In South-American countries crossed by the Andes Mountains, condors are seen more than just birds. They are considered as a National Symbol in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. We can find it representation on these countries’ coats of arm, stamps and coins. Condors are mentioned in myths, and are part of the culture. Through this article, we will learn which characteristics make condors so majestic and why they are such important in Andean people life.
Andean Condors, or Vultur gryphus, are the only member of the Vultur genus. It name is derived from the Quechua word “kuntur”. It is a scavenger which prefers eating large carcasses such as deer or cattle, and which morphology is not appropriated to attack lively animals. By its cleaning action, it plays an important role. It prevents epidemics which consequences may be terrible for wildlife and cattle.
You could recognize it thanks to its large and black plumage. It neck is surrounding by a white ruff and it head is nearly fearless. It overall length varies from 100 to 130 cm (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 3 in), it weight from 8 to 11 kg (18 to 24 lb) for female and from 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) for males, and it wingspan up to 3,2 m (10,5 ft). Males have a dark red comb on the crown of their head, large white patches on their wings and brown irises, whereas females have deep red irises. Their beaks are hooked. Condors have this specific feature to blush depending on their emotions, thus allows them communicating between individuals. They don’t have phonetic organ, so they can’t emit any sounds.
Juvenile condors have a grayish-brown general coloration with a brown ruff.
They usually live on inaccessible rocks ledges, at elevation from 2 000 to 5 000 meters (6,500 ft to 16,000 ft). They need open space to spot carrion. They live in a group (15 to 24 birds) with a dominant male but before the austral winter couples go living by their own.
They lifespan is around 70 years, one of the world longest-living birds. However, they are threatened by habitat loss and by secondary poisoning from carcasses killed by hunters. That’s why captive breeding programs have been set up in several countries, in order to preserve this specie. In 2004, the Andean Condor specie has been defined by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as almost disappeared.
Myth and culture:
In the Andean mythology, condors were associated to the sun deity and were believed being rulers of the upper world. They were symbol of power and health, and people thought condor’s organs and bones possessed medicinal properties.
By the Yawar Day in Peru, people had a ritual which consisted in capturing and tying a condor on a bull’s back. The condor represented people from Andes, while the bull represented Spanish people. The condor, looking for freedom, bit the bull with his beak. In most of the cases, condors killed bulls, symbol of the Andean victory over Spanish Conquistadores. Therefore, if the condor was the one to die, it augured a disaster on the village. Nowadays, this use is forbidden.
Condors in Ecuador:
- In 1802, the famous German explorer Alexander von Humboldt saw condors flying over the highest Ecuadorian volcano, the Chimborazo one which top is located at 6310 meters above sea level.
- Nowadays, the 7th of July is dedicated to condors, making it the “National Day for Condors”.
- In Ecuador, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) financed projects in order to save vast areas where live condors and other animals. Such as places to be saved we can mention the Sangray National Park and the Cotacahi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
In 2010, no more than 50 birds were counted in Ecuador. Unfortunately, in Venezuela and Colombia, they are extremely rare especially because of human activity.
Often seen as a threat by inexperienced people, Condors are rightfully celebrated by the Andean population.
Gray Line Ecuador is a company immersed in conservation and an eco-friendly operation to preserve the wonders of our country for future generations. For more articles like this and information on our services to travel around Ecuador, please visit www.graylineecuador.com