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The Oregon Zoo had to evacuate 44 of the endangered birds from its Clackamas County facility

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON ZOO - The California condors are returning to Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation.The endangered California condors are returning — in more ways than one.

Conservationists have been busy breeding the bird listed on the endangered species list, including at the Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in Clackamas County, where handlers had quite the scare in recent weeks.

With wildfires creeping into the area where the Oregon Zoo aids the breeding condors, they had to evacuate them, sending some to the zoo and some to another facility in Boise, Idaho.

But, the good news is they'll all be back in Clackamas County soon, and breeding takes place in January. The Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation avoided any damage from the wildfires.

"We were lucky," said Kelly Flaminio, an Oregon Zoo veterinarian who helps care for the condors. "Everybody came out OK.

"It was a very fluid situation. We were trying to watch the weather and birds at the same time. It took awhile to catch the birds out of their flight pens. We needed a bunch of people and ladders and nets. We had four hours. They are tough to catch. In normal situations, we would lure them into food rooms to catch them."

Said Travis Koons, who oversees the zoo's condor program: "The teamwork our animal-care staff displayed was nothing short of remarkable."

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON ZOO - Workers had a tough time corralling the California condors during the wildfires.California condors are not used to humans in any way. It's the reason they live in a rural breeding facility and not at the zoo around visitors.

There were 26 condors moved to the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise and another 18 temporarily housed at the Oregon Zoo.

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Zoo as well as the Boise facility and others in Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, serve as care and breeding centers for the condors. There currently are 337 free-flying condors in the wild and 181 in captive facilities — and conservationists want the numbers to be in the thousands.

It was one of the original species listed on the 1973 Endangered Species Act list; in 1982, only 22 remained in the wild and in 1987 the remaining condors were brought into human care to save them from extinction.

So, the breeding work continues, including in Clackamas County. There were eight chicks hatched this year, with more planned in 2021.

"They're used for breeding, and they will be transferred back into the wild and free-flying population," Flaminio said. "We have to make sure we have the right (breeding) pairs lined up."

Hindering the population has been lead poisoning from lead hunting ammunition. In the wild, condors will feast on carcasses and guts of animals, which have been tainted by lead ammunition when shot, Flaminio said.

"Our recommendation is to use nonlead ammunition," she said. Conservationists "are making huge steps in the right direction, and I think (hunters) are listening. We want biologists and hunters to talk to each other, and conversations are starting to happen."

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