SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Twenty condors were apparently poisoned with insecticide in the Chilean Andes cordillera and two of the giant birds have died, officials said Monday.

Condors have wingspans of up to 10 feet (3 meters) and can glide on air currents for hours. But on Sunday they began crashing into the rocks high in the mountains near a hydroelectric plant.

Chilean officials and volunteers rescued 17 that were foaming from the beak and were too frail to fly. Another sick condor and two dead ones were found Monday.

They were all taken to a veterinary clinic in the city of Los Andes, some 40 miles (70 kilometers) east of the capital, Santiago.

"The hypothesis is that they suffered organophosphate poisoning after they were exposed to insecticides used for agriculture," veterinarian Eric Savard, who has been treating them, told The Associated Press.

The 18 survivors are recovering with an antidote, antibiotics and saline solution, Savard said. They will remain under intensive care for 10 days.

When they gain strength, the birds will be taken to Santiago's Metropolitan Zoo for further care and then released in the same place where they were found, Pablo Vergara, regional director of Chile's agriculture and livestock service, told local media.

Vergara said two dead foxes and a dead cow were discovered in the same area. Officials have sent samples to a laboratory for testing. They say the vultures could have eaten poisoned meat or drunk water contaminated with insecticides.

The Andean condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. Biologists estimate only a few thousand are in the wild.

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

 

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