diego Zoo as part of an ambitious plan to increase the California condor population through a captive breeding program. During her lifetime Almiyi laid 49 eggs of which 38 hatched. Thanks to the captive breeding programs and federal protections for the condor there are over 400 California condors today and many of Almiyi’s offspring now fly free in northern Arizona, southern and central California and Northern Baja California.

In 1983, the California Condor Recovery Program at the San Diego Zoo received permission to collect four condor eggs from the wild to hatch at the zoo. Before that, no one had ever hatched a condor egg in a captive setting. Almiyi was one of four California condor eggs transported from the backcountry of Santa Barbara County to captivity and these eggs formed the foundation of the California condor breeding program at the San Diego Zoo Global.

Shortly after hatching Almiyi was moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, then known as Wild Animal Park. At the age of six, she was and paired with a male condor and became the first California condor raised in captivity to lay an egg. This first of its kind egg marked a behavioral milestone proving that California condors hatched in captivity were capable of courting and reproducing.

During her lifetime, Almiyi became an ambassador for the condor recovery program. In 1996, she was chosen to represent the California condor in the Endangered Species national stamp collection that was released on October 2 of that year. Almiyi’s image joined those of other rare American wildlife species like the Florida panther and Hawaiian monk seal as part of a 15 stamp set aimed at raising public awareness of endangered wildlife. The theme of the stamp set was “Collect and Protect” and kits featuring teacher lesson plans, student guides, posters and stamp collecting cards featuring Almiyi and the other endangered species were sent to 65,000 classrooms and libraries across the nation to help children understand the importance of conservation.

When not gracing a national stamp, Almiyi was busy tending to her eggs. In fact, she laid more eggs than any other California condor on record so it is no wonder staff at the San Diego Zoo called the female condor one of the most prolific California condors ever. Of the 49 eggs laid, 38 hatched and 28 of those chicks would be released into the wild. The remaining 10 condor mothered by Almiyi became part of breeding programs at the Oregon Zoo, World Center for Birds in Boise, Idaho and some remained at the San Diego Zoo.

In March of this year staff from San Diego Zoo Global released a statement that Almiyi was suffering from a form of skin cancer and that an aggressive tumor had appeared right above her mouth. Over the next four months Almiyi was under veterinary care and received radiation therapy. Zoo veterinary staff led the effort to treat the aggressive tumor, in collaboration with a team of experts at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego. However, on May 2, animal care staff at San Diego Zoo Global in consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff made the difficult decision to euthanize Almiyi. On the San Diego Zoo Global Facebook page zoo staff shared the news of Almiyi’s passing saying, “she did a great deal for her species and was very dear to us.”

For over 30 years Almiyi acted as an ambassador for her species as she delighted zoo visitors. Her likeness was welcomed into homes, schools and libraries on stamps, posters and collectable cards as she helped a generation understand the importance of conservation. Her offspring now carry on the tradition of inspiring the public and it is hoped that Almiyi’s descendants will continue to soar above the rugged landscapes of the West for many generations to come.

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Cindy Sandoval is a public affairs specialist at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento.


Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov
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