Is the Andean Condor Endangered of Extinction?

The Andean condor is endangered and even locally extinct in part of its range. The northern part of the Andean condor’s range features the lowest number of individuals. Per-country population numbers increase southward to the more numerous and stable Andean condor population in the Patagonia Region.

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

Is the Andean condor endangered?

The Andean condor is currently considered a globally “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) has the Andean Condor in Appendix I.

Globally, “near threatened” means a range-wide assessment or an assessment in the estimated 3,230,061 square km (Wallace et al. 2020) where the condor is known to occur in the Andes Mountains. Condor population numbers vary significantly throughout its range. There are only few dozens left in the northern part of its range, including Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. In these countries, the Andean condor is considered endangered by extinction.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a near-threatened species is a species that may be vulnerable to endangerment in the near future, but it does not currently qualify for the threatened status.

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

Information about population size and population trends of the Andean condors are scarce. The literature suggests that there are only some local censuses in roosting and feeding sites, mostly in the central and southern parts of the species range. There are no studies on population trends at the national level nor estimation of the approximate number of breeding pairs and nesting sites.

How is the Andean condor protected?

The Andean condor is protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, under the List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife; 35 FR 18319 18322. Additionally, it is listed under a threat or endangerment category and protected by law in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

How many condors are there?

As of 2020, estimates of the Andean condor global population size suggest approximately 10,000 birds, 6,700 of which are adult birds (Birdlife International 2020). As indicated above, population numbers are the lowest in the northern part of the condor’s range, increasing gradually toward the south. In southern Patagonia and Austral regions, the condor populations are the most numerous and stable.

The conservation status and population size of Andean condors in the countries where it is known to occur are as follows:


Venezuela 

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: approximately 10 to 60 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 6 individual.
  • Notes: The Andean condor was declared extinct in the country for many years. It was later rediscovered and now occurs in two areas in venezuela.

Colombia

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: A census in 2021 yielded approximately 130 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 6 individual
  • Notes: Andean condors in Colombia are mainly restricted to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and El Cocuy National Natural Park.

Ecuador

  • Status: Critically Endangered
  • Population: A census in 2015 yielded approximately 100 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 6 individual
  • Notes: While the 2015 census may have underestimated the number of condors in Ecuador, the number is believed to be very small.

Peru

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: Menos de 2,500 birds (SERFOR 2015).
  • Reintroduced: Rehabbed Andean condors have been released.
  • Notes: The population estimate comes from multiple local censuses and the input of national experts.

Bolivia

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: A census in 2008 yielded approximately 1,388 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 3 individuals.
  • Notes: The national population estimation is based on photographic capture-recapture method.

Chile

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: Approximately 1,500 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 28 individuals.
  • Notes: Andean condors in Argentina and Chile appear to conform a population that commutes between the two countries.

Argentina

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: Approximately 1500 individuals (Medrano et al. 2018).
  • Reintroduced: 163 individuals.
  • Notes: Andean condors in Argentina and Chile appear to conform a population that commutes between the two countries.

The Andean condor was temporarily declared 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. Since 1912, the Andean condor was not seen in the country until new observations emerged in in 1976 in the Mérida Mountain Range. 

During the 1990s private institutions started a reintroduction program of the Andean condor to the Merida Mountain Range. However, the reintroduced birds died or emigrated from the release region and there are no longer Andean condors in the Merida Mountain Range. 

The Andean condor still persists in Venezuela in very small numbers mainly in the Sierra de Perija Mountain Range.

In recent years some individuals have been observed flying over the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. It is unclear whether these birds are resident in the area or temporary visitors from the adjacent Colombia.

Argentina and Colombia have also conducted successful Andean condor reintroduction programs to bolster regional populations. Reintroduction birds were hatched in North American zoos from captive-bred adults.

What are the threats to the Andean condor?

Across its extensive range, the Andean condor faces multiple threats that vary by region. Certain threats have a significant impact in some countries, while they have little to no impact in others.

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 as the most significant threats to the Andean condor:

  1. Intensional and unintentional poisoning resulting in the death of Andean condors after ingesting poisoned bait intended for livestock predators such as foxes and pumas. Up to 72% of Andean condors admitted in a condor rehabilitation center in Chile were poisoned birds (Pavez 2016).

  2. The ingestion of lead ammunition by condors in animals that have been shot but not recovered by hunters.

  3. Shooting of condors by local sport hunters who see this huge bird as a valuable trophy.
  4. Collisions with power lines in areas frequented by Andean condors.

  5. Although little understood, ingestion of carrion with high amounts of pesticides such as DDT is a threat to the condor, particularly in the northern portion of the species range. 
  6. The decline of food available to the Andean condor. In areas where herds of native large mammals roamed freely, they have now been exterminated, resulting in fewer carcasses available to condors. This problem appears to be more significant in the northern part of the condor’s range.

    Though wild herds of large mammals have diminished throughout the Andes, domestic livestock has replaced wild animals in the Central and Southern parts of the Andes, which produces as many carcasses as the wild herds of native mammals.

  7. Increasing competition for food. As human populations expand, so do the population of free-ranging dogs, which consume and keep away native scavengers, including the Andean condor.

    Within the Andean condor’s range, competition for food with the increasing and ever-expanding populations of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) is becoming a problem. Black vultures usually move in large flocks and consume a substantial amount of the carcasses that would otherwise be available to the Andean condor. Black vultures will be in greater competition with Andean condors due to the expansion of black vulture ranges to higher altitudes due to climate change. 

  8. Despite posing a small threat, Andean condors are often caught in traps set for carnivorous mammals, which threaten livestock. 

Other threats whose effect on the Andean Condor is unknown or little-understood include:

  1. The effects of drugs used on livestock consumed by Andean condors. Asia has lost over 95% of the population of 3 species of vultures as a result of vultures eating cattle carcasses treated with the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. We do not know what effect diclofenac and other veterinary drugs have on Andean condors.
  2. The human expansion into the condor habitat may affect the condor’s ability to feed on available carcasses. When on the ground, the Andean condor is vulnerable to predators. This explains why condors are overly cautious before descending to feed on a carcass.

    Roads, human activities, roaming dogs, and even sounds can prevent the Andean condor from feeding on carcasses. In the field, it has been observed that when condors descend to carcasses under such conditions, they are constantly alert and spend only a short time feeding.
  3. Use of of condors in traditional and cultural activities. In a four-year study of the use of 40 individual Andean condors used in traditional annual “Yahuar Fiesta” events, 8 birds died and 5 resulted permanently injured (Piana 2019).

Conclusions:

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

As you move south from Venezuela, the number of Andean condors increases per country. Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile is home to the largest and most stable population of Andean condors.

Currently, the Andean condor is protected under both international and national law.

References:

  • BirdLife International (2020). Vultur gryphus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020.
  • Lambertucci, S. 2007. Biologia y Conservacion del Condor Andino (Vulture gryphus) in Argentina. El Hornero 22(2):149-158.
  • Medrano F, Barros R, Norambuena H V, Matus R y Schmitt F. 2018. Atlas de las aves nidificantes de Chile. Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile. Santiago, Chile.
  • Pavez, E.F. and Estades, C.F. (2016). Causes of admission to a rehabilitation center for Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) in Chile. Journal of Raptor Research. 50(1): 23–32.
  • Piana., Renzo (2019). Human-caused and Yawar Fiesta–derived mortality of Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) in Peru . The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 131 (4): 833–838.
  • Wallace, R. B., A. Reinaga, N. Piland, R. Piana, H. Vargas, R.-E. Zegarra, P. Alarcon, S. Alvarado, J. Alvarez, F. ´ Angulo, V. Astore, et al. (2020). Saving the Symbol of the Andes: A Range Wide Conservation Priority Setting Exercise for the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus). Wildlife Conservation Society, La Paz, Bolivia.