Each condor in this project has its own story. The captive condors are the product of wildlife trafficking, they arrived thanks to a awareness campaign arranged in 1995 by Dr. Friedeman Köester, who for many years advised the project. Rucu, Coya, Ayu, Pimampiro, Reina Pacha, Inti y Tarishka are the protagonists of this story. Their destiny is to be caged; they have been like this for a long time, for example Rucu has a broken leg, Reina Pacha and Pimampiro have lead bullets in their bodies. So, they can’t be liberated, but…. their offspring, though a reintroduction program can RETURN TO THE SKIES. This is the goal of this project.
What is the problem for the condors?
The National Working Group for the Andean Condor, in various studies, has registered fewer than 50 wild condors in the north and centre of Ecuador, with very few registered sightings or data in the south of the country.
The problem is the same as in many places and many species: lack of food, hunting, and pressure due to expansion of agricultural land, but also, the condor is a carrion eater, and often it ingests lead or poison from the dead animals it eats, and dies from this. In this case, the nature of the condor’s biology doesn’t help it much. It’s a monogamous species, which takes a long time after the death of a mate to find another. The condor takes 7 years to reach sexual maturity and lay the first egg, and thereafter will lay another only once every 2 years. The pair jealously care for the chick for two whole years. The condor chicks are curious by nature, and so they are easily caught. In addition to the external pressures on the condor, this long life cycle means that the population cannot recover quickly from losses.
So, what are we doing?
We maintain the Condor House project, which has 2 components: research and education.
In research, the goal of the project is to breed chicks in captivity and liberate them, but for this we first need to keep the condors healthy. Three years ago we made genetic studies to be able to form compatible pairs. We improved the condor enclosures and we hope the birds will produce chicks. For this we need to provide them with a suitable environment and care for them appropriately. Also, through behavioural studies, we will know if the couples are compatible and we will make decisions about appropriate environments, diets, enrichment and other topics.
On the other hand, for liberation, specialised biologists need to go out into the field to investigate what is happening with the wild condors, locate nests and feeding areas, establish when is the breeding season and what food is available, amongst other questions.