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Birdman Angelo D'Arrigo's next adventure: Teaching condors to fly
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Mar 8, 2005 06: 45 EST
Previously published Feb 18, 2005 08:58 EST

Last year, Italian Angelo D’Arrigo astonished Everest climbers by soaring over them in his hang glider when they were on the summit ridge! For that, his expedition was awarded number 3 among the 8 Best of ExplorersWeb in 2004.

Besides the challenge of flying over Everest, Angelo also did research on the Himalayan Eagle, a migratory prey bird, during the event. D’Arrigo is now preparing another bird adventure. It will involve the first free flight crossing from Santiago to Buenos Aires, flying over Aconcagua - the highest peak of the American continent

Flying to freedom

This time, Angelo wants to help Andean Condors born in captivity to break free and learn to live in their natural environment in the Argentinean Andes. But there’s only one way to teach a condor how to fly, and that’s if their mother teaches them. Motherly attention is not preventing Angelo from his goal, as he is planning to act as a mother and teach the condors everything a mother would, including flying and hunting. After doing so, Angelo will do what every mother dreads—let them go. When the birds are released into their natural habitat, Angelo will then fly from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina and over Aconcagua

Big Bird

The Andean Condor is the world’s biggest flying bird (3 m wing span). It uses a particular gliding technique of flying, similar to a hang-glider. Condors are an endangered species and there are several projects focused on keeping the species alive, including Angelo’s. The unique endeavour Angelo is leading will be coordinated with biologist Alexander Sorokin and his team of scientists.

Mother Angelo

At this time, there are two condor eggs in an incubator that will hatch by the end of March. When the newborn chicks open their eyes, the first thing they see will be their ‘mother’. In this case, a black hang glider suit specially designed to look like a condor, placed above the nest.

Angelo will be there to speak to the chicks, so that they get used to his voice, and identify it as their mother’s.

To simulate the mother’s hunt for food, the Italian hang-glider/condor-mommy will fly in the air and return to the ground with food and feed the chicks.

A few months later, as the little condors grow, Angelo will teach them how to fly. Followed by his adopted children as he soars through the sky in his black condor hang-glider, he’ll teach them all the secrets of ascending air currents, as well as how to hunt for food and survive in the wild. Once the chicks acquire the necessary skills to be self-sufficient, they will be released into their natural habitat, the Aconcagua National Park, in the Argentinean Andes.

Researchers predict the condors will be ready to go home by November of 2005, when the “Flying with Condors Expedition” will get to its second and definitive stage.

Destination: America’s roof

The expedition will have two developing lines:

1) The Naturalistic and Scientific line with the reintroduction of condor in wild nature in Aconcagua National Park.

2) The Sport and Adventure line during migration flight, completing the first free flight crossing from Santiago to Buenos Aires, flying over Aconcagua - the highest peak of the American continent.

The Birdman’s metamorphosis

The ‘Flying with Condors’ expedition is part of Angelo’s ‘Metamorphosis Project’, in which he aims to fly with the condors on several continents.

As a hang-glider pilot, Angelo has won two world titles and broken world records. He is now focusing his career on researching the ‘natural gliding-code’ used by birds, such as eagles or vultures, and the possibility of applying it to human hang-gliding. Angelo fully believes in the possibility for humans to fly like birds. “But to do it,” he says, “you have to feel and think like a bird.” Angelo says that the best way to learn about a bird is to live with a bird. “And there is only one way to live with birds—they have to believe you are a bird, too!”

Angelo bases his work on Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz’s discoveries on the ‘bird-imprinting process’. Lorenz managed to have geese follow him on the ground. However, Lorenz could not fly, so his work was limited to studying birds on the ground. Angelo, with his hang-glider, has extended Lorenz’s work to the sky. He has managed to teach birds to fly with him as they would with their own parents.

Flying school for birds

In 2001, Angelo guided a migratory eagle over the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, completing the first ‘free flight Sahara crossing’ in hang-gliding history. The event caught the attention of scientists. Russian biologist Alexander Sorokin invited Angelo to work on his Siberian Cranes Project and one year later they were defining and codifying the strategies of a sort of migratory birds ‘flying school’. Flying in his hang-glider, Angelo would teach birds the ways of migration. Supported by Moscow’s ARRINP (All Russian Research Institute for Nature and Protection) and Washington’s ICF (International Crane Foundation), they guided a flock of cranes across Siberia from the Arctic Circle. Besides being a huge advancement in science, it was also the longest free flight ever performed at the time.

With “Flying Over Everest” in 2004, Angelo fulfilled a dream that was four years in the making. He prepared extensively for the project by working in hypobaric chambers and testing gear in a wind tunnel. Anelo became the first man to fly over the summit of Everest in a hang glider. During the same event, Angelo released a Himalayan eagle in Everest National Park.

Angelo is now training in Italy’s Etna region for his flight over Aconcagua. He is doing tests similar to what he did for his flight over Everest.

Top image of a condor flying, courtesy of Peru Tourist Information. Three bottom images of Angelo during ‘Over Everest’ 2004 expedition courtesy and copyright Angelo d’Arrigo.
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