Jafet's Blog:Puerto Rican Parrot Project
Project Description: The Puerto Rican Parrot (PRP from here on) Recovery Program is an effort to conserve, protect and manage the wild and captive populations of this endemic amazon (Amazona vittata) in order to down list the species from endangered to threatened status, to establish additional wild populations and procuring that they are self-sustained within the historic habitat reintroduced. This program is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. The Lincoln Park Zoo/Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology, the U.S.G.S., Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, The Mississippi and the North Carolina State Universities are active partners too in the recovery efforts for the species. Interagency cooperation is essential for the successful recovery of the species. The PRP is the only native parrot species in the U.S. and is endemic to the island of Puerto Rico. The original population was estimated in over one million parrots before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean basin. By 1953-56 due to deforestation for monoculture of sugar cane, hurricanes, natural enemies, scarcity of nesting cavities and pouching, the population was estimated in about 200-250 individuals. By 1964 due to the pressure produced by deforestation and due to the path of hurricanes in early 1900’s, El Yunque National Forest, YNF from here on, (former Caribbean National Forest) became the last stand for the species in the wild. However by 1967 the wild population went as low as 24 and the lowest number ever was in 1975 with only 13 PRP’s surveyed in the wild. The first captive flock was established during the years of 1972-1975 in the Luquillo Mountains (administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) to ensure survival of the species. The Puerto Rican parrot has had a long history of aviary management. In 1972, there were four Puerto Rican parrots in captivity. Two females in the Mayagüez Zoo who were eventually brought to Luquillo Aviary but never reproduced, one male at Patuxent also brought to Luquillo Aviary, and one privately owned imprinted bird. In 1973, four eggs and one chick were brought from nests in El Yunque into the Luquillo Aviary to start the captive population at Luquillo Aviary. Six more eggs and three more chicks were brought to the Luquillo aviary between 1974 and 1978. In 1979, the first captive chick was produced at Luquillo aviary and released to a nest in El Yunque were the chick fledged. Due to the inherent danger of having only one captive breeding population in one site, the captive flock was co-located in two aviaries. The second captive group was established on April 30, 1993 when a group of parrots were transferred from the Luquillo Aviary to the Jose L. Vivaldi Memorial Aviary, better known as the Río Abajo Aviary (administered by the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) located in the Rio Abajo Commonwealth Forest. There, the first breeding pair produced 2 chicks in 1994. Between 2005-07, the new aviary was built. Known as the Iguaca Aviary we have spent three successful seasons in this new facility. The old facilities posed many inconveniences for the recovery of the species. The entire Puerto Rican parrot population consists of wild and reintroduced birds in two locations and birds housed in two aviaries. These four components of the population are considered a single population for management purposes due to the exchange (demographic and genetic) between the four locations. Genetic exchange between the four subpopulations occurs through the transfer of eggs and chicks between the aviaries, the transfer of eggs and chicks between wild nests and the aviaries, and the release of birds into both El Yunque National Forest and Rio Abajo Forest Preserve. Though both the wild and aviary birds should be considered as a single population. Recently with the assistance of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, using the same techniques that are applied to the scientific management of populations in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), their analysis found that the demographic status of the two aviary populations is excellent. They reported that the Aviary managers have achieved a high rate of population growth (?= 1.12 which means an overall mean growth of 12% per year) and as a result the population has expanded in size (N1979 = 22 to N2010 = 275). Similarly, the genetic status of the aviary populations appears to be good; the recent management has avoided close inbreeding and retained substantial genetic diversity (e.g., many of the founder lineages).