What price survival of the species?
In the case of the California condor, it's $18.5 million over 13 years, with no guarantee of success and bills that keep coming in."We have football players that make more in a year than is spent on this program," says Bill Toone, curator of birds at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
That money pays for nearly a quarter-million acres of habitat; the salaries of those who have studied and protected North America's largest land birds, captured them to save them from extinction and take care of them; and for "condorminiums" to help them feel at home in captivity.
And don't forget $93 a day in chopped mice for 13 chicks hatched from eggs retrieved from the wild and for Molloko, the first California condor chick bred and born in captivity. Molloko was hatched April 29 amid national fanfare.
"It's still an act of faith on just about everybody's part," said Linda Blum, a National Audubon Society habitat specialist. Only 28 of North America's largest land birds are known to exist; Molloko is the first born in captivity.
The Audubon Society has spent about $1 million since 1975 on the fight to save the condor. The Los Angeles Zoo has spent about $1 million while the San Diego Zoological Society, which oversees the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park, has spent $1.4 million since 1979. Fifteen of the remaining condors are at the Wild Animal Park and 13 at the Los Angeles Zoo.
In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the condor program's lead agency, has spent $11 million since 1979; the U.S. Forest Service, $570,00 since 1980; the Bureau of Land Management, $500,000 since 1978; and the California State Fish and Game Department, $3 million since 1979.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has spent $5 million acquiring the 642,000-acre Blue Ridge refuge in central California and the 13,000-acre Bitter Creek refuge north of Santa Barbara, said spokeswoman Diane Hoobler. The other $6 million paid for program management, research and biologists' salaries.
The zoos spend about $150,000 a year on condor care.
The state, pending legislative approval, plans to spend $780,000 over the next year to promote captive breeding by building more cages at Los Angeles and San Diego, said Ron Jurek, a state wildlife biologist. More room is needed as juvenile condors reach the breeding age of 7 years.