WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2010 (ENS) – Two of the world’s largest and most endangered birds – the California condor and the Andean condor – are expected to benefit from a sister park agreement by the directors of the U.S. National Park Service and Argentina’s Administracion de Parques Nacionales.

This formal partnership signed Friday unites Pinnacles National Monument in California and Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito in Cordoba to strengthen condor conservation efforts at both sites.

“These two national parks are located in different countries but are connected by their efforts to protect similar resources,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

“They have comparable terrain and features, but most importantly, they have both played a vital role in the return of the condor,” Jarvis said. “Due to incredible conservation efforts at and between the parks, the majestic bird once again soars over these areas.”

“These two parks have already shared scientific expertise while working together on condor recovery projects,” said Administracion de Parques Nacionales President Dr. Patricia Gandini.

“This pact will enable us to continue to coordinate information and research efforts on common issues including resource protection, educational programs, and community outreach,” she said.

The California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, is the largest North American land bird. These birds weigh about 20 pounds with a nine-foot wingspan and can glide for miles without flapping their wings.

Due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction, by 1982, only 22 California condors existed, and a conservation plan was hatched to capture and breed the species.

Today, Pinnacles National Monument is inhabited by 28 of the world’s 189 free flying California condors.

Lead poisoning is still the biggest threat facing the recovery of the California condor, say biologists at Pinnacles. Condors are vultures that live mostly on carrion. The primary source of lead is from spent ammunition that remains in carcasses after they are shot. Even small fragments of lead can sicken or kill a condor.

The Andean condor, Vultur gryphus, is the largest flying bird on Earth, weighing up to 33 pounds (15 kilograms), with a 10-foot wingspan.

It is a national symbol of Argentina and plays an important role in South American folklore and mythology as does the California condor in its native range.

The Andean condor occurs throughout the Andes mountain range, in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay south to Argentina and Chile. Listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, it is at risk mostly in the north of its range, and is rare in Venezuela and Colombia, where a re-introduction program using captive-bred birds is in operation. A similar project is underway in Argentina.

Increased tourism in parts of Chile and Argentina may have led to a reduction in persecution by demonstrating the ecotourism value of the species.

A mating pair produces only a single offspring every other year, and both parents must care for their young for a full year.

Both California and Andean condors are among the world’s longest-lived birds – they can live up to 50 years in the wild.

Jarvis and Gandini exprssed gratitude to many present at the ceremony who support the partnership protecting condors, including Congressman Sam Farr, a California Democrat; Argentine diplomat Jose Luis Santiago Peraz Gabilndo; Pinnacles National Monument Superintendent Eric Brunneman, Rotary International member Peter Anderson; and Pinnacles Partnership representative David Cole.

Congressman Farr supports the Pinnacles National Park Act (H.R. 3444), a bill that would elevate the Pinnacles National Monument to national park status.

“Pinnacles may not be as big as Yosemite and Yellowstone, but it enjoys a rich tapestry of resources, history, science, recreation and splendor,” Farr said during his testimony on November 17, 2009 before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

“I truly believe this public trust should be elevated to National Park status so future generations will be able to enjoy its wonder,” said Farr.

This is the first sister park partnership to form under an official Memorandum of Understanding signed between the National Park Service and the Administracion de Parques Nacionales in 1997. Officials said they hope that the bilateral agreement is the first step in reinvigorating cooperation in park matters between the two nations.

The U.S. National Park Service currently has 37 sister park relationships between U.S. and foreign protected areas that share similar natural or cultural resources and/or management issues.

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