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  • Condors were considered sacred by the Incans who believed they could communicate with the world of the gods.

    Condors were considered sacred by the Incans who believed they could communicate with the world of the gods. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 August 2019

Andean condors were revered by the Incas, but now face a fragile future in South America and are in danger of extinction.

Condors, one of the world's largest flying birds, part of the vulture family, are in danger of extinction, warned experts Tuesday.

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The majestic birds, which can have a wingspan of up to 3.3 meters, are the national emblem of almost all Andean countries and the central figure of Ecuador's coat of arms, as in Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Peru.

Their story has become tragic due to human activity, which has caused the population to decline to critical levels in countries such as Colombia and Ecuador, while in Venezuela their presence is almost nil.

It is difficult to know the total population. Some studies estimate there are between 5,000 and 6,500 birds distributed throughout the Andean mountain range, with a greater presence in Argentina and Chile, with fewer in Bolivia and Peru.

Faced with this critical situation, the region has come to the aid of the condor, introducing rescue and protection programs under the Andean condor conservation strategy.

In Ecuador, where the birds' population is estimated at 150, a national day has been declared for the emblematic bird — July 7.

Efrain Cepeda of Fundacion Jocotoco, which runs the Antisanilla Reserve in Ecuador where a third of the nation's wild condor population is concentrated, said people should protect and admire the "extraordinary bird."

The Jocotoco Foundation has undertaken programs to protect the wetlands in this highland area, the origin of a large volume of water that provides fresh H2O to the capital, Quito.

Cepeda told EFE that "cities should create a very important link" with condors because they help maintain the ecological balance in the moors, which supply the city with drinking water.

Condors are a catalyst for life in the Andean mountains because, being a scavenger, they eliminate the risk of diseases spreading to other animals, he added.

In the Antisanilla Reserve, around 60 km northeast of Quito, the steep slopes of the mountains are used as habitat for condors that fly over large swaths of high altitude plains to scavenge decaying carcases.

Cepeda said he is proud that the reserve, which covers almost 2,000 hectares located between 3,500 and 4,000 meters above sea level, is home to two of the most fertile pairs of breeding condors in the country.

Conservation programs have also contributed to the giant flying bird being able to fly in the skies free from threats.

Residents are welcome to visit the moorlands of Antisanilla to see the condors circling overhead and enjoy the fauna of the mountains.

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Cepeda said the birds represent the fragile relationship between the city and the mountains and that he is worried about their small population in Ecuador.

"We know that there are about 150 individuals, they are so few. We are very concerned," he added.

One of the threats the condors face is from feral dogs that were abandoned pets on the outskirts of the city.

The dogs "cause many problems for wildlife, such as the condor" as they compete for food and also kill deer and other wild birds, Cepeda said.

"We want people to raise environmental awareness" and "come to appreciate and protect this emblematic bird," he added.

Cepeda invited residents to visit the Antisanilla plateau to see the huge birds in their natural habitat, one of "few places where you can see something like that." 

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