In happier news from the animal kingdom, a California condor hatched in the wild late last week, offering a rare moment of optimism for a species teetering on the edge of extinction. If the chick survives, it will mark the first time in 18 years that adult condors in the wild successfully conceived, hatched, and brooded a baby. So far, so good: The parents defended the egg, helped the chick hatch, and are gamely feeding it — despite having been fed themselves not by parents but by scientists wielding condor hand puppets. With a wingspan of more than nine feet, California condors are the largest birds in North America. In 1984, when condor numbers had dwindled to a mere eight wild birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife began an intensive captive-breeding program. There are now 63 condors in the wild, 18 in field pens ready for release, and 104 in captivity.