Is the Andean Condor Endangered of Extinction?

This article discusses threats, the current status of wild populations, and conservation measures used to conserve the Andean condor. The Andean condor is endangered and even locally extinct in the northern region of its range. The numbers by country increase towards the south having the largest populations in Chile and Argentina.

The Andean condor, an endangered species, is facing various threats and has experienced local extinction in the northern region of its range. This article examines the current status of wild populations. Notably, the numbers of Andean condors increase as one moves southward, with Chile and Argentina hosting the largest populations.

Female and male Andean condors in Colombia. Photo: Ferney Salgado.

The Andean condor is currently globally considered a  “near threatened” species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists the Andean Condor in Appendix I.

The “globally near threatened” category reflects the status of the Andean condor throughout its estimated geographic range of approximately 3,230,061 square km (Wallace et al. 2020).

Andean condor population densities vary significantly throughout its range. For example, in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, the number of individuals is very low and has even disappeared from part of its historical distribution range. In these countries, the Andean condor is considered a critically endangered species.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a near-threatened species is one that is vulnerable to move to the category of “Endangered with extinction” in the near future.

CITES Appendix I includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. International trade in these species, or parts of them, is completely prohibited, except in exceptional cases, such as scientific research.

Legislation that protects the Andean condor

Globally, the Andean condor is protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife 35 FR 18319 18322. Additionally, it is protected by the conservation laws of each country where the condor is found

Why is the Andean condor vulnerable to extinction?

In parts of its range, the Andean condor is threatened with extinction because its populations are in continuous decline.

In ecology, the K and R strategies describe the mode of survival of a species. The Andean condor has a K survival strategy, which means it has a low reproductive rate, lives a long time, occupies large areas, and puts in a lot of effort into raising only one chick at a time.

Due to its low reproductive rate, the Andean condor is highly dependent on adult survival. If adult mortality exceeds the rate at which they are replaced in the population, the result is a continued population decline.

Andean region reflect differences in population densities. Adapted from Wallace et al 2020.

Andean condor populations in Latin American countries

As of 2020, estimates of the global Andean condor population size suggest approximately 10,000 birds, 6,700 of which are adult birds (Birdlife International 2020). Censuses and field counts in recent years have revealed smaller population numbers.

Andean condor populations are lowest in the northern part of the Andes and gradually increase to the south. In Patagonia and the southern regions of Chile and Argentina, condor populations are the most numerous and stable.

The conservation status and population size of the Andean condor in the countries of South America are as follows:

The Andes condor in Venezuela

  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: Approximately 10 to 60 individuals. The latest observations suggest a population of at least 20 individuals.
  • Note: The Andean condor was declared extinct in the country for many years. It was later rediscovered and is now found in two areas of Venezuela.

Population of the Andean condor in Venezuela

In Venezuela, the Andean condor is classified as one of the four bird species with the highest conservation priority. It was considered extinct in the country since 1912, until it was sighted again in 1976 in the state of Mérida.

Although its presence is scarce, sightings have been recorded in the Sierra de Perijá. About eight annual records are reported in the Mérida mountain range.

It is possible that their presence in part of Venezuela is coincidental and that the individuals come from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. 

Local traditions and the existence of places with the local name “condor” indicate that until the beginning of the century, this bird had widespread distribution in the country. (Rodriguez et al. 2016)

The Andean Condor’s Current Status and Distribution in Venezuela

In January 1993, five condors were introduced into the Páramo de Mifafi, in the Sierra La Culata National Park, Mérida State. That same year, a wild adult condor from Colombia joined the group.

Subsequently, nine additional individuals were reintroduced, including four in the Don Pedro páramo of the Sierra Nevada National Park.

At present, the presence of the condor in Venezuela is limited. The introduced population in Sierra La Culata is less than 10 surviving individuals. In addition, there are 5 to 10 annual visitors from Colombia.

andean condor

The Andean Condor in Colombia

  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: A census in 2021 resulted in approximately 130 individuals.
  • Note: Andean condors in Colombia are mainly restricted to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the El Cocuy National Natural Park.

Population status of the Andean condor in Colombia

The Andean condor in Colombia has experienced a drastic decline in its population since the late 1980s. Reintroduction programs for captive-bred condors were carried out to address this problematic situation between 1989 and 2013. 

Seventy-one condors were released, but there are only records of 39 individuals in the last 12 years. The death of another eleven was confirmed and the situation of the rest was unknown due to the lack of monitoring programs.

Conservation efforts in Colombia have focused on reintroduction programs, reproduction and breeding in captivity, which has allowed condors to be seen in places where they were believed to be extinct, such as Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados.

However, the consensus is that these actions are not enough to guarantee the recovery of the species in the long term. It is necessary to address the factors that limit the viability of condor populations in the wild to achieve effective solutions in the conservation of the species.

Current situation of the Andean condor in Colombia

The current situation of the Andean condor in Colombia is worrisome. The condor inhabits the Andean region and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

According to the first National Census of the Andean Condor, carried out in February 2021, at least 63 condors were sighted throughout the national territory. The census was carried out at 84 observation points.

Despite these efforts, only three condor nests have been recorded in Colombia, and only one of them is active in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. This situation highlights the need to take urgent measures to protect and increase condor populations in the country.

The Andean condor in Ecuador

  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: A 2015 census found between at least 94 and 102 individuals, 65% of them adults.
  • Note: While the 2015 census may have underestimated the number of condors in Ecuador, the actual population is believed to be very small.

Population status of the Andean condor in Ecuador

In 2015, the “First simultaneous national census of the Andean condor in Ecuador” was carried out. This resulted in a total of 94 individuals distributed in 70 roosting sites.

It is estimated that the minimum population is between 94 and 102 individuals.

Of the total population registered, 65% were adults and 35% were subadults and juveniles. Likewise, it was found that 32% were male, 39% were female and 29% could not be identified. This suggests a slightly higher proportion of females in the population.

In 2017, a regional census was carried out in six provinces in southern Ecuador, where 28 individuals were counted. In this census, 79% were adults, while 7% corresponded to subadults and 7% to juveniles.

This demographic distribution suggests an imbalance in the population structure of the species. An exaggeratedly small proportion of subadult and young individuals suggests low reproductive success or a high mortality rate in young individuals.

Captive population

In Ecuador, there is a management/captive breeding program for the Andean condor, which has 18 individuals.

Among the condors in captivity, the successful reproduction of two pairs has been achieved at the Quito Zoo in Guayllabamba and at Hacienda Zuleta. In addition, captive breeding efforts have been made at other locations such as Parque Cóndor, Bioparque Amaru, and Centro de Rescate Ilitio. However, they face challenges in pairing due to a lack of females in some cases.

“El Huayco” rehabilitation center in Peru.

The Andean condor in Peru

  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: At least 301 individuals (SERFOR 2022).
  • Note: The census was carried out simultaneously in 16 departments/states of the country, obtaining a minimum population of 301 individuals.

Population of the Andean Condor in Peru

Based on censuses and estimates of the size of the population in Peru, there are at least 301 individuals.

In the past, the population size of the Andean condor was limited to sites and regions without a national estimate. Information has been obtained in important areas of concentration and at the national level.

The most important censuses at the regional and national level include:

  • Between 1980 and 1982 (Wallace et al)  estimated 115 individuals in the Illescas peninsula and 120 individuals in Olmos Ñaupe, Piura.
  • In 2015 Piana and Angulo collected information on the abundance of Andean condors at 17 sites along the Andes and the coast. The sites included were those where a minimum population of six (6) individuals was estimated. The number of individuals reported was between 155 and 249 Andean condors.
  • In 2022, the National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) together with various national institutions carried out the first National Census of the Andean Condor in Peru. The census was carried out simultaneously in 16 departments of the country, obtaining a minimum population of 301 individuals.

    The departments with the largest number of Andean condors are: Ayacucho (77 individuals), Arequipa (62), Apurímac (36), Lima (28), Ica (25) and Cusco (23). In the other departments, the presence of between ten and zero (0) individuals was recorded.

    Through the census, it was determined that a significant number of individuals of these birds were sighted in rural communities, which becomes an opportunity to generate ecotourism activities.
  • Likewise, the presence of considerable numbers of Andean condors was recorded in at least twenty seven  (27) protected areas.

Conservation measures

Current protection measures include the protection of the Andean condor through legislation, the protection of its habitats, and rehabilitation programs for injured condors, a captive breeding program, and a reintroduction program.

The Andean condor has been registered and is protected in 27 natural conservation areas. Likewise, nine (9) private and public entities participate in the Andean condor rehabilitation, reproduction in captivity, and reintroduction program.

The Andean condor in Bolivia

  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: A 2008 census returned approximately 1,388 individuals. This number was obtained through a photographic capture and recapture method (Mendez et al 2019).
  • Note: The national population estimate is based on a capture-recapture analysis, which appears to differ from on-the-ground direct observations.

Population of the Andean Condor in Bolivia

juvenile andean condor
Juvenile male Andean condor. Photo: Walter Baliero.

The Andean condor population in Bolivia comes from three counts. The first census took place in the Apolobamba mountain range, northwest of the department of La Paz, where a minimum population of 78 individuals was estimated.

A second count was carried out in five separate areas of the eastern Bolivian Andes where a minimum of 456 individuals were counted. The second count followed the same methodology used in the Apolobamba count (Méndez et al. 2015).

The third count used a capture-recapture analysis, this time including almost all of Bolivian territory. It was estimated that the Andean condor population in the country is approximately 1,388 individuals.

Conservation measures

In Bolivia, three important areas have been identified where a significant population of the Andean condor is concentrated. Two of these areas are located near the border with Peru and Argentina.

One of the Priority Conservation Unit of the Andean Condor is Puna-Apolobamba located northwest of the department of La Paz.

This conservation unit overlaps with two national protected areas: Apolobamba and Madidi. Here at least 78 condors have been found, and nests, roosts, and feeding sites have been documented. It is possible that there is a connection with the Puna-Tunari-Valles-Boliviano Tucumano Andean Condor Priority Conservation Unit.

The Puna-Tunari-Valles-Boliviano Tucumano Andean Condor Priority Conservation Unit is another important area. This covers the Andean part of the departments of Potosí, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Tarija and Santa Cruz. Here it is estimated that there are between 350 and 500 condors. Here they have also found places where they feed, roosts, and nest. Furthermore, this area is connected to the Chaco, which is a place where they occasionally find food as well.

Another key area is the Andean Condor Priority Conservation Unit in southern Bolivia, in the department of Potosí. Here are important records of condors and roosts in the Western Cordillera of Bolivia. This area is part of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.

At the moment there are no rehabilitation programs for injured or poisoned condors. Although there is no established reintroduction program, it is likely that local and national zoos assume such responsibility.

Juvenile Andean condor ready to be released. In species with low reproductive capacity, each individual introduced into the population is of great importance. Video: Eduardo Pavez (Centro de Rehabilitación de Aves Rapaces).

Andean condor in Chile

  • State: Vulnerable
  • Population: Approximately 1,500 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Note: Andean condors in Argentina and Chile seem to make up a population that transits between the two countries.

Andean condor in Argentina

  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: Approximately 1,500 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Note: In its range in Argentina, it is still frequent and locally common with maximum estimates of 3,000 condors in Chile and Argentina (Lambertucci 2009).

Andean Condor Conservation Programs (Argentina and Chile)

The Andean Condor Conservation Program (PCCA) is a joint initiative between Argentina and Chile established to preserve the Andean condor. Its main objective is to strengthen local efforts and expand the conservation and knowledge of the species at the South American level.

The Argentine biologist Luis Jácome has led the Andean Condor Conservation Program since 1991, whose fundamental pillars include:

  1. Rescue and rehabilitate condors in trouble, providing them with high-quality care.
  2. Promote the production of condor chicks through artificial incubation, since the Andean condor has a low reproductive rate.

    To speed up the breeding process, the egg is removed from the nest of captive condors for the female to lay another egg. The eggs are artificially incubated.

    To prevent the chicks from becoming familiar with humans, puppets in the shape of the head of an adult condor are used to feed the chicks.
  3. Once the chicks reach a certain age and complete their juvenile plumage, they are introduced to the wild.

The program has managed to successfully raise 79 condor chicks in captivity. Before releasing the juvenile condors they are equipped with satellite transmitters to monitor the released condors in their natural habitat.

Thanks to the efforts of Jácome and international collaboration, the populations of the Andean condor have been kept stable.

The program has managed to reintroduce 219 Andean condors in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. This number includes rescued and rehabilitated individuals.

The Andean condor was declared temporarily extinct in Venezuela

In the country of Venezuela, the northernmost part of the Andean condor’s range, the species was considered extinct for 64 years until new observations emerged. The Andean condor had not been sighted in the country since 1912 until new observations emerged in 1976 in the Cordillera de Mérida.

During the 1990s, private institutions began a reintroduction program to the Cordillera de Mérida. However, the reintroduced individuals died or migrated from the release region and there are no longer Andean condors in the Cordillera de Mérida.

The Andean condor still persists in Venezuela in very small numbers, mainly in the Sierra de Perijá mountain range.

In recent years some specimens have been observed flying over the summits of Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. It is not clear if these individuals are residents of the area or temporary visitors from neighboring Colombia.

Threats to the Andean Condor

In its extensive area of ​​distribution, the Andean condor faces multiple threats whose effects vary according to the region or country.

The main threats to the Andean condor appear directly or indirectly related to human activities. Farmers believe that the Andean condor poses a danger to their livestock. An analysis by Lambertucci (2007) identifies the following most significant threats to the Andean condor:

  1. Intentional and unintentional poisoning resulting in the death of Andean condors after ingesting poisoned baits intended for livestock predators such as foxes and pumas. Approximately 72% of Andean condors admitted to a condor rehabilitation center in Chile were poisoned birds (Pavez and Estades 2016).
  2. The ingestion of lead ammunition by condors by consuming animals that have been shot but not recovered by hunters.
  3. Condor hunting by local sport hunters who see this huge bird as a valuable trophy.
  1. Collisions with power lines in areas frequented by Andean condors.
  2. Although poorly understood, ingestion of carrion with large amounts of pesticides such as DDT is a threat to the condor, particularly in the northern part of the species’ range.
  3. The decrease in food available for the andean condor. In areas where herds of large native mammals once grazed freely, they have now been exterminated, resulting in less carrion available to condors. This problem appears to have greater effects in the northern part of the condor’s range.

    Although wild herds of large mammals have declined throughout the Andes, they have been replaced by domestic animals, particularly in the central and southern parts of the Andes. Domesticated animals produce as much carrion as the wild herds of native mammals but comes with the consequences of being poisoned by farmers to protect their livestock.
  4. Increased competition for food. As human populations expand, so does the dog population. These not only consume dead animals but also keep native scavengers, including the Andean condor, away.
  5.  Increased geographic range and competition by the Black Vulture. One possible reason for such an expansion is climate change. Black Vultures  (Coragyps atratus) continue to expand their geographic range and are now found at higher elevations in the Andes than usual.

    Black-headed Vultures generally move in flocks and consume a substantial amount of carrion that was traditionally consumed by the Andean condor.
  6. Despite posing little threat, Andean condors often get caught in traps set for livestock-predating mammals such as pumas and foxes.

Other threats whose effect on Andean condor populations are not well understood include:

  1. The effects of drugs used on cattle eaten by Andean condors. Asia has lost more than 95% of the population of 3 vulture species as a result of vultures eating carrion from cattle treated with the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. The effect that diclofenac and other veterinary drugs have on the Andean condor is not known.
  2. The effect of a greater human presence in the habitat of the Andean condor. Roads, human activities, stray dogs, and even sounds can prevent the Andean condor from feeding. It has been observed that when condors descend on a dead animal in the presence of human activities, they are constantly alert and spend less time feeding.
  3. The effect of mortality resulting from the use of the Andean condor in traditional and cultural activities. In a four-year study of the use of 40 Andean condors used in the traditional annual “Yahuar Fiesta” events, 8 birds died and 5 sustained permanent injuries (Piana 2019). This means that 33% of the captured condors were  permanently removed from the wild population.


Throughout its range, the Andean condor is considered critically endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. Venezuela declared the species extinct for 64 years before it was rediscovered. In Venezuela, condors are still few and far between in places.

From north to south, the number of Andean condors per country increases. The southern region of Argentina and Chile is home to the largest and most stable population of Andean condors.

Currently, the Andean condor is protected by international and national laws. Each country has a national conservation plan aimed at minimizing the effects of the main threats facing the Andean condor.

The Andean condor is still subject to largely unmitigated threats.


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