Avian Conservation

Saving Birds and their Habitats


 Bioparque Amaru: Andean Condors in Zoos

The Andean Condor is considered endangered in Ecuador and other central Andean countries. The National Aviary has formed a strategic partnership with Bioparque Amaru/Cuenca Zoo to further the conservation of wildlife native to high Andean habitats, including the Andean Condor. This partnership builds on the knowledge that effective and economical conservation efforts must be expanded in situ, that is, where the birds naturally occur.

Under the inspired guidance of Ernesto Arbelaez, Director of Bioparque Amaru, this incredible zoo is a center for rescued wildlife and public conservation education, and is a station for biological investigations in the high Andes of southern Ecuador. The zoo is organized into various zones representing Ecuador’s diverse ecosystems, with each zone containing animals on exhibit that have been rescued from illegal trafficking. Even the few animals in the exotics section, such as ostriches and African lions, are rescues from circuses. Every month Bioparque Amaru receives dozens of illegally captured wild animals seized by the Ecuadorian government. These birds and animals are evaluated for their suitability to be released, and provided medical treatments, proper diets, and suitable housing – even if temporary.

The National Aviary has partnered with Bioparque Amaru in the construction of a breeding center for up to eight pairs of majestic Andean Condors. Innovative habitats incorporate native plants, natural rock outcrops, and an existing ravine, providing for a very natural breeding environment. Condor breeding programs are also coordinated with the National Andean Condor Conservation Group (Group Nacional de Trabajo por la Conservacion del Condor Andino, GNTCA), with the hope that one day the offspring of condors bred from Ecuadorian zoos can be safely released to soar in the skies over the Andes Mountains. 

To learn more about the National Aviary’s Andean Condor Conservation program, make plans to visit our impressive outdoor Andean Condor habitat at the National Aviary.


 Partnering with Public Agencies: Avian Research Informs National Park Management

At the National Aviary we have built extensive collaborative relationships to address avian conservation issues in the high Andes of southern Ecuador. Many of our conservation activities focus on generating management and conservation tools to address the needs of birds across the landscape. By working with land and resource managers on their research priorities, we help to insure informed management and conservation of the unique birds and their habitats, and help guarantee community-wide support for their conservation.

Cajas National Park covers more than 28,000 hectares in the high Andes of southern Ecuador and is situated on the continental divide approximately 35 km west of Cuenca. Elevation in the park ranges from 3160 to 4450 meters and about 90% of the park is páramo interspresed with patches of Polylepis forest. At lower elevations lies montane cloud forest (bosque altoandino), cloud forest degraded by the planting of introduced tree species (bosque introducido), and secondary cloud forest (bosque altoandino secundario) which varies from open pasture-like habitat to a more dense forest.

The park serves as a major water catchment for the city of Cuenca and other surrounding villages; approximately 80% of the city’s water comes from rivers and streams originating in the park. For this reason, the city of Cuenca’s municipal company for water supply (ETAPA) actually co-manages the national park.

Working with ETAPA and the Ministry of the Environment, we have studied the impact of decades of forestry, grazing and other human disturbances on birds in the high Andes. Given that there is extensive deforestation in the region, and that habitat change is a continuing threat to birds, it is imperative to evaluate how community structure has changed over time, and how it will change with continued deforestation or reforestation.

At the request of land managers we have also studied how birds respond to the presence of tourism infrastructure and tourists, and how the presence of a major trans-Andean highway through Cajas National Park affects bird populations. Addressing the omnipresent problem of cattle grazing in the high grasslands, we have also quantified impacts of cattle on bird communities.

Finally, studies with collaborators at the University of Azuay and Bioparque Amaru have combined to affect national park planning in a huge way! In 2017 the Ministry of the Environment recommended protection for a new national park in the southern Andes. This new park, covering tens of thousands of hectares, would protect an area of very high use by Andean Condors, as revealed by our field studies. 

Field studies by the National Aviary and our Ecuadorian collaborators have informed management efforts by ETAPA and the Ministry of the Environment in very concrete ways. We value highly these relationships, and look forward to continuing research to inform management of protected areas critical to the conservation of birds.