A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Monday, May 6, 2013

El Condor Pasa! (The Condor Passes)

The Andean Condor is a magnificent bird.  It is slightly smaller than the also nearly extinct Californian Condor but has a longer wingspan and greater bulk.  Both are members of the vulture family and are principally carrion feeders.

The Andean Condor can have a wingspan of up to ten and a half feet, can weigh from 25 to 35 pounds, can soar up to an hour without flapping its wings and has been known to travel up to 150 miles a day in search of food.  Its average age is believed to be in the 50's although there have been three documented cases of males living into their late 70's.  They reach sexual maturity at about six years of age, and they mate monogamously for life.  Successful breeding will result in a single egg being produced once every two years.   The Andean Condor has been found from Venezuela down to Patagonia in the southern tip of Argentina. It was once very common but now is considered endangered.

Coat of Arms of Ecuador
Four South American countries honor the Andean Condor as their national bird (Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador), five symbolically include the bird on their national coats of arms (Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador) and it is also considered a national symbol in Argentina.

The Condor also figures prominently in the religions and mythology of the indigenous people of South America.  Incas and others believed that man is born from the stars and, after death, his spirit returns there on the wings of the condor.   Many ancient religions associate the condor with the sun diety and often see the condor as a messenger carrying prayers to the gods and returning with omens.  There were also some religions that believed that the condor was inhabited by the souls of men who had angered the gods and thus were doomed to spend eternity subsisting of the flesh of decaying animals.  At one point Incan legends told that the condor was responsible for carrying the sun up into the sky each day and returning it to its nighttime resting place at the bottom of a large lake.   An indigenous belief from Amazonia holds that the condor serves as the guardian spirit of mankind and that mankind would perish without the condor. With all the biological diversity that exists here, the condor is a unique and treasured symbol of nature's patrimony and of national pride.

Here in our adopted home of Ecuador,  there were, until recently, only an estimated 68 of these creatures left; an estimated 50 in the wild and 18 in captivity.    It had been speculated that there were  condors in Azuay province but no public reported sightings had been issued since the early 90's.   It was therefore obviously exciting to residents when an article in a local newspaper in March told of a family of three that had been under observation by a biologist and photographer in the Cajas mountain region just outside of Cuenca.  We were told the birds had been named Soraya (the adult female), Manuel (her adult mate) and Arturo (their male juvenile offspring).

Soraya and Arturo at nesting site.

Taking flight. 

The location of the family's nesting ground was, of course, left undisclosed for the birds' protection.

Excitement turned to horror and even anger a scant few weeks later.  Social media (Twitter and Facebook) went viral with images of locals holding up a carcass of an Andean condor.  The photo was reportedly taken just outside of Cuenca!  Initially,  it was reported that the condor had been identified as a female.  The outrage that appeared online was almost indescribable.  In less than forty-eight hours the photo swept across a multitude of public media.   The stories invoked responses from officials as well as pledges of investigation at the local, provincial and ministerial level.

Because of initial reports that the bird was female, there was speculation that it might have been Soraya.  However, later reports identified it as a juvenile so it could not be Soraya.  Either there was another condor in the area or perhaps Arturo was misnamed.  Upon further examination of more photos, it turned out that the carcass was that of a juvenile male.  It was recently reported that there is believed to be at least an 80% chance that the bird in question, is indeed, Arturo, the male juvenile offspring of Manuel and Soraya and the subject of the March article.

Some of those pictured in the photographs within a brief time contacted authorities. They were interviewed and within a week presented testimony at the Azuay courthouse in Cuenca.  Media reports related that they were performing cleaning on irrigation channels in the area in question when an individual came by on horseback.  An examination of his game occurred and was followed by a session that produced the photos later published online.   Media reports stated that the bird was killed by a gunshot wound to the head.

The area near the condor's nesting site and near the area in which the photos were taken is a protected area and the taking of game there carries a one to two year jail term.  Because the game taken was an endangered species the term is increased to two to four years imprisonment.  As of the posting of this blog, the identity of the man purported to be the killer of the condor is known to authorities but neither the condor carcass nor the suspect himself has been recovered by the authorities.

Two other condors were reportedly found dead in other areas of Ecuador in the past four months.  In those cases, there was no evidence of human involvement but the birds were examined later and discovered to have been poisoned.  We, in Ecuador, mourn these terrible losses and hope for the preservation of a valued national symbol.

Viva El Condor!

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