The one that flew away
As zoo veterinary technicians, we take care of animals that don't walk into the clinic on a leash and don't greet us with purrs and licks when they wake from anesthesia. Our exams are quick and our patients are back in their exhibits before lunch. Once we're done we hope they're healthy enough that they don't need to see us again until next year. Of course, none of this prepared our medical team at the Phoenix Zoo's Animal Care Center for the bond we'd develop with one special California condor.
And that's where we came in. In February, the radio transmitter of free-flying condor 134 indicated he hadn't moved all day. At the bottom of a canyon along the northern border of Arizona, the biologists found condor 134 lethargic and unable to stand. Head condor biologist Chris Parish knew the best bet was to get this bird to our zoo to see Kathy Orr, DVM, a veterinarian with 10 years of California condor experience. There was just one hitch—the Grand Canyon is more than 400 miles from the Phoenix Zoo.
It could've been because there are fewer than 300 of these birds in the world. Perhaps it was simply the awe-inspiring sight of the largest—and some would argue the ugliest—flighted bird in North America. One thing was for sure: These birds are survivors, so he still had a chance.
When Dr. Orr examined condor 134, she discovered his crop (the organ where a bird stores food after eating) wasn't moving food to the stomach for digestion. A surgically placed stomach tube would let the crop recover while the bird received nutrition. A series of injections would eventually rid his blood of lead.
But getting the liquid gold into our bird was no easy task. Linda, Melodie Meldrum, CVT, and I were responsible for restraining condor 134 three times a day for tube feedings. As our bird became stronger, restraining him grew harder. By the time our bird was healthy, it took three people to hang onto the beak, wings, and feet and a fourth person to inject the liquid gold into the stomach tube. We complained of sore hands, arms, and shoulders, but we loved every minute of it.