Dr. Marcie Logsdon, an exotics veterinarian at Washington State University, carefully gripped the 25-year-old, 20-pound California condor’s beak, cradled the underside of its belly for support, and inspected its recently operated upon left leg.
The condor’s left wing – a full 4 ½-feet long when extended – is tagged with a black circle, the number 39 printed in white. Officially, she is California condor No. 139. She is just one of roughly 500 of her species alive.
Also known as Takihin, the condor is a full-time resident at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, where she has aided her species’ recovery by successfully producing 21 chicks in a captive breeding program.
Just a day earlier, Dr. Logsdon, along with Dr. Peter Gilbert, a small animal orthopedic surgeon at WSU, performed a complicated procedure to help repair a broken leg and damaged knee Takihin suffered during an altercation with her mate. The procedure will hopefully save the endangered bird’s life and allow her to remain in the breeding program.
“The numbers of California condors left are startling small,” Logsdon said. “The captive breeding efforts are what have been able to bring this bird back from near extinction. This is definitely a situation where every individual matters.”
Takihin’s injury – a proximal tibia tarsal fracture that occurred Feb. 25 – was the equivalent of a human breaking their shin or tibia. After being transported to WSU three days after the injury, a CT scan was performed to determine the extent of the injury. Unfortunately, the scan found the condor’s knee had also been damaged.
In deciding how to move forward, Logsdon consulted with Gilbert; Dr. Reed Linenberger, a Boise, Idaho, veterinarian who works closely with The Peregrine Fund; and Dr. Julia Ponder, who specializes in raptor medicine and surgery at the University of Minnesota.
“There was a lot of collaboration that went on with this case because we wanted to make sure we were offering the best possible options for this bird,” Logsdon said. “We had a lot of discussion before this procedure about the feasibility of it, whether or not we had a reasonable chance of giving her a good quality of life afterward, and also into the down and dirty of which type of procedure was going to give her the best chance at a good outcome.”
Logsdon and Gilbert ultimately moved forward with a procedure called transarticular external skeletal fixator (ESF), which involved using pins to help support the condor’s leg.
“We placed pins in the bones on either side of the fracture … and we joined all those pins together in a triangle to help support the leg,” Logsdon said. “Essentially what that is doing is it is bypassing the knee and fracture itself, so when she goes to walk on that leg the forces are going to go straight from the top of the leg down to the bottom of the leg, so she we will be able to rest that knee and the fracture site and hopefully the body will be able to heal.”
A day after the surgery, Takihin was returned to The Peregrine Fund where she could recover in her own enclosure. While the surgery went well, Takihin still has a long road ahead.
“Her two-week post-op X-rays looked good and indicated her break is on the right track to healing,” said Leah Medley, propagation manager at The Peregrine Fund. “She’s gotten her feisty personality back as well, which indicates to us that she’s feeling much better. She has really been an amazing bird for us through the years. She always reliably lays eggs, double clutches, and she is a wonderful mother to her chicks.”
Logsdon is also optimistic about the condor’s future.
“We are just going to have to keep a very close eye on her and see how she heals. Condors and other vultures have a reputation for being able to heal from some pretty impressive wounds and injuries,” Logsdon said. “Condors are incredibly unique and rare birds, and I am very honored to be part of the process that is helping to keep these birds around and in the wild.”