The L.A. Zoo and Ventana Wildlife Society are celebrating the return to the wild of beloved California condor Iniko, a one and a half-year-old chick. She won the hearts of legions of fans when she hatched near the start of the pandemic in April 2020. Iniko’s name means “born during troubled times” in Nigerian, and her story has included many challenges. Notably, she was rescued and brought to the L.A. Zoo for treatment and care after surviving the Dolan fire and a subsequent attack by an older, male condor. But on the morning of Saturday, December 4, it was all smooth sailing as she glided from her enclosure and back to her wilderness home on the Central Coast.
Iniko was released with two other California condors and welcomed by a reunion committee of sorts, made up of previously released birds that convened outside the pen for the occasion. Senior Wildlife Biologist and California Condor Recovery Program Manager Joe Burnett, of Ventana Wildlife Society, was not surprised the event turned into a bird party. For California condors, he explained, “the social draw is huge.”
The social draw did help lure Iniko from the enclosure, but the enticement of a fresh carcass didn’t hurt. When the doors to the birds’ habitat slid open, Iniko paced at ground level for a while, considering the food just outside. After about 10 minutes, all three birds crowded together near the upper door. Iniko was second to fly out and immediately joined a welcome scuffle with the previously released birds before confidently claiming the carcass. The other condors gave her free rein on the meal, and she was happy to let a curious, visiting turkey vulture watch her eat it.
About 400 viewers tuned in via livestream from as far away as New Zealand to witness Iniko’s release. Individuals, families, a fan who skipped ballet class to attend the event, and even a kid eating his breakfast cereal in a full Flash costume sent wishes for health and high flying to Iniko as she prepared to venture into the wild. Pride was plentiful, as were calls for boxes of tissue; the release had many dabbing at tears during the “magical” and “amazing” morning.
Watchers also expressed thanks to the L.A. Zoo for our role in Iniko’s journey. “We couldn’t do it without the L.A. Zoo and all their help,” Burnett said, praising the Zoo’s condor staff for their pioneering techniques. He specifically thanked L.A. Zoo Condor Keepers Mike Clark and Chandra David, who joined the livestream as special guests, for being “a key part of the village” it took to get Iniko out into the wild.
Clark responded by giving credit to his “full-service” crew. “Whether its lead poisoning, broken bones, or an orphaned chick like Iniko,” he said, “we will do our best to get fallen condors healthy and strong so they can be set free again to join the wild flock.”