Reintroduction of Blue and Gold Macaws to Trinidnd

Bernadette L. Plair, David Boodoo, Stephen Malowski, Mark Campbell, Stephen Johnston, Kristine Kuchinski, Iris Craig-Clarke, Guptee Lutchmedial, David Oehler



B Jue and Gold Macaws (Ara ararauna), once found in the Nariva Swamp in Trinidad were extirpated in the 1960s because of poaching for the pet trade and habitat alteration. In 1993, the Forestry Division of Trinidad and Tobago, The Centre for the Rescue of Endangered Species of Trinidad and Tobago (CRESTT) and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden embarked on a mission to restore this species to its island habitat. Surveys of food sources and nesting sites showed that this now protected wetland could still support a population of Blue and Gold Macaws. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain chicks for release through captive breeding, a pilot study on the reintroduction of wild-caught birds was implemented. In 1999, eighteen birds (9 potential pairs) were imported from stable wild populations in Guyana. After quarantines and physical examinations, the birds spent four weeks in a pre-release flight cage located in a protected wildlife sanctuary within the Nariva Swamp. They were monitored by local villagers and introduced to natural foods of the area. Over a period of 3 months, 14 birds were released (8 males and 6 females). More than one-year later, 9 macaws continue to be sighted in the wild. Behavioral observations of six of these birds during February to May 2001 suggest the possibility of nesting activity. Trained local villagers in the communities bordering the swamp have been monitoring flight patterns and potential nesting sites of the released birds. Education programs have helped the local communities and schools to learn more about the Nariva wetlands and its


sustainable use. Private and corporate sponsors and the local media have helped to raise public awareness island-wide to the significance of this conservation effort.


Parrot species have been declining in numbers and range over the last several decades (Collar and Andrew 1988, Forshaw 1989, Collar and Juniper 1991). The Blue and Gold Macaw is found in eastern Panama, Guyana, western Columbia, western Ecuador and most of the Amazon Basin (Juniper and Parr, 1998). This species was also found in Trinidad until the 1960s, when the island population was extirpated due to over-collecting for the pet trade and habitat alteration. Collar 1997 lists the species as apparently extinct in Trinidad and extinct in many areas in Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil. In 1993, the Forestry Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Trinidad and Tobago, the Centre for the Rescue of Endangered Species of Trinidad and Tobago (CRESTT) and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden began working to reestablish this parrot in its native habitat.

The Blue and Gold Macaw and the island of Trinidad offer a unique opportunity to provide much needed research on the process of reintroduction of parrots. The Nariva Swamp, the former habitat of the Blue and Gold Macaw, is an ideal location for this experiment. The wetland consists of 15,400 acres, and central to the project is the 3,840-acre protected Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary. Permits restrict human access to the Sanctuary, while hunting and fishing are prohibited. The Nariva Swamp became a protected wet-


land under the Ramsar Convention in 1993, and the Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1968, remains a prohibited area under the Forest Act of Trinidad and Tobago. The Blue and Gold Macaw, listed as a CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species) Appendix II species, is also protected under the Conservation of Wildlife Act of Trinidad and Tobago. Populations of Blue and Gold Macaw have been disrupted by human contact in many of its previous ranges. However, since this species is not endangered, the possibility of relocating birds from nearby stable populations to areas from which they have been extirpated can be considered (Soule 1987, Griffith et al., 1989).

The island habitat lends itself to productive study of the relocation process. The limited range of the flock on the island allows for a much better chance to study the birds after release. People in the villages that border the swamp, Kernahan to the southeast, Plum Mitan to the northwest and Manzanilla to the east play a leading role in protecting the habitat against forest fires and poaching. So far, the data collected on the released birds has been totally dependent on these nearby communities.


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