Co-written with Chelsea Wellmer, AmeriCorps Visitor Engagement Member
The scarrrr-let macaw, of course! Forgive us for the corny joke, but it is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Terrible jokes aside, the scarlet macaw is a very colorful and charismatic parrot often kept as a pet, especially in its range countries. Although international trade is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), illegal trade still continues.
To combat the negative effects of nest poaching and habitat loss on scarlet macaw populations in the wild, the Zoo is proud to support the Scarlet Macaw Reinforcement Program conducted by the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association (ARCAS), a rescue and research center in Guatemala. This is an effort the Zoo has supported for years through our Internal Conservation Grant Fund, featured in previous blog posts. The Zoo has contributed funds for medical screenings, post-release monitoring, and environmental education and awareness-raising activities in the local communities.
The scarlet macaw is one of the most important species in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, located in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It is a representative of Mayan culture and a keystone species for its ecosystem. However, only 300 to 400 individuals remain in this region, about 150 of which live in Guatemala.
In October 2015, ARCAS released nine individuals in the Sierra Lacandon National Park in the northern Peten region of Guatemala—the first ever release of scarlet macaws in the country. These macaws were captive bred at the rescue center from birds that had been confiscated from the illegal pet trade. The chicks were raised by their parents so they would be less likely to become imprinted on humans and will have a better chance at surviving in the wild. They were fed wild food so that they know what to eat once they were released. Before release, laboratory exams were carried out to confirm the health of the birds and prevent the spread of illnesses into wild populations.
The objective of this release was to reinforce the local scarlet macaw population that currently exists within the national park. Five of these individuals were fitted with satellite transmitters, which enabled ARCAS to track their movements and gauge their success in adapting to the wild.
Ten months after the release, ARCAS reports a known 60% survival rate of the five collared macaws, which represents a huge accomplishment for ARCAS and the scarlet macaw population! (No information is known about the survival of the non-collared individuals.) These birds survived a summer with a severe drought as well as a late start to the rainy season and the fruiting season. They have moved significant distances every month, indicating successful adaptation to the environment.
The Zoo is thrilled with the accomplishments of this first release, and we “arrrr” excited to see the positive impact this program will continue to have in the future.