Smithsonian Magazine

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Last October, Ninja, a 6-year-old male, moved into Kingpin’s abandoned turf and attacked Iniko in the nest. A new nest cam recorded Redwood Queen fiercely protecting her daughter, pecking back Ninja and muscling him out of the cavity. During the struggle, Iniko was muscled out, too, and flopped to the ground. After watching the video feed, Burnett hiked to the redwood and gathered her up. Though Iniko had survived her premature fledge, the fall had added injury—a broken leg—to insult. She was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, where she convalesce­d and hung with other juveniles. Next fall, when Iniko is 18 months old, she’ll be brought back to Big Sur and reunited with Mom.

Fortunatel­y, condors don’t mate for life. To Burnett’s great delight, Redwood Queen found a new beau and, in March, laid another egg. Her avian inamorato turned out to be a survivor of the massive Basin Complex Fire in 2008. Burnett had found him in a cavity of another redwood, sunk three inches deep in a pile of ashes. “He was just a chick, and he literally rose from the ashes,” Burnett recalls. “At Ventana, we call him Phoenix.”

Thanks to a fundraisin­g drive that raised more than $600,000, Ventana is rebuilding the primitive research station. Burnett hopes to have the facility up and running by early 2022. Despite the wildfire and other unnatural disasters, he’s upbeat about the condors’ chances. “If we can stabilize the population, we’re talking about someday down-listing the birds from endangered to threatened,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to delist them completely, like the bald eagle in 2007.”

In the race to save the condor, the long game has few shortcuts.

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