Plastic is everywhere, and experts increasingly recognize it as a fresh threat to Andean condors, even in Peru’s protected zones. According to research, these birds’ meals and regurgitated pellets contain significant levels of plastic.
In Peru, scientists were looking at how the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) interacted with its food when they discovered plastic in the bird samples. The fact that they frequently discovered plastic in avian diets is much more concerning.
Victor Gamarra-Toledo, an ornithology researcher at the Natural History Museum of Peru’s National University of San Agustin de Arequipa, told Mongabay, “We were quite startled to find plastic in so many samples. After completing our fieldwork, we looked at the balls of undigested material that birds excrete known as pellets, and were shocked to discover an overwhelming amount of plastic.
Although Andean condors have been found to consume plastic in prior studies, this time scientists discovered plastic in the diets of birds in protected areas. The San Fernando National Reserve on the coast and the Pampa Galeras Barbara D. Achille National Reserve in the Andes is where the researched birds were found.
All of the food samples taken from the coastline region and 85% of the samples taken from the Andes region contained plastic, according to the research team. Microplastics predominated in samples taken from the coastal region, according to researchers.
Plastics of various shapes and sizes, from microplastics to plastic bags, were present in the Andean region’s samples. The results were just published in the journal Environmental Pollution.
Because condors are at the apex of the food chain, this scares us even more, Gamarra-Toledo added. The condor’s linkages must also be tainted if there is proof that they are plastic-infected.
About 6,700 mature Andean condors exist, making the species vulnerable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List). In Venezuela, the species might already be extinct.
According to the researchers, it’s possible that plastic and microplastics were eaten by prey before being consumed by the birds as they moved up the food chain. As an alternative, it’s possible that Andean condors are foraging for trashed food and eating the plastic directly.
According to Gamarra-Toledo, we have discovered plastic in the intestines of animals that the condor had eaten, including throwaway plates and pandemic-era masks. This demonstrates that plastics can be transferred by direct intake throughout the food chain.
For Andean condors, especially those living in protected areas, plastic has not traditionally been seen as a problem.
However, the authors of the report recommended quick action to lessen plastic pollution. According to the IUCN, lead poisoning, intentional poisoning of carcasses that the birds would scavenge, and other human behavior intended to intentionally kill individuals of the species are the main risks to Andean condors.