As Andean condors decline, tradition draws critics

Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:46am EST
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By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) - Strapping a giant condor to the back of a raging bull is a central part of an Andean festival celebrated in Peru but some people worried about the endangered vulture's future say it is time to ban the tradition.

A bill introduced to Congress this month aims to slow what scientists and ecologists describe as a worrisome drop-off in Peru's population of the Andean Condor, one of the world's biggest flying birds.

Condors, which use their 10-foot (3-meter) wingspan to ride rising warm air currents for hours without stopping, have been a prominent part of culture in the Andes for millennia.

The bill, presented by a legislator and backed by local officials in a province famous for its condors, would start a conservation program, declare the condor a national treasure and set jail sentences of 3-5 years for capturing or killing the birds.

It specifically targets the traditional "yawar" festival although there are no definitive statistics or scientific evidence on whether condors are hurt by the celebrations.

In an Andean twist on Spanish bull fighting, the ritual involves tying a condor, representing indigenous people, to the back of a wild bull, representing colonists.

Though it is too early to say if the measure will pass Congress, it will likely generate controversy over whether protecting the condor should trump the distinctive Peruvian tradition that supporters say pays homage to it.

At yawar festivals, held each year in an estimated two to three dozen towns in Peru's southern Andes, townspeople take turns running in front of a bull enraged by the condor clawing into its back.   Continued...

An man performs a pass to a bull with an Andean condor strapped on its back during a traditional festivity known as 'Yawar Fiesta' in the village of Coyllurqui in Cotabambas province, Apurimac, July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Nicolas Villaume