On the political front, Brower left Friends of the Earth for reasons unrelated to the condor controversy. In his absence the organization has given captive breeding qualified support. The Audubon Society also announced that it had resolved its differences with the CRC, which greatly reduces the chances of further legal action.
The last of the trapping permits was issued in September 1986. A condor-recovery team immediately began tracking the remaining three wild California condors with planes and trucks and waiting for them in foxholes. In December, Bloom caught the condor known as AC-2, grabbing the bird when it landed to eat in front of one of the traps. The two other condors eluded the team for the next two months. At times they confined themselves to canyons inaccessible to the trappers. At other times they were too skittish to catch when they approached the bait.
These two remaining wild condors, AC-5 and AC-9, had little in common except for a mate, which has since been placed in the San Diego Zoo. AC-5, known to some as Old Smudgepits, was old and aloof. For years, probably decades, he roamed the hills near Santa Barbara, nesting in sequoia trees and keeping his distance from signs of human life.
AC-9 was young and gregarious, and he has been known to condor-watchers since his hatching in 1980. AC-9 was the last condor to fledge in the wild and the first to be tagged with lithium-powered beepers. He seemed friendlier than the rest of his breed. Bloom says AC-9 was fascinated by condor-watchers, sometimes even seeming to buzz them.
A February snowstorm left both birds hungry. Their only potential meal was one near the trap. Both birds circled the site before noon, and they eventually landed in oak trees near the bait. AC-9 approached the carcass first, only to be chased away by AC-5. Old Smudgepits then rousted young AC-9 out of several oak trees before landing by the carcass. After shoving his way through a group of eagles who also were anticipating a free feed, Old Smudgepits began to eat.
From inside his foxhole Bloom detonated the net and then rushed out and held AC-5 until the rest of the team arrived. The tracking beeper was removed, AC-5 was loaded into a truck and the net was gathered and folded.
As Old Smudgepits began his trip toward benevolent captivity, AC-9 watched from his perch in an oak 40 yards away. Bloom had never seen a condor so inquisitive. "The truck was parked underneath him, but he never moved," said Bloom. "He never took his eyes off us. He might have been hungry, or curious. We left him sitting there, watching us drive away."
The trappers came back a week later, to dig new foxholes and wait.