Like the California condors of North America, Andean condors have long been in decline. A recovery program based at the Buenos Aires Zoo is trying to make sure that Andean condors do not reach as critical a state as their northern cousins. The program incubates eggs in captivity and then releases the young condors in areas where they had previously disappeared.
Condor populations declined for decades throughout South America mainly because of hunting by farmers, many of whom mistakenly believed the condor to be a predatory bird. They would see condors swooping down toward their livestock and then notice that one of their animals was dead, Jacome said. But the birds, which feed solely on carrion, were attracted to the farms because an animal had already died....
In 1965, the condor was declared extinct in Venezuela, and it was believed to be on track for the same fate in Ecuador and Colombia, Jacome said. On the coast of Argentina -- the country that historically had the largest condor population-- the bird had also disappeared.
But today, about a dozen condors live in Venezuela, and a total of perhaps 100 soar in the skies of Colombia and Ecuador. Quite a few nest near Argentina's coast, where the project has released several condors in recent years. Chile and Argentina probably have the most condors, though no precise population estimates exist, Jacome said.