Denver Zoo’s Curator of Birds John Azua recently returned from a conservation trip to Colombia to support Andean condors in the wild. Here are some notes he shared about his experience:
I traveled with Mike Mace and arrived in Columbia on Monday, February 17. Mike Mace is the curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park. He is also the Andean Condor Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator and my travel partner. I serve as the treasurer for the Andean Condor SSP.
We started out trip with a visit to the Parque Jaime Duque, a cultural park and zoo north of Bogota. We toured the park with our host Rafael Torres, the park’s president. There circular main entrance has an Andean Condor replica on the top of the building. The Andean condor is the national symbol of Colombia and Parque Jaime Duque tries to emphasize important elements of its Colombian heritage. He also showed us his new Andean condor exhibit which includes breeding caves and staff observation areas. They incorporated exhibit recommendations provided to park personnel from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Andean condor SSP. One of our primary goals of the trip was to perform facility inspections for certain Colombian zoos for potential future condor transfers from the AZA Andean condor SSP population. Their hope would be to breed Andean condors for potential future release into their Colombian Andes.
On February 19, I traveled north from Bogota to Chingaza National Park with guides Juan Carlos Ayala and Andre Balamba to visit an Andean condor release site used for 14 of the total 74 previous releases for condors in Colombia transferred from the AZA Andean condor population. (This is not the site used for the two released Andean condors from Denver Zoo in 2010 and 2012). As you can see in the photo, it was extremely foggy at times. The photos depict the varied habitat that the condors are released and normally exist in the wild in the Colombia Andes. Unfortunately, because of the weather conditions we did not see condors in the wild.
On February 20, Mike and I flew to Cali to visit the Cali Zoo. We were escorted by Rafael Torres and his wife Luz Esthella. We met the Cali Zoo director Maria Clara Dominquez and she toured us through the zoo. Maria Clara is working on having the Cali Zoo become AZA Accredited in 2015. She has invited a couple of AZA Professional members for consulting to help the zoo meet the AZA accreditation standards. Maria showed us the zoo's current Andean condor exhibit and the site of their future condor exhibit they hope to be complete in 2015.
After our visit to Cali on February 21 we traveled to Medellin where we visited their local zoo, the Santa Fe Zoo. There we met with Zoo Director Sandra Montoya and toured the facility. While they are working on improving and updating much of the facility, they currently have an excellent Andean condor exhibit. During our time at the Santa Fe Zoo Mike and I were able to talk to some local media to explain the importance of our visit. We shared that a key part of our visit was to build relationships among our Colombian partners, including zoos, government and non-government organizations (NGOs) for Andean condor restoration and conservation in Colombia.
On February 22 we traveled to Cartagena where we met with a private individual, Rafael Vieira, who is building an aviary with an impressive Andean condor exhibit. We were able to provide him with some suggestions to keep in mind as he puts the finishing touches on the project.
By the end of the trip, we had made a number of recommendations for each individual facility and will continue to work towards the ultimate goal of moving some Andean condors from North American SSP populations to Colombia.
While the initial intent of the trip was to evaluate facilities and visit a previous release site for Andean condors, the ultimate outcome was far more important than that. The trip really became an opportunity to build relationships with other key stakeholders interested in supporting the wild population. It is exciting to meet local people, government leaders and organizations that are interesting in participating in Andean condor breeding programs to help this impressive bird in its native land.