The release on Tuesday, a collaboration between the Yurok Tribe, the National Parks Service and the US Fish and Wildlife service, took place in the northern California redwood forest — a stretch of land containing some of the planet’s tallest trees.
Now, the forest also contains some of the planet’s largest — and most endangered — birds.
Once, the California condor ruled the skies across western North America; their nine-foot wingspans casting shadows on habitats as diverse as the arid scrubland of southern California to the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
But by 1980s, the global condor population had dropped to 27 birds, decimated in part by hunting and poisoning, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
To prevent the species from disappearing forever, scientists took a drastic action: they captured all of them. The goal was to put the species in a breeding program, with the hope of eventually releasing the birds back into the wild.
Over the years, birds have been re-established in parts of southern and central California, as well as parts of Arizona and Utah — and the current wild population stands at a little more than 300 birds.
But until now, the condors were still missing from their more northern territory, including the coastal redwoods. These two condors are the first to fly in this area since 1892, accroding to a statement from the Yurok Tribe.
After the initial release, two additional condors will be released, the Yurok Tribe statement adds. The tribe has been working to reintroduce the bird — which has significant cultural meaning in Yurok tradition — since 2008, they note.
“In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway,” Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams-Claussen said via their statement.
According to the statement, the hope is to eventually restore a self-sustaining condor population in the northern redwood ecosystem.