PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Oregon Zoo has been awarded $2 million from the federal government to further support the conservation of the California condor — a critically endangered species.

Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden helped secure the funds for the zoo’s Condor Restoration Resiliency Project, and other statewide community programs, through the $1.7 trillion bipartisan year-end spending package passed by the U.S. Senate in December.

“The funding, included in the year-end omnibus bill signed into law by President Biden, will ensure the zoo’s condor recovery efforts can continue uninterrupted,” the Oregon Zoo said.

Part of the funding will reportedly be put toward modernizing the zoo’s offsite Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in rural Clackamas County. Oregon Zoo director Heidi Rahn said that the center, which is the second-largest condor breeding facility in the U.S., has been forced to evacuate its employees numerous times in recent years due to wildfires and power outages caused by winter storms.

“Thanks to Senator Merkley and Wyden’s support for this project, our center will be better equipped to withstand weather-related events, protecting condors and staff so that recovery efforts can continue,” Rahn said. “Each chick hatched at the center is a lifeline for the species.” 

The California condor was included in the initial Endangered Species Act in 1973. By 1982, it was estimated that 22 of these birds still existed in the wild. In 1987, the last-remaining condors were captured and cared for by scientists in order to preserve the species. 

In 2003, the Oregon Zoo partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor recovery effort with the goal of “hatching and releasing as many condors as possible,” the zoo said. Since that time, the species’ population has rebounded to 500, with more than 300 condors existing in the wild.

In 2022, the zoo hatched a record 12 condor chicks. The zoo also released eight condors into the wild, including the three birds used for the Yurok Tribe’s historic reintroduction in Humboldt County, Calif.

The Oregon Zoo’s lead condor keeper Kelli Walker said in August of 2022, that the hatchlings spend at least eight months with their parents and another year in outdoor “pre-release pens” before they are released into the wilds of California and Arizona.

“Some of the chicks are still big fluffy balls of fury,” Walker said. “But they’ll be full-fledged condors before long. Once they’re flying on their own, they’ll practice in larger enclosures until they’re finally ready to soar into the wild.”