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Endangered condors face fragile existence in Andes

By Fernando Arroyo León / Quito / Andean condors were revered by the Incas but now face a fragile future in South America and are in danger of extinction.

One of the world’s largest flying birds, part of the vulture family, they were considered sacred by the Incans who believed they could communicate with the world of the gods.

The majestic birds, which can have a wingspan of up to 3.3 meters, are the national emblem of almost all Andean countries and the central figure of Ecuador’s coat of arms, as in Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Peru.

Their story has become tragic due to human activity, which has caused the population to decline to critical levels in countries such as Colombia and Ecuador, while in Venezuela their presence is almost nil.

It is difficult to know the total population, some studies estimate there are between 5,000 and 6,500 birds distributed throughout the Andean mountain range, with a greater presence in Argentina and Chile and less in Bolivia and Peru.

Faced with this critical situation, the region has come to the aid of the condor, with the introduction of rescue and protection programs under the Andean condor conservation strategy.

In Ecuador, where there is a population of 150 condors, a national day has been declared for the emblematic bird on 7 July.

Efraín Cepeda, of the Fundación Jocotoco, which runs the Antisanilla Reserve where a third of the wild population is concentrated, said people should protect and admire the “extraordinary bird”.

The Jocotoco Foundation has undertaken programs to protect the wetlands in the area, the origin of a large volume of water that feeds Quito.

Cepeda told efe that “cities should create a very important link” with condors because they help maintain the ecological balance in the moors, which supply the city with drinking water.

Condors are a catalyst for life in the Andean mountains because, being a scavenger, they eliminate the risk of diseases spreading to other animals, he added.

In the Antisanilla Reserve, around 60 km northeast of Quito, the steep slopes of the mountains are used as habitat for condors, which cover a large plain to scavenge decaying carcases.

His work has also allowed the development of other species including eagles, chilicos (small endemic hawks), spectacled bears, white-tailed deer, llamas and Andean wolves, which are also important for environmental balance.

Cepeda said he is proud that the reserve, almost 2,000 hectares located between 3,500 and 4,000 meters above sea level, is home to two of the most fertile pairs of breeding condors in the country.

Conservation programs have also contributed to the giant flying bird being able to fly in the skies free from threats.

Residents are welcome to visit the moorlands of Antisanilla to see the condors circling overhead and enjoy the fauna of the mountains.

Cepeda said the birds represent the fragile relationship between the city and the mountains and that he is worried about their small population in Ecuador.

“We know that there are about 150 individuals, they are so few. We are very concerned,” he added.

One of the threats the condors face is from feral dogs that were abandoned pets on the outskirts of the city.

The dogs “cause many problems for wildlife, such as the condor” as they compete for food and also kill deer and other wild birds, Cepeda said.

“We want people to raise environmental awareness” and “come to appreciate and protect” this emblematic bird, he added.

Cepeda invited residents to visit the Antisanilla plateau to see the huge birds in their natural habitat, one of “few places where you can see something like that”. EFE


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