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CULTURE | 17-01-2023 12:22

Two condors born in captivity in Chile ignite hopes of population boost

Alhué and Mailén, two Andean condors, were born in captivity at a rehabilitation centre near Santiago. Caretakers hope that they can be released and breed in the Andes to increase the population of the world's largest flying bird.

Alhué and Mailén, two Andean condors, were born in captivity at a rehabilitation centre near Santiago. Caretakers hope that they can be released and breed in the Andes to increase the population of the world's largest flying bird. 

Their parents are two pairs of condors who have been living for years at the Centro de Rehabilitación de Aves Rapaces (CRAR) of the Unión de Ornitólogos de Chile, in the town of Talagante, some 40 kilometres from Santiago). The facility rehabilitates birds that cannot live in the wild because they cannot fly or because they are used to the close presence of humans. 

"The aim of this is to introduce condors into the wild from condors that cannot be released, that are here for life," explains Eduardo Pavez, founder of CRAR.

As of present, the chicks still have clumsy, unsteady movements and wear a greyish down, typical of condor chicks only a few weeks old. But those in charge of the centre hope that, at some point, Alhué, a male, and Mailén, a female, will break the fate of their parents and be released.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the condor is classified as a vulnerable species, with an estimated 6,700 condors living in the wild. Condors, a species of vulture, are considered one of the most threatened groups of birds worldwide. 

 

Revered and threatened

The condor, revered by native peoples and included on the national coats of arms of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, is virtually extinct in Venezuela. The largest populations can be found in southern Argentina and Chile, with 2,000 each, according to estimates. 

The famed vulture's population has steadily decreased, threatened by land use, human occupation of the mountain range and, above all, lack of food. 

CRAR, founded in 1990, takes in all kinds of birds of prey – owls, hawks and condors – injured, injured or kept in captivity. The main aim is to rehabilitate them and return them to their natural environment. But many are unable to do so.

Alhué's mother, for one, collided with a power line north of Santiago in 1997, and could not longer fly. Mailén's mother, on the other hand, was brought to CRAR from Aysén, one of Chile's southernmost regions, in 2006 when she was about a year old. But she got used to the presence of humans, so she too could not be released.

Over the years, 25 condor chicks born in captivity have passed through CRAR. Four died at the centre, while 13 have already been released. Four will be released soon and another four will remain at the centre for the same reasons.

 

Breeding and education

In six to nine months, when Alhué and Mailén are fully grown, they will no longer be in the same cage with their parents.

With their releases, the parents will be able to lay a new egg a year after the previous one (in the wild this happens every two or three years) and the chicks, already turned into juveniles and covered with brown plumage, will begin to learn to socialise with other birds.

They will be taken to a large cage where, at present, non-releasable adults can be seen living with juvenile candidates for the wild. There they fly back and forth and learn to communicate with other condors.

"Here a hierarchy is established where the adult males are dominant. They have to learn this hierarchy, sometimes with a lot of pecking, to take their place in condor society," Pavez explains.

This education is necessary so that when Mailén and Alhué are taken to the mountain range, possibly in the austral spring of 2024, they will know how to form bonds with other experienced wild condors who will show them the territory, the places to feed and life in the wild.

by Pedro Schwarze, AFP

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