Human Interest

Rescued condors nurtured to health – and flight – in Chile’s Patagonia region

By Maria M.Mur

Patagonia region, Chile, Feb 17 (EFE).- Pumalin, an Andean condor found as a baby with signs of frostbite and on the verge of death in southern Chile, is believed to have fallen out of his nest during a powerful storm.

Named after the Douglas Tompkins Pumalin National Park where he was discovered, he has been given a second chance and recently was freed from captivity along with Liquiñe, a female condor who was rescued in the country’s central region.

“Losing a condor is a tragedy. The species is vulnerable and could soon be in danger of extinction,” Cristian Saucedo, wildlife director at Fundacion Rewilding Chile, told Efe.

Pumalin and Liquiñe spent the first stage of their rehabilitation at a raptor center in Santiago before being transferred to a large cage in the heart of Chile’s portion of southern South America’s Patagonia region, a section of Patagonian steppe near the Argentine border and in the shadow of Monte San Lorenzo.

Since their arrival, they have become accustomed to the Patagonian winds and low temperatures, learned to dismember the carcass of a guanaco (close cousin of the llama) and even received visits from other condors that perched for hours on the roof of their cage.

The most emblematic species of the Andes region, the condor is “very social and gregarious, and its survival depends on its ability to interact with its peers. They need the group to find flight paths or places to rest,” Saucedo said.

Last weekend, the condors’ handlers decided the time had come for them to “fly the nest.”

They had reached the necessary weight of between eight and 10 kilograms (18-22 pounds), had a wingspan of nearly 2.7 meters (nine feet), their plumage was in good condition and they showed fear of humans, a sign they had not become domesticated.

The doors of the cage were opened, and surprisingly Liquiñe was the first to venture out. Pumalin was hesitant for a while.

“This was her second attempt. We released her a few months ago, but we had to rescue her shortly afterward because she wasn’t used to being free,” Proyecto Manku Director Dominique Duran, whose organization has worked with Rewilding and Fundacion Meri on this condor conservation project since its inception in 2021, told Efe.

“The condor signified the connection between the sky and the earth” for pre-Columbian cultures, Mateo Barrenengoa, a videographer who filmed the condor release for a documentary he is preparing on that Andean scavenger, the world’s largest flying bird, told Efe.

“It’s an animal that gives you amazing moments. Sometimes it passes very close by, and you can even hear the movement of its wings,” he added.

Chile accounts for South America’s largest Andean condor population, and some 70 percent of those raptors are found in Patagonia, a frigid, rugged region that is shared by Chile and Argentina and also is home to other emblematic Andean species like guanacos, huemuls (an endangered deer species) and rheas (a large flightless bird).

The condors in the northern extent of their range, particularly those in Ecuador and Colombia, are the most vulnerable, Saucedo explained, adding that the plan is to bolster the population in Patagonia before carrying out reinsertion programs elsewhere.

Duran said the release of the birds into the wild is “only the beginning of a long reinsertion process,” noting that two radio and satellite transmitters implanted in the condors will allow their movements to be studied and expand knowledge about this very vulnerable species.

Illegal hunting, poorly managed landfills, a lack of guanacos to eat and “toxic carrion” – animal carcasses that livestock producers deliberately poison to kill foxes and pumas – are the biggest threats to the Andean condor’s survival.

“These condors have returned to nature post-captivity, and we should learn from them and return to nature, to our roots, become more connected,” Barrenengoa said. EFE


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