Andean Condor Success Story: An Example for the Future of Conservation and Tourism
Hacienda Zuleta, a colonial-era working farm in the Andean Highlands, sits at 9,600 feet in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. Guests on select Natural Habitat Galapagos departures enjoy a 2-night stay at Zuleta, the best place to view wildlife in the region, including wild Andean condors and spectacled bears. While the historic property has been deemed one of the world’s “Top Ten Finds” by Outside magazine and one of the best hotels in Ecuador by National Geographic Traveler, perhaps its most impressive feature is its local conservation program.
Hacienda Zuleta has dedicated the past 20 years to tireless conservation efforts to restore the Andean condor population, a threatened species in Ecuador. Zuleta takes in previously injured condors to nurse them back to health at the Hacienda. Their work also focuses on producing Andean condor chicks in captivity with hopes of releasing them into the wild. This, however, is no easy feat, as the early infancy period for these chicks is full of risks. There are currently three rescued pairs of condors at the Hacienda, and collectively they have produced five chicks in recent years. Despite the highest of hopes and optimistic signs of health, the first four chicks died during infancy and were never able to be released into the wild.
The fifth chick, born in July 2015, defied all odds and thrived past what biologists have deemed the high-risk development stage. That chick, named Churi, transitioned into the enrichment program, designed to prepare him for his release into the wild. This past November, Churi was successfully released into the wild with two other young condors who were rescued from the Quito Zoo. The team at Hacienda Zuleta says, “It was a day full of emotions, expectations and a mix of feelings as we saw Churi coming out of the enclosure! Those past 20 years [of hard work] passed before our eyes—the great, hard and the sad moments…it was all worth it!”
The three condors were outfitted with GPS monitoring equipment and HF radio transmitters so that biologists can follow them over the next two years, in case there are any problems during their adaptation period. This monitoring will also help the biologists with habitat research and educational programs in the long term. Natural Habitat Adventures happily donated $1,000 to support this critical endeavor through “Green Our Planet,” a crowd-funding platform with a focus on environmental and conservation projects. Nat Hab also donates $5 for each guest who visits Hacienda Zuleta during their Galapagos adventure.
Churi’s story and the work of Zuleta are a testament to the power of collaboration and the positive impacts of conservation travel. With continued research and conservation efforts, there are sure to be more successful “Churi” stories in Zuleta’s future!