In recent years there have been reports of killings of the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) throughout the Andean Region. At the center of these reports is the reason for this slaughter: Subsistence farmers hunt and poison it because the Andean Condor kills live animals decimating, in many cases, their only capital.

The scientific and conservationist community affirms (generally) that the Andean Condor is a scavenger animal that only occasionally hunts small mammals. Conservationists and subsistence farmers recognize that carrion is an important part of the condor’s diet.

The purpose of this article is to promote a debate where it is assumed that the Andean Condor is capable of killing live animals. A debate with this premise is more likely to result in measures that minimize the loss of livestock for subsistence farmers and the killing of the Andean condor.

Anything else

It is widely accepted that the populations of the Andean Condor are decreasing through its range, mostly due to the persecution by man. It is estimated that there are less than 100 condors in the entire country of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.

What is said about the Andean Condor

Subsistence farmers recognize that the condor eats dead animals and recognize that the Andean Condor is capable of killing live animals. Stories about condors attacking animals go from one or several condors that pluck the eyes of a calf, disembowel a newborn, or take the adult cattle to a precipice to make them fall and kill them. Some of these details seem exaggerated but in essence, it is widely accepted that the Condor is capable of killing live animals. Additionally, many of the Andean farmers claim to have witnessed these acts, which give an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

There are also accounts of the Andean Condor attacking and killing newborn sea lions in the breeding colonies of South American Sea Lions (Otaria flavescens) on the Peruvian coast.

caracara mata ganado
The Caracaras go to the place where an animal is giving birth to eat the placenta and other waste. Photo: Guido Mendez.

Is the Andean Condor the only bird with this reputation

In other regions outside the Andes, Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) and Caracaras (Polyborus sp.) have a similar reputation. These species are considered scavenging or opportunistic birds but also capable of killing newborn livestock and later eating them.

Group of Black-Vultures come to eat the placenta remains after calving. Vultures will eat the pleasant and if they can also try to eat the remains of the umbilical cord of the newborn calf causing damages that result in the death of the calf. Video: Rita Fae Aulbach

Obligatory and facultative scavengers

The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and the Lesser and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures (Cathartes Burrobianus and melambrotus), respectively, are obligate scavengers. They have a “highly developed” sense of smell to find dead animals, which constitutes most of their food.

In contrast, the Andean Condor, the Black Vulture, and the Caracara find their food by sight and do not have a developed sense of smell, which suggests that carrion, although important in their diets, is not the only food for these birds. These birds are more generalists and look for any opportunity to procure food.

An adult male Condor and a juvenile waiting for the opportunity to eat a dead calf. In this video it is not clear if the calf was born dead or the condors caused his death. This video was taken in Cayambe, Ecuador. Author: Gustavo Yaselga.

Group of Andean Condors attacking a live calf. At one point in this video, the condors are seen pulling the calf by the head and others pulling the calf by the back. Also listen to the narration of the people taking this video, which was taken in Apurimac, Peru. Author: Yuri Delgado.

Video showing an adult male Andean Condor attacking a calf. According to the author’s comments, “the calf ran from the condor until he could no longer escape” giving the impression that the calf was not a sick or injured calf. This video was taken in Cerro Provincia, near Santiago de Chile. Author: Shinigami / Pathfinder.

Final comments

It is evident that the Andean Condor is capable of attacking and killing newborn animals and also actively killing young cattle. The natural history of the Andean Condor and the evidence presented here suggests that the debate between subsistence farmers and the conservation community must include the premise that the Andean Condor is capable of killing live animals.

Maintaining the idea that the Andean Condor is largely scavenger and incapable of killing live animals has resulted in a situation of discrepancy between subsistence farmers and the conservation community. This discrepancy implies that the conservation community wants to impose social and legal pressure on subsistence farmers for the slaughter of the condor, even when the condor affects its only capital.

The new debate must accept the fact that the Andean Condor is capable of killing live animals and causing losses to the subsistence farmers of the Andes. From this point, it is easier for conservationists and Andean farmers to find alternative livestock management that minimizes the loss of their capital and the killing of the Andean Condor.

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