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Gretchen Roffler worked on the Day of the Condor environmental education programs in Antisana, Ecuador, during the summer of 1996. This past January, she moved north to the Cayambe- Coca reserve and will continue her work in the monitoring, ecotourism, environmental management, and education programs of Project Condor for another year. The following is an excerpt from a report she sent to WSU and the Peace Corps:
As was once the case in our country, the national symbol of Ecuador is in extreme danger of extinction. Current estimates of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) in Ecuador approximate 70 remaining individuals, 31 of which are in captivity. Although condors can be found throughout the Andes cordillera from Tierra del Fuego to southern Colombia, their habitat is shrinking. They cover great distances in search of food and shelter. As carrion eaters they have an important role in Andean ecosystems as "nature's garbage disposers." In their natural habitat, they may live for 50 years. They mate for life and have a very slow reproductive rate producing one egg every two or three years. Their extensive habitat requirements, rapidly decreasing habitat, and low reproductive rate present a formidable challenge to management efforts aimed at conserving this species.

Loss of habitat is one of the most imminent threats to the Andean condor. During the Pleistocene era, condor populations thrived on carcasses of the mega fauna that were abundant throughout the Andes cordillera. Fossils of mastodons have been found in the inter-Andean valleys indicating probable ancient condor feeding sites. Now, the giant mammals no longer roam the high plains providing food for condor populations and other carrion eaters such as curiquinges, or Andean wolves. Suburbs of the growing capital city, Quito, and other urban areas are quickly filling up the valleys, shrinking the habitat.

During the last few centuries, with the introduction of sheep and cattle to the highlands, the condor populations have been able to adapt by gleaning domesticated animal herds. However, this food source is also gradually disappearing, for several reasons. First, the land reforms of the 1970s broke up large hacienda land holdings, and though large ranches still exist, they encompass much less territory. Second, due to shifting economic centers, raising cattle is no longer as profitable as it once was. Finally, despite the importance of domesticated large animals to the survival of the Andean condor, their range has been restricted by the creation of new national protected areas to the benefit of other species.

With the intention of salvaging one of the last populations of the world's largest flying bird, conservation efforts in Ecuador are now underway. What began as a grassroots movement in local communities is now supported by national non-governmental organizations with international technical and financial assistance. Through the "Partners for Diversity " program, a new initiative within the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. government has become involved in efforts to save the remaining populations of the Andean condor. Under these auspices, Project Condor was initiated in May 1996 to coordinate the efforts of the National Ornithological Corporation, the Ecuadorian National Institute of Forestry, Natural Areas and Wildlife, Peace Corps-Ecuador, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, with support from the Antisana Foundation.

—Gretchen Roffler

Gretchen Roffler is one of 10 WSU graduate students enrolled in the cooperative Peace Corps master's degree program known as the Masters International (MI) Program. Roffler is now in her first year working with the Peace Corps and other organizations in Ecuador on Project Condor. Like the other students in the MI program, she spent a year at WSU taking graduate courses and making preliminary plans for her thesis prior to her Peace Corps assignment. Following two years in the Peace Corps, the students are expected to return to WSU to complete their theses and contribute to the internationalization of WSU's departments at both the graduate level and, through teaching assistantships, the undergraduate level as well. By so doing, they help fulfill one of the goals of the Peace Corps itself—"bringing the world back home."

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