Condor Park: An easier way to go birding

09/Diciembre/2011 | 12:09


Situated on the barren hills near Otavalo is a stone amphitheater where shows are performed twice a day.  This is neither Greek Tragedy nor Shakespeare, but it is quite dramatic and offers insight into an American tragedy and one man's effort to alleviate it.

Parque Condor is a rocky outcropping above Otavalo.  But the stone pathways are not natural, they were laid to connect the numerous aviaries built to house condors, falcons, eagles, and hawks.   It is the work of Joep Hendrix, a Dutch immigrant who created the Fundacion Condor (Condor Foundation), in order to help save the magnificent birds of the Americas while educating the public at large.  The stone amphitheater is site of daily flight demonstrations that awe visitors.

The condor is an Andean symbol, as identifiable to Ecuadorians as the bald eagle is to North Americans.  And like the bald eagle before it, the condor has lived  under threat of extinction.  Estimates place the wild population in Ecuador  between 40-60 birds. But despite their rarity, several condors can be found in captivity at Parque Condo, which is also home to 27 species of raptor.

"We started here about nine years ago with financial help from the Dutch Embassy.  And the idea here is to create a center for environmental education using raptors as a tool, as an instrument for talking about environmental problems. Secondly we are a rehabilitation center for birds of prey and owls and the Andean Condor.  Though it is not a raptor it [the Andean Condor] is the ambassador of our project."   The park opened six years ago with two birds. They now are home to 70.

Prior to coming to Ecuador 18 years ago, Hendrix was a falconer (falcon trainer) in Holland.  "I was living in an area that has a tradition in falconry, for centuries…and so I had my first falcon when I was ten years old…it was the thing to do there."

Though Ecuador lacks a tradition in falconry, when Hendrix arrived he observed a lot of birds in captivity. "When I came here I saw very often in these small or bigger hotels and country inns that they had small cages with a raptor in it."  He was ill at ease to see birds locked up and not serving a useful purpose. "If they get in captivity then try to use them for environmental education or  at least give them a good home."  This is what he decided to do through his foundation.

Hendrix not only runs Parque Condor, but he lives there as well, having built a house between the  onsite museum and the aviaries.  Aside from managing the park Hendrix says he spends much of his time writing project grants and searching for financing, most of which has come from government agencies.

Grants and donations are generally for particular projects while the day to day operations and maintenance of the park are covered by the entrance fees.  Additionally, Hendrix says he has  local support from chicken producer, Pronaca. "They supply us with one day old chicks, which are very important as a food source for our park."

Donations also come in the form of feathered friends. All of the birds at Parque Condor have been rescued and donated.  Many of the birds were found locally, such as Henrietta, the Harris Hawk that was found in the streets of Quito.  Others come from outside Ecuador, like Wayra, a falcon from Lima, and two bald Eagles – Gringo and Gringa – donated from a bird park in Europe.

Under no circumstances are birds taken from wild.  In fact, if any bird is able to return to the wild, Hendrix does exactly that.  "The good birds we always release."   He adds, "We always get stuck with the bad birds," meaning those that must be rehabilitated and trained.  But ultimately, those are the ones that are invaluable to the foundation's mission. 

"We need a few birds that fly well…the flight demonstrations are important for us especially in weekdays when schools come." Indeed, this is why people come to Parque Condor, for the show. 

Everyday Hendrix provides  flight demonstrations in the amphitheater, which is  set against the picturesque backdrop of the Andean Cordilleras. 

As the crowd faces the mountains awaiting the show, Hendrix appears at the top of the steps and makes his way to the dirt stage.

He began a recent demonstration with a Curiquingue, a native falcon commonly found in the paramos, or high plains, of Ecuador.  As he flies the falcon Hendrix offers lessons in environment education and answers questions from the crowd, entreating them to remain calm, quiet, and seated.  The Curiquingue bounces around the amphitheater always returning to   Hendrix seeking free handouts of chicken which he keeps tucked in his satchel.

The Curiquingue soon gives way to Henrietta the Harris hawk, followed by an Aplomado falcon, and then a Black-chested buzzard eagle, which disappears from view and will not return until later in the afternoon. 

Finally, a pair of American kestrels, the smallest hawks in the Americas, ends the show. They do not fly, but rather rest contentedly upon the arms of Hendrix’s assistants who invite the children to descend for a closer look.

If you would like a close look at America’s raptors, the Parque Condor is located in the Colina del Pucara de Curiloma, near Otavalo.  They are open Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30-5:00.  Flight demonstrations are at  11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.   For more information or to reserve a group visit call 06 2 924 429 or visit their website,