South America Living

Brief History of the Andean Condor & Its Near Extinction

by Molly McHugh, Former Editor/Publisher of South America Living.     About the Author

One of the most popular spots in the Colca Canyon, Peru is the ‘Cruz del Condor’ – a lookout point where the Andean Condors (C√≥ndor Andino in Spanish) of the area live and breed. When visiting any town in the Colca Valley you will see van loads of tourists passing through and all will be waiting in anticipation for the hour or so they get to spend watching these regal creatures while taking photographs and videos: YouTube Video of Cruz del Condor.

Andean Condors are a species in the ‘New World’ vulture family Cathartidae and of the genus Vultur. There are two species of condors that are New World vultures, both being the largest flying birds in the Western Hemisphere: the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) of South America and the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) located in the United States.     Fast Facts About the Andean Condor

Andean Condor Soaring Over the Colca Canyon, Peru

The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world with a wingspan of 3 meters (10 feet). The California Condor has a wingspan of up to 2.95 meters (9.7 feet).

There are 15 species of ‘Old World’ vultures. Both New World and Old World vultures are carrion-eaters (dead carcasses) and have bald heads.

Andean Condors are located throughout the Andean mountain range from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego (island at the southern tip of Argentina). They prefer wide open, non-forested areas such as the cliffs of the Colca Canyon and desert of the Patagonia steppe in Argentina which make hunting for carrion – their primary food source – more successful as well as offer safe areas (ledges) for nesting and raising their young.

They can still be seen in most areas but their numbers have been severly depleted to near extinction primarily due to aggressive hunting, especially in the Northern Andes region. Erroneously they were thought to kill livestock and therefore be a threat to the economic interest of ranchers. The reality is the Andean Condor rarely hunt and kill live animals; man hunts and kills the condor.

The Andean Condor will eat newborn animals (if carrion is not available) and were present in large numbers at the Paracas Peninsula in the Ica region of Peru – a seabird colony where they flourished – until being exterminated by “guano workers to prevent them from feeding on nestling seabirds”. Source: The Peregrine Fund

Other reasons for lower numbers are: poisoning from pesticides, habitat destruction, inadequate food supply (carrion is used to make dog food), sport hunting and capture for use in Indian rituals. They are killed to make ‘magic’ potions out of their bones and organs.

In 1973 the Andean Condor was listed as an Endangered Species. In Colombia (initiated in 1989) and Venezuela (in 1993) there are re-introduction programs that use captive-bred birds to increase the declining numbers of birds now found in the wild. For more information view the ICUN Red List website.

Note: Current status of the Andean Condor on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is “Near Threatened”.

A current threat to the survival of these beautiful birds – that all tourists need to be aware of – is the trend to capture or hunt and murder condors in order to obtain feathers to sell in markets such as in Cusco, Peru. Illegal yet an active practice that exists because those who are uniformed or simply don’t care about the animals welfare puchase the items and law enforcement refuses to enforce existing laws.

DON’T BUY ANDEAN CONDOR FEATHERS” (or any product made out of Andean Condor feathers such as dream catchers); even if you are told the feathers ‘came from a zoo’, ‘had fallen on the ground’ etc. Take home a more cherishable souvenir – up close photos and videos of the birds living free amongst the cliffs of the Condor Canyon.




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