Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus): revise global status?

BirdLife species factsheet for Andean Condor

Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is a highly iconic species occurring along the length of the Andes in South America. It inhabits open grassland and mountainous regions up to 5,000 m, but also mid-elevation forests and lowland deserts and coastlines (Houston 1994, Parker et al. 1996, Houston et al. 2020). It feeds mainly on carcasses of large-and medium-sized mammals, including guanacos, livestock or marine mammals (Houston et al. 2020).

The species is rare and declining, particularly in the north of its range where it has disappeared from parts of Venezuela and Colombia (Houston et al. 2020, Wallace et al. 2020). The global population has been estimated at 6,700 mature individuals; however, recent information suggests that this is a maximum estimate (R. Wallace in litt. 2020). The northern part of the range holds up to 300 individuals in Colombia, Ecuador and possibly Venezuela (Renjifo et al. 2016, Vargas et al. 2018, R. Wallace in litt. 2020). Peru holds a minimum of 150-250 individuals (Piana and Angulo 2015) and Bolivia holds around 1,400 individuals (Méndez et al. 2019). Chile and Argentina hold up to 2,000 individuals each (Wallace et al. 2020).

Andean Condor is facing a variety of threats, which are thought to drive a rapid population decline. Throughout its range, the species is directly prosecuted for pest control owing to occasional attacks on livestock (Houston et al. 1994). It is furthermore hunted for illegal use in folkloric events and trade (Williams et al. 2011, Piana 2019). Also, illegal poisoning of carcasses for persecution of mammalian predators as well as lead poisoning are severely impacting the species (e. g., Lambertucci et al. 2011, Pavez and Estades 2016, Wiemeyer et al. 2017, Alarcón and Lambertucci 2018, Estrada Pacheco et al. 2020). Further threats include competition for carcasses and collisions with power lines (Carrete et al. 2010, S. Lambertucci in litt. 2020).

Andean Condor is currently listed as Near Threatened, approaching the threshold for listing as threatened under Criteria A2de+3de+4de; C2a(i) (BirdLife International 2020). However, new information regarding the population size and trend suggest that the species may warrant a change in Red List status. Therefore, it will be re-assessed against all criteria:

Criterion A – The species is in rapid decline caused by a variety of threats, including direct persecution by humans, lead poisoning, and deterioration of habitat quality through deliberate poisoning of carcasses. Even though the rate of decline has not been quantified across the entire range, it is suspected to fall in the band 30-49% over three generations (86.7 years; Bird et al. 2020)*. Andean Condor therefore qualifies for listing as Vulnerable under Criterion A4cde.    

Criterion B – The species’s range is too large to warrant listing as threatened under Criterion B (Extent of Occurrence = 8,520,000 km2) and thus Andean Condor qualifies as Least Concern under this criterion.

Criterion C – The global population is thought to number up to 6,700 mature individuals. This meets the threshold for Vulnerable under Criterion C; however in order to be listed under this criterion further conditions must be fulfilled.

From the combined impacts of hunting and declines in habitat quality, it is inferred that the population is in decline. Moreover, despite being a wide-ranging species that covers large distances, it shows substantial genetic structuring, with dispersal being modulated by topographic features (Padró et al. 2018). We can therefore tentatively assume that the species forms several subpopulations, which contain less than 1,000 mature individuals each, but this requires confirmation. Unless new information becomes available, the species may therefore be listed as Vulnerable under Criterion C2a(i).

Criterion D – The population size and range are too large to warrant listing as threatened under Criterion D and thus Andean Condor qualifies as Least Concern under this criterion.

Criterion E – To the best of our knowledge no quantitative analysis of extinction risk has been conducted for this species. Therefore, it cannot be assessed against this criterion.

Therefore, it is suggested that Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) be listed as Vulnerable under Criteria A4cde; C2a(i). We welcome any comments on the proposed listing.

Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of its Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are relevant to the discussion outlined in the topic. By submitting a comment, you confirm that you agree to the Comment Policy.

*Bird generation lengths are estimated using the methodology of Bird et al. (2020), as applied to parameter values updated for use in each IUCN Red List for birds reassessment cycle. Values used for the current assessment are available on request. We encourage people to contact us with additional or improved values for the following parameters; adult survival (true survival accounting for dispersal derived from an apparently stable population); mean age at first breeding; and maximum longevity (i.e. the biological maximum, hence values from captive individuals are acceptable).

An information booklet on the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here and the Red List Criteria Summary Sheet can be downloaded here. Detailed guidance on IUCN Red List terms and definitions and the application of the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here.

References

Alarcon, P. A. E.; Lambertucci, S. A. 2018. Pesticides thwart condor conservation. Science 360: 612.

Bird, J. P.; Martin, R.; Akçakaya, H. R.; Gilroy, J.; Burfield, I. J.; Garnett, S.; Symes, A.; Taylor, J.; Şekercioğlu, Ç. H.; Butchart, S. H. 2020. Generation lengths of the world’s birds and their implications for extinction risk. Conservation Biology online first view.

BirdLife International. 2020. Species factsheet: Vultur gryphus. http://www.birdlife.org (Accessed 07 April 2020).

Carrete, M.; Lambertucci, S. A.; Speziale, K.; Ceballos, O.; Travaini, A.; Delibes, M.; Hiraldo, F.; Donázar, J. A. 2010. Winners and losers in human-made habitats: interspecific competition outcomes in two Neotropical vultures. Animal Conservation 13: 390–398.

Estrada Pacheco, R.; Jácome, N.L.; Astore, V.; Borghi, C. E.; Piña, C. I. 2020. Pesticides: The most threat to the conservation of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus). Biological Conservation 242: 108418.

Houston, D. C. 1994. Cathartidae (New World Vultures). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 24-41. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Houston, D.; Kirwan, G. M.; Christie, D. A.; Sharpe, C. J. 2020. Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), version 1.0. In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Birds of the World. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.andcon1.01 (Accessed 07 April 2020).

Lambertucci, S. A.; Donázar, J. A.; Delgado Huertas, A.; Jiménez, B.; Sáez, M.; Sanchez-Zapata, J. A.; Hiraldo, F. 2011. Widening the problem of lead poisoning to a South-American top scavenger: Lead concentrations in feathers of wild Andean Condors. Biological Conservation 144: 1464-1471.

Méndez, D. R.; Marsden, S.; Lloyd, H. 2019. Assessing population size and structure for Andean Condor Vultur gryphus in Bolivia using a photographic ‘capture‐recapture’ method. Ibis 161: 867-877.

Padró, J.; Lambertucci, S. A.; Perrig, P. L.; Pauli, J. N. 2018. Evidence of genetic structure in a wide-rangeing and highly mobile soaring scavenger, the Andean Condor. Diversity and Distributions 24(11): 1534-1544.

Parker, T.A., Stotz, D.F. and Fitzpatrick, J.W. 1996. Ecological and distributional databases. In: Stotz, D.F., Fitzpatrick, J.W., Parker, T.A. and Moskovits, D.K. (eds.), Neotropical bird ecology and conservation, pp. 113-436. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

Pavez, E. F.; Estades, C. F. 2016. Causes of admission to a rehabilitation center for Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) in Chile. Journal of Raptor Research 50: 23-32.

Piana, R. P. 2019. Human-caused and Yawar Fiesta-derived mortality of Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) in Peru. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 131(4): 833-838.

Piana, R. P.; Angulo, F. 2015. Identificación y estimación preliminar del número de individuos de Cóndor Andino (Vultur gryphus) en las Áreas Prioritarias para su Conservacion en Perú. Boletín de la Union de Ornitólogos del Perú (UNOP): 10:9-16.

Renjifo, L. M.; Amaya-Villarreal, A. M.; Burbano-Girón, J.; Velásquez-Tibatá, J. 2016. Libro Rojo de Aves de Colombia, Vol. II: ecosistemas abiertos, secos, insulares, acuáticos continentales, marinos, tierras altas del Darién y Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta y bosques húmedos del centro, norte y oriente del país. Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana e Instituto Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, Colombia.

Vargas, H.; Narváez F.; Naveda-Rodríguez, A.; Carrasco, L.; Kohn, S.; Utreras, V.; Zapata-Ríos, G; Ron, K. 2018. Segundo Censo Nacional del Cóndor Andino en Ecuador. Informe Técnico. Ministerio del Ambiente, The Peregrine Fund, Grupo Nacional de Trabajo del Cóndor Andino en Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador.

Wallace, R. B.; Reinaga, A.; Piland, N.; Piana, R.; Vargas, H.; Zegarra, R-E.; Alarcón, P.; Alvarado, S.; Álvarez, J.; Angulo, F.; Astore, V.; Ciri, F.; Cisneros, J.; Cóndor, C.; Escobar, V.; Funes, M.; Gálvez-Durand, J.; Gargiulo, C.; Gordillo, S.; Heredia, J.; Kohn, S.; Kusch, A.; Lambertucci, S.; Méndez, D.; Morales, R.; More, A.; Naveda-Rodríguez, A.; Oehler, D.; Ortega, A.; Ospina, O.; Otero, J-A.; Sáenz-Jiménez, F.; Silva, C.; Vento, R.; Wiemeyer, G. M.; Zapata-Ríos, G.; Zurita, L. 2020. Saving the Symbol of the Andes: A Range Wide Conservation Priority Setting Exercise for the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus). Wildlife Conservation Society, La Paz, Bolivia.

Wiemeyer, G. M.; Pérez, M. A.; Torres Bianchini, L.; Sampietro, L.; Bravo, G. F.; Jácome, N. L.; Astore, V.; Lambertucci, S. A. 2017. Repeated conservation threats across the Americas: High levels of blood and bone lead in the Andean Condor widen the problem to a continental scale. Environmental Pollution 220: 672-679.

Williams, R. S. R.; Jara, J. L.; Matsufuiji, D.; Plenge, A. 2011. Trade in Andean Condor Vultur gryphus feathers and body parts in the city of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Cusco region, Peru. Vulture News 61: 16-26.

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21 Responses to Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus): revise global status?

  1. Pablo Plaza says:

    I agree with this comment. Andean condors are suffering important threats affecting their populations in the entire distribution range. One of the most important threats is deliberate poisoning. However, lead contamination, persecution and trade of parts are other threats affecting this species with consequences difficult to predict.

  2. I am in full agreement to list the Andean Condor as Vulnerable under Criterion A4cde – “The species is in rapid decline caused by a variety of threats, including direct persecution by humans, lead poisoning, and deterioration of habitat quality through deliberate poisoning of carcasses” Illegal poisoning of carcasses are killing many more condors than number recently reported in reports and papers. Because condors fly long distances, many individuals likely die away from poisoned carcasses, and therefore many mortalities may go undetected and therefore we underestimate the absolute number of mortalities. Increasing feral dog populations are widespread in the Andean Region and are very likely competing for food with Andean Condors. Additionally, increasing areas of exotic pine and eucalyptus plantations and agriculture represent habitat loss for the species and reduction of the open, pasturelands needed for the species to locate and feed on carcasses from herbivorous animals. All these factors likely contribute to population declines.

  3. I would just like to underline that in recent meetings involving more than 40 Andean condor experts in the region there was unanimous agreement in the reclassification of the species as Vulnerable. The debate was actually between the Vulnerable and Endangered categories. Recent threats, especially poisoning are placing whole populations at serious risk.

  4. Guillermo Wiemeyer says:

    in full agreement to list the Andean Condor as Vulnerable under Criterion A4cde, and based in recent published research, it should be stated that massive poisoning events with pesticides that became unfortunately frequent during last years involve concrete evidence of death of large number of individuals, contributing to population decline. But besides that obvious effect, many other toxics are threatening andean condor population in a silent and/or under noticed way , compromising fertility, behaviour and many other aspects that pose a serious population threat.

  5. Rose Fielding says:

    I fully agree that Andean Condors should at least be listed as Vulnerable, if not higher. It seems that their decline is in part mimicking the decline of the California Condor to the north, which was listed as Endangered only 20 years before becoming extinct in the wild for a time. Since both scavengers have similar threats, habitats, and feeding habits, it makes sense that Andean condors will slowly start to succumb to the same fate and need intensive recovery efforts if steps are not taken now to protect the wild population further.

  6. I am a student and currently work with the Andean Condor, and I totally agree to be included as Vulnerable in Criterion A4cde; C2a (i). It is necessary to have and resort to protection policies for this species at a general level throughout the continent, and even more in the northern part, in the northeast of the Colombian Andes, where there is no prior knowledge of the species. Lack of knowledge of the species, being an indirect cause that involves and threatens the condor population.

  7. Strong agreement. Given that rate of declines over the last at least five years, it seems overdue.

  8. Scott Tidmus says:

    I believe that an upgrading to Vulnerable is the logical decision for the Andean Condor. With attempts to re-introduce this species we have seen first hand the challenges the species is facing in the wild with poisoning events and the taking for cultural celebrations. They are long lived birds with a good generation life, but take a long time to become sexually mature and given their current conditions in the wild that is becoming harder and harder to accomplish. They need further protection if they are to maintain their current habitat population.

  9. I fully support the initiative to categorize the Andean condor as Vulnerable and even higher.
    We all know the low reproductive rate of the species. In the framework of the Andean Condor Integral Conservation Plan of Argentina, it took us almost 30 years to produce 70 chicks from our captive breeding program. And in just a couple of years, we report the mass death of more than 100 adult condors in the country, poisoned by ingesting toxic baits. And they are only the cases that we were able to study, we are sure that they represent only the tip of an iceberg of the tremendous impact that natural populations are suffering.
    We know how difficult it is to try to reintroduce the species once its populations decline or become extinct. On the Atlantic coast of Patagonia, where the species was extinct for more than a century, managing to reintroduce 57 individuals, waiting for them to mature sexually, and being able to see their first 10 young hatch, took us 17 years.
    All processes are very slow, very expensive and it is extremely complex to define, articulate and sustain long-term ex situ and in situ conservation strategies to protect this emblematic species.
    For the first time we are witnessing the massive death of condors and their number far exceeds our capacity to respond. If the use of toxic baits cannot be avoided, if the other threats persist, we will most likely witness the extinction of this species in the not so distant future.

  10. I agree to categorize the Andean Condor, at least, as vulnerable.
    The species is undergoing major threats throughout its distribution, which are putting its survival at risk. In the framework of the Andean Condor Integral Conservation Plan of Argentina, we work on the numerous massive deaths caused in the country by ingestion of carrion poisoned with toxic baits. The number of victims does not compare with any other problem that we have seen over 30 years of work.
    The impact of toxic baits, the other threats that affect the species and even new problems that we are identifying, such as the growth of wind farms in the country and the expansion of landfills, are causing a dangerous reduction in the natural populations of this species that deserves to think of categorizing it even as an endangered specie

  11. Rayen Estrada Pacheco says:

    I agree that the Andean Condor should be listed at least as vulnerable under the criteria mentioned in this commentary. The species has direct and indirect anthropogenic threats that generate a decrease in its populations throughout its range of distribution. In addition to the known and mentioned threats, there are new problems that must be addressed in order to understand their possible impact on natural populations of condors. On one hand, the ingestion of human waste by feeding in garbage dumps that was recently reported in Chile, could cause mortality of condors and their chicks as it happened with other vultures and, in particular, with the California Condor. On the other hand, the large number of new wind farm projects in Argentina, as they are planned, could also be a major threat as it is currently for other vultures.

  12. Strongly agree with uplisting to VU for all the reasons mentioned above.

  13. I agree with the new categorization of Andean Condors as Vulnerable. We keep seeing anthropogenic threats increase and large numbers of condors dying every year, throughout their range. In Ecuador we saw around 10% of the known population die in one year, a very worrysome trend.

  14. Daniela Rodríguez says:

    I agree with the recategorization of the Andean Condor at least in a vulnerable state.
    The species is affected by threats that are public knowledge and are causing a significant decrease in population. On the other hand, given the flight capacity and their home range, we face great difficulty in carrying out censuses at the regional level and being able to monitor the status of the species over time. Probably we will not know a real dimension of the great impact that these threats are having on the Andean Condor population.

  15. En Chile a diferencia de otros países, aún es común observar cóndores con relativa facilidad, sin embargo desde hace 20 años que venimos estudiando la especie, hemos registrado el descenso de algunas poblaciones locales, especialmente en la zona norte y centro del país. Todos los años tenemos noticias de intoxicación masiva de grupos de cóndores producto de las carroñas envenenadas e individuos que llegan a los centros de rehabilitación con perdigones de plomo y signos de envenenamiento. Por otra parte, también realizamos el seguimiento de algunos nidos de cóndor exitosos hace 10 años, sin embargo en los últimos 4 años hemos visto como algunos de ellos han fracasado en la cría, con el abandono de los huevos o simplemente deteniendo el proceso de reproducción. En la cordillera de la zona central de Chile aún existe la ganadería de tipo trashumante, la que mantiene una disponibilidad de alimento importante para la especie, sin embargo hoy es una actividad que está declinando o desapareciendo producto de marcada sequía que afecta la zona y el descenso de la cobertura de pastos de alta cordillera para el ganado, además de otras actividades con mayor rentabilidad para las personas que sostienen la actividad ganadera. Producto de esto hemos visto el aumento de individuos de cóndor en vertederos de basura y hemos constatado la ingesta de basura que es regurgitado por los cóndores bajo sus posaderos. Los censos que venimos realizando desde el 2011 en la zona central de Chile, muestran en el tiempo la disminución de individuos en estaciones de muestreo que se han mantenido fijas con los años. Como Grupo de Investigación y Cóndor en Chile estamos de acuerdo en que la especie sea clasificada como Vulnerable en base a lo ya expuesto y a la literatura y estudios que lo respaldan en los criterios ya indicados.

  16. Paula L. Perrig says:

    I totally agree with changing Andean condor status to vulnerable given the threats experienced by the species from environmental contaminants and human persecution. As an example of the abrupt decline that the species is suffering, two out of 12 birds tracked via GPS telemetry in central Argentina were found dead, and other two tags unexpectedly stopped transmitting likely due to mortality. These numbers highlight the urgent need for conservation actions that protect Andean condors.

  17. Representing Grupo Nacional de Trabajo del Cóndor del Ecuador we support the idea of the Andean condor being listed as Vulnerable under criteria A4cde; C2a(i). It is important to state that populations of this species are far to be well understood (specially in Ecuador), but it is more important to say that the evidence shows us in the case of Ecuador a real strong conflict with humans. Several killed, shot, injuried, poisoned condors reported since late 2018 reveals a strong conflict under development in our country and some 13 individuals have been victims of this. Most of them deaths. This decreasing rates would be strong enough to completely vanish condors form Ecuadorean landscapes in mid term.
    Census from 2018 reports an estimation on population numbers nationwide in some 140-270 individuals.
    It is a fact the the distribution area of the species is a huge surface along the region, but in the case of Ecuador this region in densely populated by humans with increasing threats for the species due to habitat loss, but also because the species is facing more often to humans (including nesting places, dormitories and feeding areas)
    Even-though technical capacities are growing in Ecuador, the rhythm of this growth is not enough to understand what is really happening in the wild. We encourage to act under the precautionary principle.

  18. La recategorizacion del Cóndor andino como una especie Vulnerable, en la actualidad es una medida necesaria y urgente, pues su declive poblacional ha experimentado un pronunciado aumento a causa de los procesos de envenenamiento sistemáticos que se llevan a cabo en los cada vez mas intervenidos ecosistemas, dentro de los cuales existe un desmedido crecimiento de las poblaciones de especies introducidas y de manera específica de los perros ferales, cuya presencia e incidencia ha exacerbado el conflicto gente – fauna, provocando el incremento de los eventos de envenenamiento indiscriminado de carroñas para el control de sus poblaciones, que terminan afectando directamente a la cadena de carroñeros y de manera especial al Cóndor andino. Solo en el Ecuador entre diciembre de 2018 y diciembre de 2019 murieron envenenados un estimado de 20 cóndores lo que representa el 13% de la población nacional de la especie de acuerdo al censo nacional realizado en agosto de 2018. De seguir esta tendencia la especie podría extinguirse en el territorio ecuatoriano en menos de siete años. A esto se suma la continua pérdida de su hábitat que amenaza sitios prioritarios para la conservación de la especie como son los nidos y dormideros, los mismos que se ven invadidos por las actividades humanas y el avance del urbanismo, la industeia ya la frontera agricola. La caceria ilegal que presentan eventos recurrentes año tras año es otra presión continua para las poblaciones de la especie. Los verdaderos números de las bajas en las poblaciones del Cóndor andino son inciertos y facilmente pueden incrementarse significativamente pues los valores reportados son solo una fracción de los que realmente suceden.

  19. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting. The window for consultation is now closed. We will analyse and interpret the new information and post a preliminary decision on this species’s Red List status on this page in early July.

    Thank you once again,
    BirdLife Red List Team

  20. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Preliminary proposal

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2020 Red List would be to list Andean Condor as Vulnerable under Criteria A4cde; C2a(i).

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The final 2020 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2020/January 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  21. Fernando Angulo says:

    I do agree with uplisting this species, and agree with the reasons exposed above. In Peru, the amount of poisoned birds (secondary poisoning, the target are foxes or Pumas) showing up every year is in the order of 1-3 (at least reported ones), with several that never are noticed.

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