High-altitude preserve for Andean Condors in Ecuador

4/23/2014 | 0

UNMISTAKABLE: Andean Condor has a white neck ruff, a featherless head, and exceptionally long wings. Photo by Murray Cooper.

UNMISTAKABLE: Andean Condor has a white neck ruff, a featherless head, and exceptionally long wings. Photo by Murray Cooper.

The Andean Condor has the widest wing-span of any raptor — up to 10.5 feet — and it is an extremely important bird for Ecuador. A symbol of the country, it appears on its national coat-of-arms.

So it was a big deal when 30-40 condors were discovered nesting on the cliffs at Antisanilla, on the western slopes of the magnificent Antisana Volcano in central Ecuador. The birds represented the most significant population north of southern Peru and Bolivia and over 50 percent of the condor population in all of Ecuador.

The 7,000-acre area where they were found sits at the edge of the Greater Antisana area in one of the largest wilderness areas in Ecuador, only about 30 miles southeast of Quito. It is known as Hacienda Antisanilla.

When the area was offered for sale, the Ecuadorian conservation organization Fundación Jocotoco led a successful effort involving more than two dozen Ecuadorian and international organizations, including ABC, to purchase it for $1.6 million. The property will become part of a buffer area surrounding the Antisana Ecological Reserve, a spectacular 350,000-acre area of high-altitude forests and páramo grasslands.

Together, the conservation area incorporates one of the largest elevation gradients in the world, stretching from 3,900 to 18,875 feet above sea level. Though not as rich in diversity as the Amazon Basin, the lands are inhabited by rare and endemic species of fauna and flora and are extremely fragile because plants grow so slowly in the tropical alpine climate.

In addition to the condor, Silvery Grebe and Andean Ibis, now considered a separate species from more-common Black-faced Ibis, will benefit from the new protections. The area’s lakes, marshes, and bogs also provide habitat for Baird’s, Upland, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers and other resident and migratory shorebirds, as well as many waterfowl.

The acquisition coincided with the first successful release in Ecuador of an Andean Condor wearing a satellite transmitter. After being found weak and dehydrated, Felipe, a young condor, was captured, rehabilitated, and, on July 23, 2013, at Hacienda Antisanilla, released. The bird was found dead on April 12, 2014. It had been shot.

Read more about the shooting of the young condor.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe.

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This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. Read more about ABC’s international programs.