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Condors

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This is a good piece on the problems facing the Andean condor, the world’s second largest bird. Basically, even though condors, like other vultures, do the ecosystem a tremendous amount of service by eating carrion, South American farmers see them as enemies and shoot them. Populations are in decline in most of its range. This can change. It takes an active government effort. Among the many effective government actions in U.S. history for instance was the creation of hunting laws, hunting seasons, hunting licenses, and other actions to eliminate the hunting commons that was the entire U.S. up to the late 19th century. This prevented deer, elk, bear, bison, and other large animals from extinction. It’s hard to believe today that deer were extirpated from many states in 1900, but it is true. Bolivia and Peru could do the same thing and protect these animals by vigorously prosecuting their killings. Will they? Unlikely.

I also have an Andean condor story to tell. In 2008, I traveled in Bolivia for 5 weeks, one of the most important experiences of my life. I’ve talked about this before in terms of the impact of mining on the nation and its people. Toward the end of the trip, I was on the eastern slopes of the Andes, a couple hours west of Santa Cruz. We had a day to kill and so the guy we were staying with said he’d take us on a hike. He didn’t really say what we would see except a waterfall. As these things go in much of the world, the trail was straight up the mountain. So after huffing and puffing to this overlook (and seeing a quetzal (either a crested or golden-headed, both of which are pretty cool but I’m not sure which) which I had seen before in Costa Rica but is still a jaw-dropping bird no matter how many times you see them), we just stopped and waited. We were getting bored. After about 45 minutes, all of a sudden all these Andean condors started flying in from all directions to bathe in the waterfall! There were like 15 of them. They were flying the wind currents which were right above us. So here the second largest bird in the world is maybe 15 feet above my head. It was, to say the least, amazing. Perhaps the best wildlife experience of my life. These are some big birds.

Anyway, some of it is personal to me, but I very much hope the Andean condors get saved. I wonder how many of the birds I saw that day were later shot by farmers. Probably most of them. Very sad.

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