One of Earth’s largest birds, with a wingspan up to 10.5 feet, the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is one of Chile’s national symbols, along with the huemul deer. Much like the huemul, this native of the southern Andes is a threatened species, so, in partnership with SAG (Chile’s agricultural and wildlife authority) and AvesChile, Conservacion Patagonica is working on a project to release three juvenile condors back into the wilds of the future Patagonia National Park.
Andean Condors, the world’s largest vulture, are primarily scavengers, very rarely killing prey. Here in Patagonia, they feed on the carcasses of guanaco, sheep, and other large mammals, playing a key role in recycling nutrients through the ecosystem as they eat waste. These birds may cover over 150 miles in a day scanning for carcasses, gliding on air currents as their substantial weight makes flying by flapping winds very energy-intensive.
Ranchers often persecute these birds, out of a belief that they steal and kill livestock. Their populations suffer drastically from such killings, as condors’ low mortality rates—a condor may live to 75 years!—evolutionarily has produced correspondingly low reproductive rates, just one fledging every two years. Throughout the Andes, scientists and conservationists are working to recover populations of condors, listed as a near-threatened species in IUCN classification.
The Andean Condor Release project aims to restore three young birds rescued by SAG here in the Aysen Region and restored at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Santiago. Conservacion Patagonica’s Conservation Director, Cristian Saucedo, has worked closely with Dr. Eduardo Pavez, the head of the Raptor Rehabilitation Center and a leading condor expert, to design the re-release. The wildlife team at the park scouted out the best habitat for the pre-release area and constructed a large cage that serves as home for the condors as they grow accustomed to their surroundings.
Early in November, the three condors arrived in the park, having flown south from Santiago with with the support of SAG. On a snowy spring day, the team introduced the birds to their new home in the park. During the two months before their release, the three new condors are socializing with the park’s resident condors, giving them a chance to integrate into the population dynamics.
Throughout November and December, numerous groups of schoolchildren from Cochrane visited the condors, learning about this species and the larger park project. Students got the chance to visit the pre-release facility, first observing and learning from a distance about the rehabilitation and then approaching the cage quietly, two by two, for a more close-up sight of these mighty birds.
With just a few weeks left until liberation day (January 14th), the team organized a special competition among the school groups to name the condors. The results? “Col Col,” “Andino” and “Rey”. Now our team, neighbors, and students alike are awaiting the big release event, to watch these giant creatures soar through the mountains of Patagonia once again.