· Researchers identify 21 priority Andean condor conservation units identified, seven of which are transboundary
· Historical range of this iconic species estimated to be more than 3.2 million square kilometers, spanning seven Andean countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina)
· International Vulture Awareness Day is Saturday, September 5, 2020
Just in time for World Vulture Day comes a new scientific book: “Saving the Symbol of the Andes: A Range Wide Conservation Priority Setting Exercise for the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus).” The book is by 38 experts from seven countries and is the results of an in-depth systematization of studies carried out on the distribution, ecology and conservation status of the species along the Andean mountain range, from Venezuela to Argentina and Chile. Its objective is to promote a conservation strategy at a continental level that ensures healthy populations of condors.
This effort was launched at the II International Andean Condor Symposium in Lima, Peru, in May 2015, supported by WCS, The Peregrine Fund, the Peruvian National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR), and the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment (MINAM). At the symposium, priority areas for Andean condor conservation were identified based on existing knowledge of their distribution and ecological behavior, using a methodology developed by WCS for regionally and globally threatened landscape species.
The book brings together the most important current scientific information on the species. It presents a description by country of its ecological characteristics, distribution and population size, the areas with and without expert knowledge, the most important threats and the identified conservation units. In total, 9,998 distribution points of the Andean Condor were included throughout its range, which, along with expert knowledge, were the basis for the elaboration of digital maps and the identification of conservation units by country and at a continental level.
Population studies carried out in the different countries have made it possible to estimate a population of less than 10,000 individuals throughout the Andean condor's distribution range. The various threats to its conservation, aggravated by the effects of climate change, do not guarantee sustainable populations over time unless effective actions are taken to protect the species. Their low natural abundance, reduced reproductive rate and essentially social behavior make them even more vulnerable to the effects of habitat loss, hunting, poisoning, competition with feral dogs and, recently, collisions and electrocutions with electrical cables.
A historical distribution range of 3,230,061 square kilometers was estimated, which extends linearly along the Andes Mountains. The largest area is in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Experts estimate that condors lost areas representing 7.3 percent of the historical range, mainly in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. However, it should be noted that there are areas (34.22 percent) where experts do not have information.
The 21 Andean Condor Conservation Units proposed by the experts cover an area of 1,203,703 square kilometers (37.3 percent) of the species' range, seven of which are transboundary conservation units, contributing to guarantee the connectivity of the species' habitat and highlighting the need for integrated conservation actions between nations. Fifty-one percent of the priority conservation units are located in Argentina, followed by Bolivia (17.75 percent), Peru (14 percent) and Chile (11.47 percent). The smallest portion of the conservation units are in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador (5.56 percent). One aspect that stands out is that 13.5 percent of the historical range of the condor has legal protection, which is fundamental for protecting nesting and roosting sites, although conservation measures are required that consider foraging areas that are outside of protected areas, as well as actions for the sustainable management of natural resources.
This Andean Condor conservation strategy is based on conservation units that integrate protected areas and relevant foraging areas for the species, and constitutes the framework that will allow the orientation of action plans in each country and the establishment of binational agreements for the conservation of transboundary units.
Ensuring the permanence of the Andean Condor is of vital importance for the conservation of wildlife and the appreciation of the cultural traditions of the Andean region. Its ecological importance is related to the environmental services it provides, particularly in relation to its behavior as a scavenger. By disposing of carcasses naturally, it helps to maintain adequate health levels in the environment, controlling the potential spread of disease. The wildlife symbol of the Andes, the cultural importance of the Andean condor is expressed in its recognition as the national bird of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile, and in its significance as an important figure in the iconography and rituals of the cultures that developed in the Andean region.
Said the book’s lead author, Robert Wallace of WCS said “The work of 38 experts throughout the range, this effort identifies the most important strongholds for the wildlife symbol of the Andes, the magnificent Andean condor, which unfortunately is increasingly threatened by a variety of threats and will need collaborative and regional efforts to ensure its conservation into the future.”
Hernan Vargas of the Peregrine Fund said “This report summarizes knowledge on the conservation status of the Andean Condor throughout its distributional range. The Lima workshop in 2015 set an important milestone to increase research and conservation efforts to save the symbol of the Andes. Workshop participants identified areas where the Andean Condor has a good conservation status, where the species is already extirpated, and priority areas to focus research and conservation efforts. The workshop also served as a platform to strengthen regional collaborations and project coordination. Consensus information derived from the workshop is also currently being used by IUCN-BirdLife International to categorize the Andean Condor as a threatened species in the Vulnerable category.”