By Eurico Borges
The Great Green Macaw is a critically endangered species. The IUCN estimates the number of individuals left in the world to be under 1500, and their habitat was reduced by 90% in the last century.
This frightening number demands urgent conservation projects for the species and its habitat. The second-biggest parrot of the New World, it inhabits the tropical rainforests from Honduras to Colombia.
Over 30% of the nearly 140 species of parrots on the Neotropics are listed as endangered. The combination of habitat loss and illegal parrot trade, unlawful logging and common protective frameworks are the biggest threats for the species.
These birds face many problems, and predators like rats, tayras, felids, the Central American Spider Monkey, the white-faced Capuchin, and Toucans are their main competitors.
Nest predators are another kind of predatory species: while they do not hunt or kill macaws, they nest in the same cavities, keeping them from laying eggs and hatching them to keep the species alive.
Toucans (mainly the Keel-billed Toucan and the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan) are known to be their biggest nest predators, but luckily there is no known pattern of interest for the seeds and trees the Great Green Macaw prefers.
A decrease in the international price of cattle and reforestation state policies made incentives for livestock that were replaced by new incentives for forest management during the mid-1980s.
Further modernisation of sawmills and changes in industry increased forest degradation until the great green macaw became a threatened species in 2005.
But the general positive conservation attitude among locals and people worldwide, along with a pro-active commitment of political stakeholders has been improving the conditions for species conservation.
This environmental activism motivated the implementation of several restrictions exploiting the trees that serve as a habitat for the bird, namely the D. panamensis exploration ban in Costa Rica that is still in place to this day.
The cooperation of indigenous tribes has been essential in tracking the species’ survivability, as they are the main observant of the everyday life of wildlife in the area.
Locals share conservation attitudes and values, having a deep understanding of the ecosystem, and its natural processes, and being the main driving force behind passing legislation to ensure the Great Green Macaw thrives.
Their conservationist attitude and acknowledgment of the positive impacts of the species are encouraging, as the development of an ecotourism program will bring massive benefits to the region.
However, habitats are also aware of the illegal hunt that persists in the area. Despite having lowered considerably since the 90s, the market for the bird’s feathers and beak still exists.
The current level of feeling obstructs the success of the conservation project, but the great majority of indigenous tribes do not approve of it.
Local’s condemnation of these hunters, as well as reporting to the competent authorities, is the main reason for the drop in the illegal market for A. ambiguus.
Numerous studies are being conducted to implement reintroduction initiatives in areas where the species used to reside until as recently as one decade ago.
The prevalence of potential nesting sites, the compatibility with the area, the migration of predators, and the presence of D. panamensis (the main source of alimentation for the birds) all indicate habitat suitability.
The ecosystem where the birds previously lived before going locally extinct is being heavily considered as reinsertion spots, for they have the perfect conditions for the birds.
Although a few records of competitor and predator species are registered, which would mean little effect on the survival rates of the Great Green Macaw, some predators will inevitably return when the species does.
Their nesting habits, such as the careful selection of the cavities and the aggregated nesting patterns, are not documented due to a lack of information.
The absence of information on the reproductive biology of the birds combined with the absence of long-term datasets on the former population makes the suitability of a reintroduction difficult to calculate.
Still, cartographic analysis shows that A. ambiguus could survive on a surface of up to 7000 ha of reproductive area in the South Caribbean, which would be more than enough for a sustainable population.
And, despite the great interest of locals, raising environmental awareness of the local people to prevent illegal chopping in the forests of the region and illegal hunting is vital.
The strengthening of the legal protective framework of the species habitat must not stop either, so a rigorous and place-specific awareness program in these directions must be executed.
Developed initiatives in cooperation with the local institutions (such as The Ara Project), would ease the welcoming of a reintroduction plan, widely increasing the chances of success.
The fact that the local people possess some environmental and preservation values and pro-actively pressure the political decision-makers of the region is a valuable basis for the reinsertion of the species.
Collaborative management practices by local stakeholders and governmental authorities positively impact the recovery of wild populations, increasing the reproductive rates.
These management practices, when coordinated through a local conservation organisation to establish an environmental education program as well as nest constructions, will save the macaws.
Educational initiatives promoting national pride to stimulate the conservation of certain species, particularly within small communities such as Caribbean villages, have demonstrated great success and are a crucial element of restoration programs.
No conservation results can be achieved without long-term protection of the habitat, local environmental awareness, and a real commitment of legislators towards conservation.
Increased awareness of reintroduction as a viable conservation option relies directly upon the success of re-establishment plans, and this can only be improved through greater emphasis on everyday people’s participation and cooperation.
The ARA Project sanctuary, controlled by the non-profit with the same name, is doing wonders to save this animal in Alajuela, Costa Rica. The centre rescues and protects Great Green Macaws, later releasing them into the wild.
Founded in the 80s as a zoological park dedicated to taking care of mistreated parrots, as soon as the crisis started to be noticeable, it is now the biggest captive Ara ambiguus in the world.
We have been doing great things for the Great Green Macaw population for years, but we must not stop or rest until this beautiful bird is thriving and away from endangerment, for it was our actions who put it there, and it is our responsibility to save them.
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