In Argentina’s Rio Negro province, Proyecto Conservacion Condor Andino (PCCA) prepares Andean condors; some captive bred, others rescued and rehabilitated, for release to the wild.
But even in this remote location, nearly 60 kilometers from the nearest town, the condors are not safe.
People are putting carcasses out laced with carbofuran, a deadly insecticide now banned or restricted in its use in many countries.
Condors are scavengers who traditionally fed on guanco, other small animal carcasses and even marine mammals washed up on the Argentinian coast.
They are a vital part of the food chain, using their large hooked bill to rip into carcasses.
Once the carcasses are open, other species can feed as well.
Thus, each poisoned carcass has the potential to kill many animals.
Carbofuran a Problem For Wildlife in Many Countries
Argentina is not the only place where carbofuran is used to kill predator species. In 2010 alone, four golden eagles were illegally poisoned in Scotland, and Africa is experiencing ongoing losses of lions to carbofuran poisoning as well. Although the pesticide has been banned, or its use extremely limited, the product is still very inexpensive and easily obtained.
Carbofuran is a cholinesterase inhibitor, preventing cholinesterase from stopping neurons from firing. In severe poisoning cases, muscular tremors, difficulty breathing, and a reduced heart rate eventually result in death. The poison can be absorbed by inhaling or ingesting, making it easy for would-be poisoners to just pour some on a carcass and wait for the predators to consume it.
Rehabilitated Andean Condors Lost to Carbofuran Poisoning
The pesticide, potentially deadly when used properly in diluted form, is poured onto carcasses full strength – greatly increasing the risks to any animals that come in contact. At least two Andean condors released by PCCA have been poisoned this way, and staff at PCCA are concerned that another bird released by the project may have suffered the same fate.
That bird, a male, is the father of the most recent condor chick to hatch in the wild at Paileman. Andean condors sharing rearing responsibilities and often the male is the more active parent. The loss of this male before the chick was fledged worried the staff but they report that the chick has now fledged, and the mother feeds on carcasses provided by PCCA within the protected area.
PCCATeaches Locals About Carbofuran Risks
Proyecto Conservacion Condor Andino staff are taking steps to reduce the risk to the birds they release by providing food within safe areas around the project’s compound. By doing so they encourage the birds to remain close to the release area to feed.
The project’s activities include outreach to communities where condors will be released. The indigenous people of the area have a long tradition of reverence for the condor, which that believe connects them to the sky, but many ranchers believe that condors are predators, killing animals to feed on.
Ensuring school children and their families understand the importance of the condor as a valuable scavenger reducing the number of carcasses which create potential health impacts is one aspect of their outreach program. They also explain the dangers of carbofuran, not only to the condors but to other animals as well. The staff told Decoded Science that a neighbor’s dog had died after sniffing a carcass laced with carbofuran.
The Andean condor is not yet considered endangered, but PCCA works to reintroduce the bird into areas where it has been extirpated, or made locally extinct – they do not want the Andean condor to reach the critical status the California condor population did.
The California condor was reduced to less than 100 animals in the wild at one point, and is just now beginning to recover through an intensive captive breeding and reintroduction program.
Convincing people to stop using carbofuran will be an important step for Proyecto Conservacion Condor Andino to achieve their goals.
National Geographic Newswatch. Lions Saved from Poisoning in Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe. (2012). Accessed October 7, 2012.
The Guardian UK. Record Numbers of Golden Eagles Poisoned in Scotland in 2010. (2011). Accessed October 7, 2012.