For a moment, things weren’t looking great for the newest California condor chick. But thanks to some quick thinking and CT scanning technology, the San Diego Zoo welcomed its 250th hatchling in conservationists’ ongoing species recovery program. To celebrate, the wildlife park has released images and video of the moments leading up to the arrival of Emaay (pronounced “eh-my”), including a fascinating look within the egg itself.

Birds photo

When the California Condor Recovery Program began in 1982, only 22 of the critically endangered birds could be located. Since then, that number has grown over 560, with more than half of all California condors living in the wild. A big part of that success is thanks to the recovery program’s first adoptee, a three-month-old abandoned male named Xol-Xol (pronounced “hole-hole”). Xol-Xol, now 42, has fathered 41 chicks over his life, but his latest addition needed some extra care.

Zoologists placed the egg of the new chick in an incubator ahead of hatching, but noticed what appeared to be a malposition—a bodily angle that could have produced complications. The condor egg was then moved to the Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center and placed in a computed tomography (CT) imaging machine.

California condor egg in CT scanner
The CT scanner provided a 3D double-check of Emaay’s egg. Credit: San Diego Wildlife Alliance

CT scanning takes a series of X-ray readings of an object from different angles, combining them through computer programming to create “slices,” or cross-sectional scans. The scans allow for far more detailed results than a basic X-ray image. Thankfully, subsequent CT scans of the condor egg confirmed a false alarm, allowing the team to return it to its incubator. 

[Related: California condor hatches after bird flu deaths.]

Upon pipping (a chick’s initial cracking of its shell), conservationists transferred the egg into the nest of Xol-Xol and his partner, Mexwe, who helped complete the hatching process. On March 16, Emaay greeted the world, with Xol-Xol and Mexwe caring for it ever since.

Emaay is one of about 50 California condor hatchlings now birthed every year—around 12-15 of which occur in the wild. But as San Diego Zoo’s 250th newcomer—and whose father was the program’s first adoptee—Emaay is particularly special to the team.

“Reaching this milestone feels incredible,” Nora Willis, senior wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said. “There’s still a long way to go but being part of this and helping the species recover is life changing.”