Image via La Nación.

A condor nicknamed Luracatao after its place of origin has become the first animal from the former Buenos Aires zoo to be freed into its natural habitat, in the mountains near Salta. The City of Buenos Aires government’s recent closure of the zoo in order to replace it with an eco-park had raised a number of questions about the fate of the animals previously housed there.

“There are no political banners when it comes to releasing the animals, simply commitment by the people. This is a symbol of what we’re looking for with the ecopark project” summarized the City’s Minister of Modernization, Innovation and Technology Andy Freire, who travelled to Salta to witness the event. Owls, monkeys and other animals from the zoo have up to this point only been sent to animal reserves or sanctuaries rather than being freed.

The condor was flown and driven to 3,600 m above sea level, over 1,200km* away from Buenos Aires, before being released in an area that had been carefully chosen by specialists. It had been rescued from roughly the same loaction a year earlier, after it was found with a gunshot wound to the head, and brought to the former Buenos Aires zoo to recover.

Image via La Nación.

The director of the international Andean Condor Conservation Project told La Nación that the bird had been kept in relative isolation there. “They are kept indoors away from direct contact. The idea is not to let them get accustomed to people, but to keep them as wild as possible to allow for a return to their habitat.”

Nicknamed “the messenger” by locals, the bird of prey became the 161st condor to be freed by the Fundación Bioandina Argentina. The species’ combination of massive weight and wingspan make it the largest flying bird in the world, and they usually survive by scavenging off large carcasses.

A whole Pachamama ceremony was performed around its release, as the condor forms a large part of the mythology of the region. Water, corn, sweet potato, banana, alcohol and coca leaves were all left in a smokey hole in the floor in a gesture seeking permission from Earth for one of her children to fly over it once more.

Correction: This piece initially mistakenly said the condor was driven “over 200km away from Buenos Aires” rather than 1,200km.