Yesterday I came on to some very disturbing news that an astounding 34 Andean Condors had been poisoned and killed in Mendoza province in Argentina. A total of 20 males and 14 females, probably adults were found dead from having eaten poisoned bait Reuters reports. I am still in shock, I cannot imagine one Condor dead, the loss to the environment and the species, but 34, this is just HEARTBREAKING!
Andean Condors are the world’s largest flying birds weighing in on average between 12-15kg and having a wingspan of over 3m. These birds on their own are just a wonder of nature and like most vultures can live up to 70yrs of age. They are New World Vultures and are top of the food chain in the South America. Their name is derived from their habit which is the Andes mountain range in South America. I had the amazing privilege of seeing these birds both male and female in my lifetime. They were captive birds in South Africa at VulPro very far from their naturally intended home. I lived with and observed them for 10 months while I was attached to the center as an intern, they were both non-releasable birds, the male had been rescued by VulPro after having been brought up as a pet for circus type of shows and was therefore a human imprint and the female was a ‘gift’ from Joburg Zoo to keep the male condor company (not that he cared for her at all). One has to see these birds live and in close proximity to feel the splendor of their being and the hear the incredible sound of their wings flap, this is a feeling one cannot describe I just cannot imagine how it would feel though in the wild without the barrier of an enclosure.
There is no need to detail on this article just how special these birds are, however, in their place of origin in South America, they are rapidly declining and could soon be on the chopping block of extinction. It is estimated that there are 10 000 of them in the wild in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay south Argentina and Chile. However, the ranching communities in this mountainous region, Condors are perceived as dangerous predators and threats to livestock like cattle, sheep and goats. Consequently they are killed by the use of poisoned bait that also kills other animals that come close to and feed on the carcasses. At times this bait is left out for mammalian predators like Pumas, however, scavenging raptors well adapted to finding carcasses almost always end up the most heavily affected.
The law in most if not all of these countries does not permit this, however there is huge challenges to law enforcement as some of these acts are committed in very remote parts of the Andean range. Another problem they seem to also have that is very similar to some of our own problems here in Africa is culture and long-standing traditions. Due to some cultural practices and traditional beliefs, most people then choose to be either ignorant of or defiant to the law and its enforcement especially environmental activists and conservationists. One such tradition is the Yawar Fiesta the Festival of the Bull or Festival of Blood. This festival is held every year on the 29th of July in different parts of Peru to celebrate the liberation of the country from Spanish rule. This is a very terrible and I am very sorry to say cruel tradition. I love diversity, history and culture, I love the colors of culture and what history lies behind the beautiful traditions that make civilizations today but this particular one I am sorry to say does should not have a place in our time today.
Weeks before these festival celebrations, men go up to the mountains to trap a Condor and they bring it back to the village to be captive till the day of the fiesta. On the day, it is taken out of the cage and it is given alcohol to drink, tequila I suppose then it is tied onto the back of a crazy raging bull. It is believed that Condors are an incarnation of the Andean gods and therefore this festival isn’t just a crazy matador show but a lot of symbolism is associated with this practice. The huge raging bull symbolizes Spain and its heavy oppression on the Peruvian people. The Andean Condor represents the spirit of the people of Peru and the bird is expected to fight the bull while trying to set itself free and pick it’s eyes out! This can go on for a long while as the beast kicks and jumps about and at the end of the festival there’s blood on the ground. If the Condor fails to deliver, it is seen as an bad omen which isn’t good news for the condors.
After the festival, if the bird survives, injured or not, it is released back into the wild and no one knows the fate of such birds and the effects resulting from the impact of such a horrific captivity experience. As many as 50 of these festivals can occur on this day, even though the law forbids the capturing of wild animals. This tradition is said to date back from the 18th century, is it too powerful and too important to be left in the past?
These birds are beautiful and deserve to survive, they cannot be wiped out forever due to poisoning and shooting down because of a misunderstanding when they scavenge and not hunt. They certainly should not be wiped out by ignorance and tradition that is irrelevant for the time we are living in. This a tragedy for the whole world, these stories are happening to different vulture species in the world. A loss of any member of this special guild will negatively affect our ecosystems.
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