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Condor ambassador Dolly returns to Pinnacles

Non-releasable bird visits place of hatching to help raise funds.
Dolly with handler Debbie Sears. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Tracking equipment. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.
Condor Ambassador Dolly. Photo by Carmel de Bertaut.

Pinnacles National Park Foundation held a fundraising event Nov. 10 with Dolly, a California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) hatched in Pinnacles National Park and now residing in Los Angeles Zoo.

Dolly is unable to fly due to a fracture to the humerus sustained before she fledged. Following her injury, the Los Angeles Zoo took her into their condor program. For various reasons she was not suitable as a breeder and instead was designated to be an educational bird. Her role is to meet the public and help spread the word about the plight of condors and other endangered species.  

More than 50 donors arrived at The Inn at the Pinnacles in Soledad to see Dolly and hear from the zoo, Pinnacles National Park Foundation and park staff.

Debbie Sears, Dolly’s handler, has worked with the condor program in Los Angeles for 22 years.

“The best part is being involved with something that is making a difference in the environment,” said Sears, who also acts as an ambassador for the program.

She added that with endangered species we must fix the cause of their endangerment. In the case of the condor, environmental poisoning has been a huge problem and while many of those toxins are no longer allowed in the U.S., lead is still in the environment, explained Sears. She finds Dolly “really touches people” and has seen a change in how people react to fixing the problem.

Rachel Wolstenholme, condor program manager at Pinnacles National Park, agreed about the effect of seeing a condor up close. For her, she said, “It is a reminder of a lot of the investment and hard work that many of our partners do to make the program a success.”

Pinnacles National Park Foundation is one of those partners, a nonprofit that raises money and awareness for the park and the condor program. Money raised at the meet-and-greet with Dolly is expected to purchase tracking devices, including GPS units to mount on the birds. This will allow biologists to track condors from both inside and outside of Pinnacles National Park. The GPS gives an almost exact location of the bird, unlike radio telemetry, which is more approximate.

Jennifer Westphal, executive director of the foundation, said of Saturday’s event: “It is creating for our donors and others to delve deeper. Dolly gets them excited.”

The foundation has partnered with the park for 13 years. Board president Tim Regan said that during much of that time it has been hard to get people to understand the program’s importance, and the importance of removing barriers to condor survival, such as lead, from the system.  

Pinnacles National Park Foundation is seeking to fill four board positions. For more information email or call Jennifer Westphal at (831) 313-3344.



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Carmeldb's picture
Carmel de Bertaut (Carmeldb)

I have a BA in Natural Science, a minor in environmental studies and an AA in communications studies. I have worked as an ecologist and as a writer.

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