In mid-August 2013, 20 condors were witnessed crashing into the rocks high in the Andes cordillera near the town of Portillo in Chile. After being dispatched to investigate this strange incident, officials from the local Agricultural Service arrived at the scene to find these giant birds foaming from the beak, reportedly stumbling around dizzily and unable to take off. Two were found dead.
The surviving condors were rushed to a veterinary clinic in Los Andes, about 40 miles east of the Chilean capital Santiago. Head veterinarian Eric Savard hypothesized that “they suffered organophosphate poisoning after they were exposed to insecticides used for agriculture.” According to Savard, the surviving 18 birds were treated with an antidote and antibiotics and were kept in intensive care for a period of 10 days.
After dead cattle and foxes were also found in the surrounding area, it was suggested that a potential cause of the animals’ poisoning was contaminated carrion. Another possibility is polluted water from a nearby river. Vergara, Pablo Vergara, the regional director of Chile’s agriculture and livestock service, also notified press that the remaining condors will be transferred to Santiago’s Metropolitan Zoo when they are healthy enough to make the trip.
Andean condors are among the largest flying birds, with wings spanning up to 10 feet. Biologists suggest that there are only several thousand still living in the wild. The condor is also the national bird of Chile and has been part of the country’s emblem since 1834. Their preservation has a deeper significance to some – I Love Chile’s Alvaro Panilla writes that the condors’ “care and protection is of vital importance to the Chilean population since it represents a national sense.”