The immense and majestic Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is the symbol of the Andes and is the only wildlife species on Bolivia’s national crest. It also has a deep cultural and spiritual significance for the indigenous people of the high Andes. Unfortunately it is threatened across much of its continental range, particularly in the northern portions.
To date WCS has focused on gathering data on the distribution of condors and their nests in the Apolobamba Mountains of the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape through direct observations by local field biologists, as well as structured interviews with park guards and local communities. This information along with a condor census, obtained using digi-scoping photography techniques (telescope, digital camera and adapter) for individual recognition, has determined that the mountains of Apolobamba within the Madidi and Apolobamba protected areas, are home to a significant population of the species and represent a stronghold for their regional conservation. However, it is important to note that due to their natural rarity the number of condors registered in that area is relatively low, between 80 and 150 individuals. This highlights the need for studies on movement patterns of the species including the size of their areas of action, to define more precisely the scale required to ensure their conservation in the region. While individual condors obviously occupy large geographic areas, so far there is no information to determine the exact size of individual home ranges, which is surprising given the cultural importance of the species.
The Andean condor has unfortunately been persecuted because it is considered responsible for the loss of livestock, and has also been a victim of poison intended for other species such as the Andean fox. In practice, the predation of livestock attributed to the condor is not significant, so it is important to reinforce the iconic and culturally significant role of condors in the region, and inform and prevent damage to livestock. In this sense, WCS has worked with communities in the Apolobamba protected area to design and use nonlethal mitigation measures: registration of data and livestock protection from several species of wildlife.
Together with local partners including the Bolivian Ministry of Environment, ARMONIA and BIOTA in Bolivia, and INRENA and Cayetano Heredia University Foundation in Peru, we have also launched a bi-national questionnaire based effort to map known Andean condor localities and produce a conservation action plan that considers identified stronghold populations.