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The Andean condor Vultur gryphus – the national bird of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia – is now threatened with extinction worldwide. This year, the Emblematic Species Threat Level was raised to Endangered in our annual IUCN Red List of Threatened Species update (for which BirdLife is the authority on birds). With a wingspan of over three meters, the Andean condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world and forms an unmistakable silhouette when it hovers at heights of up to 6,500 meters above the Andes. It is also one of the longest-lived species of birds, with a natural lifespan of up to 70 years.
However, this majestic scavenger has seen a rapid population decline in recent years due to persecution and poisoning. The bird is intentionally shot with poisoned bait or targeted to prevent extremely rare attacks on farm animals. It is also affected by illegal use in folklore events and in trade, and can die from ingestion of lead shot left in carrion.
“The Andean condor is designed to last. But people are ruining their natural “live slow, die old” strategy in life, causing high mortality rates that are difficult to recover from, ”said Ian Davidson, BirdLife’s regional director for America. “This iconic bird of prey has been around since 2,500 BC. Found in Andean folklore. Losing it now would be a tragedy for South American culture and ecosystems alike. “
Fortunately, captive breeding, community education, and habitat restoration programs are running throughout the range. In 2014, the Antisanilla Biological Reserve was set up in central Ecuador to protect one of the most important nesting sites for Andean condors. Researchers across America are studying and tracking wild populations via satellite for further insight into their movements. However, the reclassification of the species as endangered worldwide underscores the need to expand conservation work and work with governments to strengthen laws against poisoning.
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The plight of the Andean condor raises fears that the crisis that has brought many Asian and African vultures to the brink of extinction has spread to South America. Work is underway across Africa to halt the catastrophic decline of the vultures. However, new information shows that other African savanna raptors are experiencing similar alarming rates of decline.
The Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, a showy species known for its method of stomping on prey such as mice and snakes in order to kill them, is one of three species that have been classified as endangered and now along with Martial Eagle Polemaetus one very much Bellicosus and Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus are exposed to a high risk of extinction. Habitat loss and degradation, poisoning, poaching, and disruption are all likely contributors to this decline. However, more research is needed to determine the root causes and most effectively combat them.
“While any species classified as threatened is obviously bad news, it doesn’t have to be tragedy,” said Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator (Species), BirdLife International. “For many, this is where the path to recovery begins, as the listing makes their plight visible and helps raise their protection priority. The topics identified by the Red List should form the focus of further research and measures. “
The red kite is a shining example of the benefits such a protective measure can bring. This graceful bird of prey was previously considered near threatened as its core business in Europe had declined due to pesticide poisoning, persecution and land use changes. Legal protection under the EU Birds Directive resulted in an action plan and targeted protection measures across its spectrum, including extensive resettlement projects and public education. The success of these measures has resulted in them recovering from previous declines and continuing to grow and expand. That year it was classified as a Least Concern – the lowest risk of extinction.
Poisoning and persecution are still barriers to the red kite’s full recovery in some areas, so much remains to be done. Still, its revival provides an inspiring model for large-scale protection of birds of prey around the world – and encouraging evidence of the impact protection can have if enough investment and resources are made available.
Visit our hub page to stay up to date with all the news from this year’s Red List update.
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