On their hike up Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Jessie Gariepy and Shane Wayment came across a teenage California condor known by state biologists and park officials as #1111. The juvenile bird is people-friendly, photogenic and lives off a nest cave north of the iconic sandstone hike.
The Utah Division of Natural Resources shared a photo of #1111 on its Twitter page last week in part because the sight is so rare.
There are about 100 California wild condors that live and migrate between southern Utah and Northern Arizona, including the nesting places of Zion and Grand Canyon national parks, according to the National Park Service. As a critically endangered species, California condors are thriving under the protection of the federal endangered species law and the efforts of nonprofits such as the Peregrine Fund, which is working to help bring this bird back from near extinction.
The California condors were nearly extinct in the 1980s — at one point there were only 22 birds, according to the Peregrine Fund. There are now a reported 500 birds worldwide flying from southern Utah to Mexico.
These scavenging birds sometimes die from lead poisoning after ingesting bullet fragments embedded in gut piles left by hunters.
While Wayment gets the credit for the photograph that the Utah Department of Natural Resources shared of #1111 on Twitter, Gariepy is the person to see the young bird. Born last spring, #1111 is the second condor ever to fledge, or learn to fly, in Zion. The first bird, #1000, was its older sibling, according to the National Park Service.
Most condors in Zion are tagged with a tracker, but #1111 is not, says Jonathan Shafer, spokesman for Zion National Park. #1111 parents’ are mother condor #409 and father condor #523.
“California condors are curious and are sometimes attracted to human activity. They are frequently seen in Zion perched on or soaring above Angels Landing and on the Kolob Terrace Road near Lava Point,” Shafer told The Tribune. “If a bird is perched, do not approach it or offer food. If a condor is near people, please note its tag number and tell a park ranger.”
Russell Norvell, Avian Conservation Program Coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said that the Endangered Species Act is bringing the bird back from extinction.
“I think ESA is not the only solution for bird conservation,” Norvell said. “But for the California condor in this population, it has been the backbone, I think, of our recovery efforts.”
Wayment says that on his hike back down Angels Landing, he saw #1111 perched on another cliff edge. Seeing the bird in its natural habitat was special for him. “To be up close and personal with probably the rarest bird on Earth is pretty special,” he said.
Wanting to get away from the Wasatch Front, both Garipy and Wayment decided to drive down to southern Utah on a whim last week. When they arrived inside the park, they immediately drove toward Angels Landing. Unlike during the peak season, the couple was able to drive to the trailhead without going through the pilot lottery system to hike Angels Landing, which took effect this new year.
Jan. 20 was the last day for the public to place a bid to hike Angels Landing in the spring. The first lottery for Angels Landing took place from Jan. 1 to 20 for hikes between April 1 and May 31.