DISTRIBUTION AND CONSERVATION STATUS
These great birds are found in South America from Venezuela to Tierra
del Fuego and Isla de los Estados in Argentina, throughout the Andean
range, up to heights of 7.4000 (m.a.s.l.) (Beltrán, 1992; Chebez, et al 1994;
Throughout their distributional range, the condor forms a population that
is quite constant, with little genetic variation (Hendrickson, et al 2003).
Currently the species is listed under CITES (the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Appendix I, which
is the highest threat level for species in danger of extinction by
USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service).
Though it was declared extinct in Venezuela in 1965, thanks to the
reintroduction programmes, 18 of these individuals have been released into
the wild (Jácome, 1998a), regrettably with a very low survival rate. In
Colombia there are less than 50 wild condors and a similar number of
reintroduced individuals (Lieberman, et al, 1993; Rodriguez, et al, 1994;
Feliciano, com.pers. 2006), meanwhile in Ecuador there are no more
than 50 of them (Cuesta, 1994; Montoya, 2004; Saltos, et al, 2009). In Peru
and Bolivia their natural population has decreased (Wallace, et al, 1983;
Rodriguez, 1995), and even though Chile and Argentina have the largest
populations in South America (Pavez, et al, 1995) there have been local
extinctions, like the ones in the Atlantic shore. Fortunately, due to the
great conservation effort called The Return of the Condor to the Ocean,
launched in 2003, it has been possible to reintroduce 43 individuals which
have had 6 offspring born in the wild (Jácome, et al, 2005).
Among the reasons that explain this progressive decline, is the understanding that for more than one hundred years it was considered a pest, being killed due to the belief that they prey on livestock, when in reality it is a scavenger. Even today they are targeted by unscrupulous hunters, victims of lead poisoning by eating animals that have been shot or intoxicated (and) when eating animals that have been poisoned with the purpose to exterminate other pests. Other elements that put their survival at risk are: collisions with human-built structures like power lines, disruption of their resting and nesting habitat, collection of eggs
and chicks by museum collectors, reduction of other relevant species like deer or guanaco that are part of their diet and the alteration of their natural habitat.
The Californian Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), in North America, occupies the same ecological niche and suffers from the same conservation issues as the Andean Condor. In North America, the condor population is at risk of extinction and this is a harsh precedent clouding the conservation future of the Andean Condor. The U.S. has invested more than 25 million USD, since 1987, in conservational efforts to try and save their last wild individuals, but their future remains uncertain (Wallace, 1987; Arnold, 1993). Although Argentina has the biggest population of Condor in South America, it is clear that we should not wait to reach the
situation of the Californian Condor, to take proper conservational measures.
The eventual extinction of the condor would not only disrupt the delicate ecological equilibrium in the Andean ecosystem, but would also have serious implications in the cultural scenario as it is considered the Living Spirit of The Andes. For the Mapuche community it plays an important religious role. Its figure is represented in 1500-year-old Nazca ceramics (Celis Parra, 1992). For the Quechuas and Aymaras in Peru and Bolivia it has great mystical powers and they even believe that the soul of the nobles and braves are reincarnated in the form of a condor. The ornaments made with their feathers were used in ceremonial rituals in the Inca’s Court (Palermo, 1983). A link between humans and God, a souls’ guide to Hananpacha, the sun messenger, are some of the roles given in the Andean Cosmo Vision (Jácome, 2006).