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Home » 2009 - Issue 3, Issue, Making a Difference

The Lymington Foundation - Juquitiba, Sao Paulo, Brasil

By Bill Wittkoff


Photographs © The Lymington Foundation

We fell in love with parrots in the last century (1998) when we got our first pair of Amazons for Christmas. Then fortune gave us an unsexed pair of Blue and Golds which, on being set up in a small apartment, decided to become prolific and give us 16 babies, one clutch after another. In 2000 we started to get serious, with the acquisition of a breeding license from the ministry of environment (IBAMA).

One day, driving around looking at property near our farm here in the Atlantic forest, we saw a blue Hyacinth Macaw flying, free which is an almost impossible event in the region where there are no hyacinths. We followed it back to “home” and found the owner was selling his “farm” and didn’t want the bird, so we acquired it - again, we didn’t know the sex, and the bird was “traffic”.

She turned out to be a female in very good shape; the Sao Paulo Zoo provided a male on a breeding, and the couple has proven very prolific. Another chance acquisition of three Golden Conures started us breeding these beautiful birds, and to date we have bred way over 50.

We were all the time learning more about these marvelous and very intelligent birds with the terrible problems they have with traffic and destruction of their environment; this led to the decision to try to do something to help the environment and the birds. The first thing was to set up a solid legal frame work - a family foundation - to facilitate working with zoos and other governmental organizations.

The Foundation
The Lymington Foundation was constituted 4 November 2004. This legal base, and the 150 acre property in the Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlantica) only 70 km from Sao Paulo - in the best piece of the remaining 7% of the original forest - gave us a great climate and environment to breed these birds, and became looked upon with favor by IBAMA/ICMBio as a good site for threatened species.

In 2006, we traveled with some of the members of the international committees for the conservation of the Lear’s and Spix’s Macaws to central Bahia state and the Serra Branca and Canudos sites of the sandstone cliffs - one of many Brazilian geologic marvels -  in which the Lear’s Macaws breed.  It is breathtaking in this prehistoric locale before first light, and almost at dark, to hear the Lear’s calling as they depart and arrive on their feeding missions.  As Wolfgang Kiesling of Loro Parque Foundation said, as we stood watching and listening, “This place is more spectacular than the Grand Canyon”.

Lear’s Macaw - Corn Replacement
We found that, because of the devastation of their traditional food source, the licuri palm, the Lear’s have gotten a real taste for the subsistence farmers’ corn crops, and are devastating these in their region. In 2007, in partnership with Parrots International and Lymington Foundation, and in conjunction with CEMAVE (under ICMBIO), a project was launched to replace the farmers’ losses, plus a profit in grain corn so as to avoid losses of Lear’s due to reprisals by the farmers.

A local NGO called ECO joined the effort, together with other institutions.  This effort is ongoing for 3 years. Together with greater pressure on traffic and a turn-around in the attitude of the local people in the region toward conservation of the Lear’s, further losses in population of the Lear’s has been arrested.  To the contrary, recent studies show a population of around 950 birds, up from the neighborhood of some 250 less than 10 years ago, which is a notable success amidst the disappointing news seen in other species of birds and mammals.

Spix’s Macaw - Reintroduction
On the visit to the Lear’s in central Bahia state, the group proceeded to the country town of Curaça (pronounced Curasá) on the San Francisco River, and the historic home of the Spix’s Macaw.  It was in the gallery trees along the Melancia Creek and it tributaries that the Spix’s lived and bred for centuries before its final demise from traffic and habitat destruction, with the last bird disappearing in 2002.

This is a very hot and dry region, with sandy soil having been environmentally abused for some centuries. Most of the more lush vegetation and sizable nesting trees survive along the creeks, many of which only have running water in the rainy season.  Near the creek is a country school, poorly funded by the municipality, which in 2006 was mostly made of mud bricks - totally inadequate for education of the 20-some young students from 6 to 16 years old.

Parrots International and Lymington saw the need for at least a modicum of funding for school materials to increment city funding.  The  threat of imminent closure for lack of funding by the municipality led immediately to international donors augmenting PI and Lymington contributions to fully fund the school operation, and led to a night school for adult education (learning to read and write).

We discovered a dire need for new school equipment and furniture, for which there was no supplier in the state, so it had to be purchased in Sao Paulo and shipped to Curaca.  The logistics of that operation were a nightmare. Shortly thereafter, with funding from PI and Walsrode Bird Park in Germany, a total revamp of the school was made, doubling the classroom, adding a kitchen, indoor toilets and more solar panel energized lighting.  Lymington handled the banking and exchange administration, and coordination and logistics support, with a legal entity, through which the US dollars donated could be exchanged through the central bank and actually paid quickly in Brazilian currency to the suppliers, without shrinkage and with no administration cost.

Simultaneously with the school decisions, PI and Lymington again spearheaded an effort, together with the German Spix’s Macaw holder, ACTP (Association for Conservation of Threatened Parrots), to fund the purchase of 400 hectares of the Gongora Farm on the Melancia Creek, as a nucleus for a possible breeding and release site for the Spix’s Macaw, which - since 2002 - is extinct in nature.

We realized that any success for such an operation depended to an important degree on support by the local people.  The tremendous good will generated by community support projects, spear- headed by Yara Barros - formerly of ICMBio - and the committees coordinator, in addition to what has been described as the best country school in this region of Bahia state, has made the Spix’s Macaw a symbol of the Curaca city and an emblem of pride in the conservation effort and repression of traffic leading to the reintroduction of the Spix in its natural habitat.  This is a truly international effort to bring back a flagship native Brazilian bird.

In 2008, a Brazilian company was formed by Sheikh Saoud al Thani, owner of AWWP Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Quatar, and major holder of the remaining Spix’s Macaws in captivity, for the purpose of purchasing a large parcel of land on the Melancia Creek adjoining the Gongora farm. The restoration, conservation and eventual release site are the objective of this acquisition.  Lymington is providing local management.

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