Are we seeing the last flight of the condor?

Numbers of this magnificent bird have crashed. Mitra Taj in Lima on efforts to halt the decline

A A A

The Andean condor, one of the world's biggest flying birds, is in trouble. It may have a 10ft wingspan that enables it to ride warm air currents for hours at a time, but that has proved little protection against habitat destruction and hunting.

The bird's numbers have fallen dramatically. So much so that a Bill is being introduced into the Peruvian congress that would start a conservation programme, declare the condor a national treasure, and set jail sentences of between three and five years for capturing or killing the birds.

It is not before time. Yuri Ortiz de Zevallos, a condor catcher for decades and now the mayor of the Cotabambas district in the region of Apurimac, is concerned about declining condor numbers. "When I was young we could see 20, 30, even 40 condors gather around when we laid out the bait," said the 50-year-old. "Now you will see maybe five or 10."

There are no reliable figures for how many condors live in the Peruvian Andes today, and scientists say no exhaustive studies have been carried out there. Jose Antonio Ochoa, a biologist in southern Peru who works with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, said all the anecdotal evidence suggests an alarming decline in Peru, and put the population today at no more than 500.

The condor's survival in Peru is threatened by shrinking habitat due to development, including large mining projects in the highlands, and the trafficking of its feathers and other body parts. And since fewer livestock now get lost and die, a once-reliable supply of carrion for the bird has been reduced.

Andean condors, which can fly more than 100 miles (160km) in a single day, used to be connected all along the mountains from Argentina to Venezuela as a single population. Because fragmented groups no longer integrate, over the long term they risk heading towards a genetic bottleneck, the point at which in-breeding can result in defects or infertility.

Michael Mace, a bird specialist at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said Peru could benefit from a captive breeding programme. In the late 1980s, the United States started a successful captive breeding programme for the California condor, a different and slightly smaller species, after the population dwindled to just 22. Now that population stands at more than 400, with more in the wild than in captivity.

Andean condors do not start reproducing until they are around five years old, and lay only one or two eggs at a time in nooks of remote canyons every other year.

Scientists at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park say they have successfully released Andean condors in other South American countries. At least 12 have been released in Venezuela, where they had been locally extinct since 1965, and 74 in Colombia, where some have already hatched offspring in the wild.

Mr Ochoa said serious research and a national conservation programme in Peru are long overdue. He and his colleagues are seeking funding for a year-long programme to conduct a census, and put tracking devices on condors to determine how many there are and how best to halt their decline.

One of the legislation's supporters, Elmer Caceres, mayor of the province of Caylloma where donkeys are slaughtered every week to leave as food for the condors, said there might not be much time left. He said the Colca Canyon, a popular tourist destination twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, is now home to just 25 condors, a fraction of the population in years past. Some 80 per cent of the region's visitors come to see the birds. "Condors create jobs and revenues in my community," he said. "And they connect me to my ancestors and my culture." (Reuters)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee