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The Spix’s Macaw

Project update: Monday, 25 May 2009
By Yara Barros, Ph.D

Possibly all of you have already heard something about the Spix’s Macaw. The most remarkable thing about this species is that it is now possibly extinct in the wild. It is really distressing to look at the remaining Spix’s in captivity and think that they are now the only chance of the species.

Spix's Macaw

I’ve been working with the conservation of the Spix’s Macaws for the last 14 years, and for me, no matter how hard we work, there is always this question “haunting” us: Are we going to make it????
The Spix’s Macaw seems to always has been a rare species, and the decline of the wild population was mainly attributed to habitat loss and most important, the capture for illegal trade. Trappers certainly led the population to the brink of extinction….so now, our goal (and our dream, actually) is to bring it back.
The Brazilian Government leads a Working Group for the Recovery of the Spix’s Macaw, composed by holders, government, institutions and researchers around the world who share the dream of seeing again Spix’s Macaws flying free on the sky of the “caatinga”, a thorn-bush environment where it occurred in the past, in the State of Bahia, on the Northern region of Brazil.

Our main challenge is to achieve a suitable growth of the captive population, which means that it must be both genetically and demographically viable. To reach this goal, all of the captive known Spix’s Macaws should be managed as a single population, even if they are spread out in different holding institutions. We heavily depend on the cooperation of foreign holders, as the Brazilian Government does not have the ownership of most of the birds that are abroad. Although we have some holders of Spix’s Macaws in the breeding program, it is unfortunately a fact that there are still many Spix’s Macaws “hidden”, kept only for commercial purposes….the very cause of the species’ extinction….

Spix's Macaw School

The Brazilian Government always tries to involve possible holders in the program… long as they want to work for the benefit of the species instead of their own interests, they are more than welcome. Every single bird that we can add to the program is important…..And personally, I believe that every hidden Spix’s Macaw, every Spix’s Macaw that is commercialized instead of being available to the recovery program is a pity and a shame for its owner…..

It is really sad and frustrating that these birds are not participating in the program, especially considering that all the hope for the recovery of the species lies on the very reduced captive population.

We also face a serious disease problem: PDD is a real threat to the captive population of Spix’s Macaws, and some birds were lost due the disease. Promising researches indicate that we might be close to solve this problem….let’s cross our fingers.

Currently we have 71 Spix’s Macaws on the breeding program, distributed on breeding centers in Brazil (São Paulo Zoo and Lymington Foundation), Spain (Loro Parque Fundación), Qatar (Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation) and ACTP (Germany).

The Action Plan for the Recovery of the Spix’s Macaw is in press, and will be available in a few months. The Action Plan lists the actions necessary to the species’ recovery, as well as the actors involved and the deadlines. This shall guide the recovery efforts.

The Dream - photo montage

Since 1990, when a last wild Spix’s Macaw was found in the wild, in a small city named Curaçá, and until 2002 (two years after this bird disappeared), we have been developing activities of research, management, community involvement, habitat restoration and search for remnant wild populations. Concomitantly, a captive breeding program is running.
At the moment, we are planning research to identify the release site, where we can begin the research necessary for reintroduction and to develop habitat restoration and community involvement activities. The idea is to have the reintroduction site identified by 2010, and after that, if the captive population growth is consistent, we can start the field work.
Some partners of the program, like Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, Parrots International, ACTP and Lymington Foundation acquired important pieces of land on the historical range of the species, to ensure the preservation of the habitat.

Although the Spix’s Macaw Project in the field was interrupted in 2002, we are still working to keep the local community involved, to keep the connection between them and the Spix’s Macaw. I believe that in the end, this connection to the local people is what will really assure the protection of the reintroduced individuals…..the involvement and loyalty of the people that live in the area.

We are doing this through activities like the restoration of a theater in the city that is very important to the community. The theater was restored once in 1996 and now it was restored again by the Loro Parque Fundación. We are also supporting the Spix’s Macaw School, that was built in the middle of the caatinga, and teaches both children and adults. This important work keeps the bond between the Spix’s Macaw Field Project and the community. This important field work has been supported by Parrots Internatonal, Walsrode Vogel Park, Lymington Foundation, AWWP and ACTP.

The Dream - photo montage

A very frequent question that we are asked is: When are you going to start the reintroduction? How many birds are necessary? This is not simply about the number, but many other things involved. In a simple way, we can say that we need at least 150 birds in the captive population to think about starting the reintroduction…..using the growth estimates of the Studbook keeper of the species, Ryan Watson, from the AWWP, it is possible that we reach the numbers around 2016.

This year we had a good start: AWWP has already produced five new Spix’s Macaws!
Hopefully, we can have many more……

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