Andean condor in flight
“Liberation site, maintain your distance”
Keeping track of Felipe
Shortly after sunrise on June 25th, Felipe Farinango, a farmer in the tiny highland community of Campo Alegre, Ecuador, was about begin his day as usual, milking the cows, when he noticed his small herd milling about nervously. Catching a glimpse of something moving awkwardly through the grass he walked over to investigate. Hobbling between the cows and soaked from the previous evening’s rain, he found a sickly-looking Andean condor, sporadically flapping its long wings in a desperate attempt to fly. Calling a friend, Xavier Cerón, for assistance, the two captured the bird and called the police to report their finding.
Taken to a veterinarian clinic in Quito, doctors found that the condor, a male juvenile, weighed almost 24 pounds (healthy condors weigh 33 pounds at this age), was malnourished, and suffered from various lesions and fractures. After taking x-rays, they also discovered several shotgun pellets lodged internally that were removed.
Whether the pellets accounted entirely for the condor’s calamity is not known, but condor experts believe that it had descended to Farinango’s farm in search of food, not yet having learned to fly.
The sad discovery of the condor, soon affectionately dubbed Felipe, and his recovery were covered in detail by Ecuador’s national press, capturing the imagination of the public. “Felipe is the most popular Andean condor in Ecuador and has already become an ambassador for raising awareness about condor conservation,” said Hernan Vargas, Director of The Peregrine Fund, which supported the bird’s recovery.
Awareness of the species’ plight is crucial in Ecuador where the condor, despite being the national bird and proud symbol of the country’s Andean history, is almost extinct. In fact, only 50 of the enormous birds – whose 10-foot wing span is far beyond the jumping reach of most people – are thought to remain in Ecuador, many of them located within the Antisanilla property that Rainforest Trust is working to purchase.
Moved by Felipe’s delicate condition, not so different from the general state of condors in Ecuador, many were inspired to help. Collaborating in these efforts was our Ecuadorian partner, Fundación Jocotoco, which began planning for Felipe’s release back into the wild after a month of recuperation in the Ilitio Rescue Center.
Francisco Sornoza, Conservation Director for Jocotoco, was determined that Felipe’s misfortune would prove beneficial for Ecuador’s condors, and working with The Peregrine Fund and the Andean Condor Working Group, he initiated plans to fit the bird with a satellite transmitter that would allow researchers to track its movements. “This transmitter will be the starting point for watching his movements, and doing so will provide us with improved information to help protect the species,” said Sornoza.
With so much attention on Felipe, his reintroduction on July 23 became a national event, well-attended by the press and government officials, including Ecuador’s Environmental Minister, Lorena Tapia. “Ecuadorians were excited about the liberation, it was a big story, the first of its kind in Ecuador,” said Sornoza.
Indeed, upon his release into the rugged mountains of Antisanilla, Felipe became the first condor to be outfitted with a satellite transmitter in Ecuador. After taking to the skies, researchers found Felipe had flown nearly 100 miles in the first week alone. Lingering doubts about his acceptance by Antisanilla’s established condor population were dispelled when Felipe was caught by camera trap, along with five other condors, feeding on a carcass two weeks after his reintroduction.
“This type of experience is important not only for the conservation of the condor, but for Ecuadorian conservation in general,” noted Roció Merino, Director of Fundación Jocotoco. “The public’s participation was very important for the survival of Felipe, and we hope that these kinds of actions create a wider consciousness and respect among people for wildlife,” she added.
You can watch video of Felipe’s reintroduction by clicking here.