Known as the largest flying bird on the planet, the Andean condor is a bird of great importance to the Andean territories, symbolizing magnificence, strength, and freedom.
The Andean Condor (Vultur Gryphus) belongs to the new world Vultures and Cathartidae family whose members are characterized by feeding on carrion and rarely on vegetables or small animals. It lives in the highest Andean mountains, distributed along the Andes from Venezuela to the Tierra del Fuego. The Colca Canyon is one of the sites, recognized worldwide, as the condor’s habitat where you can observe the flight of this magnificent bird.
It can fly over 7000 m high and glide for hours without moving its wings. The Andean condor can easily live up to 85 years, therefore it is called the “eternal bird" and is characterized by being sedentary and monogamous.
With a menacing and challenging appearance, this bird has a bluish-black plumage and a white back. It can measure up to 1.30 m tall, 3.30 m wide and its maximum weight is 12 kg.
It has a small, bare head that is usually a reddish in color and a hook-shaped beak. Their wings are long and wide and their legs are short and have slightly curved claws. Despite their dangerous appearance, the condor isn’t a bird of prey, as their legs lack the strength to lift an animal and their claws and nails are just like those of a hen.
The Condor has no larynx and therefore doesn’t make sounds or sing as do other species of birds. The female has shiny, red eyes and lacks the fleshy crest unlike male condors.
The magnificent Andean Condor occupied a place of great significance to ancient Andean societies. Its imposing presence, longevity and ability to glide for hours were a source of inspiration in primary andean arts such as representations of cave painting, ceramics, sculpture and mural painting, placing this bird as an icon within the religious and spiritual beliefs of Andean civilization.
The Incas believed that due to its longevity, the condor was immortal. According to the myth, when the animal is without strength and begins to feel it’s old age, he believes that his life has no meaning so he chooses to commit suicide. The condor settles at the highest peaks of the mountains, catches flight and reaches a height high enough for it to then spiral down at high speed and crash against the mountains, putting an end to his own life. It is said that his death is symbolic, as the condor is reborn with suicide.
Nowadays, the condor is the national bird of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile appearing as a patriotic symbol in their coat of arms.
Andean Condor populations have fallen greatly throughout South America resulting in the critical condition of this species in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This bird has been placed on the list of endangered species since 1973 by the U.S. Fish and Wildflife Service, becoming a challenge for conservation and a struggle against humanity for survival.
This unfortunate situation is caused mainly by hunting, loss of habitat, pollution, the severe reduction of their food source and the low rate of reproduction of this species in which a pair of condor lays an egg every two or three years .
Humans are the main predator of the condor. The motives that drive them to hunt this bird are, fear of losing farm animals and cultural activities or festivals such as Yawar Fiesta, where members of a community catch a live condor to fight a bull and then get the bird drunk as a celebration, usually involving the death of the animal. The condors are hunted because of the belief that certain body parts have magical or therapeutic powers, and their feathers are used for different folk dances and activities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
In addition to human predators, the condors have to face birds of prey of various types and sizes, which do have claws and feed on them when these condors are searching for food, and enter the territory of the birds of prey.
SURVIVAL OF THE CONDOR
In Latin America, not many countries are concerned about the preservation of the Andean Condor, apart from Argentina and Chile. Peru is among the countries that haven’t done much in favor of this species; however there are signs of initiatives and projects for the conservation of the condor in this country.
In the Chaparrí Ecological Reserve, located in the province of Chiclayo, proyects are undertaken for the conservation and reintroduction of several endangered species including a national plan of action for the conservation of the Andean condor. 30 years ago, the Andean condor was a common species in Chaparrí and with the low presence of animals that they fed on; these also eventually disappeared, leaving only a small number of them in the reserve.
Heinz Plenge, coordinator of the National Action Plan for the Conservation of the Andean condor, is convinced that in a few years the critical situation that the Andean condor is facing in Peru will be reversed. This project was born when he attended a conference of birds of prey in Ecuador where he was appointed coordinator.
The project started with forty condors living in captivity, which would be prepared to be released in their habitat, thereby helping to repopulate their species. There will be a mapping of the condor’s population in the country, in order to release more of these birds where necessary. This project is supported by international organizations such as the Frankfurt Zoological Society of Germany, “Fundación Cayetano Heredia”, San Diego Zoo, Peregrine Group, South Lakes in the United States, Wild Animal Park in Germany, and the Zoo of Doué La Fontaine in France, all pf which are fully concerned for and involved with the conservation of this scavenger bird.
Another project has been taking place for the Protection of Andean Condor which started through the cooperation between the Peruvian engineer Miguel Ayala Calderon and the Italian ornithologist and sportsman Angelo D'Arrigo. In 2005, D'Arrigo obtained two condor eggs that were held by an Austrian university and decided to try to be the mother of the chicks which had the names of Maya and Inca. He incubated them in a nest built specially for them in their experimental farm, covering it with a black and white glider, so that the chicks were used to its presence and form. As the chicks grew, D'Arrigo gave them flying lessons around the area so that in the future they could be released into their natural habitat, the Peruvian Andes.
D'Arrigo, known as the "condor man", died in March 2006 due to an accident during an air display in Sicily. His death has not stopped the completion of the project in which Laura Mancuso, widow of D'Arrigo in coordination with a technical team from the University of San Antonio Abad and the National Geographic, they ensured that Inca and Maya would get to Cuzco and set free, five months after the disappearance of the father of the project. Today, Inca and Maya are in good health and are an essential part of the project for the protection and conservation of this endangered species.
D'Arrigo, created in Cusco the first resettlement program of condors in Peru, therefore, it is essential to follow his example of determination and dedication to the care of this species to save this magnificent bird, because the conservation of the condor leads to conservation of all the Andes, and therefore the protection of biodiversity in the Colca Canyon.