Ecuador is launching its second national census for the endangered Andean condor, the South American country's national bird, the Environmental Ministry (MAE) said Friday.
A group of 600 experts and volunteers will be stationed in 180 sites in 10 ecological nature reserves around the country until August 19 to chart the condor's numbers and assess the suitability of its current environment, the Ecuadorean Foundation of the Andean Condor said.
"The condors are part of a very important chain in lives. Being scavenger birds, they contribute to the cleanliness of the ecosystems," David Veintimilla, MAE National Directorate representative, told Efe.
Considered a symbol of power and spirituality, the Andean Condor is greatly respected in the region and can be seen soaring over the mountains in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.
The first census, in 2015, garnered only 102 volunteers to assist in the project. However, with the help of education and identification programs, government subsidies for conservatories – as well as management plans, hunting controls, and general awareness – have risen considerably.
During the previous census, only 70 nests were located in the eight conservations with fewer than 100 condors in the entire country.
Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, said: "By far the most scary things about extinction or animal loss are the impacts that these changes can have on the network of interactions that link life together in nature."
MAE's director in Cotopaxi, Daniela Culqui, said: "The aspiration is for the population of the bird to grow in the country."
"One of the problems facing the condor is the advance of the agricultural frontier and the decline of the animals, which feed mainly on carrion," Veintimilla said.
With a three-meter wingspan and weighing 15 kilograms, the Vulture Gryphus hangs in the air at 5,000 meters in search of carrion, which can include anything from dead llamas to beached whales.