BOISE, Idaho – Wearing identification tag #1 on his wing, a young Andean Condor was released to the wild on July 23 high in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, where he has become a national symbol for the effort to save the species from extinction.
It was the first time that a condor in Ecuador – where the birds are critically endangered – has been released with a satellite transmitter. Andean Condors are listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. The device will allow biologists to track his movements and study condor habitat requirements, foraging behavior, and roosting sites.
“This is an important first step in better understanding the status of the Andean Condor in Ecuador,” said J. Peter Jenny, president of The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation group that is helping to fund the study.
Four weeks ago, the condor was found weak and dehydrated in a tropical area on the eastern side of the Andes where condors had never before been observed. The bird was recovered by the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador and the Andean Condor Working Group and nursed back to health at an animal rescue center. He was named Felipe in honor of the farmer who found him in distress.
“We think that during exploratory flights, Felipe was caught by winds that could have hampered his return to his natural habitat in higher altitudes,” said Hernan Vargas, director of The Peregrine Fund’s Neotropical Science program. “Felipe is the most popular Andean Condor in Ecuador and has already become an ambassador for raising awareness about condor conservation.”
Currently, there are an estimated 50 condors surviving in the wild in Ecuador. An additional 18 condors are in captivity where captive breeding efforts are underway. The main threats to the species are shooting, poisoning, and loss of habitat. Earlier this year, people killed three condors in Ecuador, greatly affecting the nation’s small condor population, Vargas said.
Felipe, now about 18 months old, was released at Hacienda Antisanilla, a ranch that was designated a condor sanctuary in 2012. The area has the thermals of warm rising air that condors need for soaring and three roosting sites for resting, perching, and interacting with other condors. The 700-head cattle ranch also provides food, protection from human persecution, and access to other protected areas.
A group of about 30 government officials, conservationists, reporters, and photographers gathered for the July 23 release.
“A quiet atmosphere, clear sky, and strong winds provided a nice setting for the release,” Vargas said. “We asked Mr. Felipe Farinango, the condor rescuer, to open the door. The young condor walked firmly five or six steps and immediately took off against the prevailing air currents.”
The condor soared along the slope of the mountain and twice flew over the heads of the small crowd. “It was a very thrilling and emotional moment to see the magnificent flight of Felipe soaring higher and higher into the blue sky until he vanished from view,” Vargas said.
Thanks to the tracking equipment, biologists were able to determine that the condor roosted, ate, and flew successfully with other condors in the area after being released. Vargas and his team will continue to track him in the field and collect data over the three- to four-year lifespan of the satellite transmitter.
“This information will be very valuable for implementing conservation measures for this species in Ecuador,” Vargas said. “I really hope that Felipe will continue to soar over the high Andes of Ecuador for many, many years.”
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