A BEAUTIFUL BLUE PARROT UNDER PRESSURE
The Lear’s Macaw sits next to the Hyacinth as one of the last two remaining blue macaws in the wild in Brazil. The ongoing destruction of the natural habitat as well as illegal trafficking has threatened the survival of this species more than ever.
Together with the government of Brazil, ACTP has actively engaged in the protection and the conservation of the Lear’s Macaw in the wild.
The Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari is an endemic species in Brazil, which exclusively lives in the northern part of the Brazilian state of Bahia. First described by French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1856, but not recognised as a distinct species until its rediscovery in 1978, the Lear’s Macaw, named after the English bird painter Edward Lear (1808-1888), has always been considered a rare species.
In 1983, a first census revealed a population size of 60 birds worldwide. A second census in 2014, revealed a more comprehensive picture and indicated the total population of the Lear’s Macaw to be around 1,294 birds, distributed across seven districts in Bahia.
The overall habitat of the Lear’s Macaw is limited to a very small area. The main reason for their restricted distribution is that this species utilises small ledges in red sandstone cliffs, in which they excavate crevices for nesting and sleeping. Furthermore, Lear’s Macaws are very specialised in regards to their diet; the species almost exclusively eats the nuts of the Licuri palm, which further contributes to the restricted distribution, especially as the occurrence of this species of palm has been heavily reduced due to destruction by farmers for agricultural purposes, both for livestock and the cultivation of crops, in the region for many decades.
The species is currently considered as being endangered; Illegal trafficking, the destruction of the natural habitat, along with persecution by farmers due to loss of crops to the increasing macaw population, pose great threats to their survival. Thanks to protective measures implemented by the government, the population has been continuously recovering during past 2-3 decades. This led to a change in the IUCN rating of the Lear’s Macaw from “Critically Endangered” to “Endangered” in 2009.
Human influences, such as illegal trafficking, the expansion of agriculture and increased clearing of the natural habitat still pose great threats to the survival of this species.
In particular the expansion of cattle farms in the region has lead to an increased demand for farmland and thereby fuels the continuous destruction of the natural habitat of the Lear’s Macaw. The clearing of land for agricultural purposes has especially depleted the natural stock of Licuri palms, which as mentioned above, are almost exclusively the source of food for these macaws.
The limitation of nesting and sleeping areas to small cliffs in sandstone walls also makes the species an easy target for poachers. And the high prices paid on the black market and human greed still encourages illegal trafficking.
Protection measures for the conservation of the Lear’s Macaw comprise of the continuous monitoring and surveillance of the birds in the wild, as well as the development of a captive reserve population.
With this objective, the state organisation Chico Mendes for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) established a revised National Action Plan (NAP) in 2012, coordinated by the National Centre for Research and Conservation of Wild Birds (Cemave). The objective of the Action Plan is the promotion of population growth of the Lear’s Macaw in the wild as well as in captivity.
With the colonisation of formerly vacant nesting sites, the population of the Lear’s Macaw already shows significant signs of recovery. However, the increasing destruction of the habitat and the disappearance of essential food sources threaten to destroy any progress made so far.
To ensure the sustainable survival of the species, substantial efforts are required:
- The status of the species in the wild needs to be constantly monitored
- Illegal trafficking of the species needs to be stopped
- The local human population needs to be sensitised
- Alternative and more sustainable agricultural methods need to be tested and implemented
ACTP BREEDING PROGRAM
The constant threat to the species in the wild due to human influences increases the need for the development of a captive reserve population more than ever. A captive reserve population acts as insurance for an unforeseen drop in the population in the wild. This includes plans to reintroduce captive birds into the wild, for the colonisation of new habitats and for the founding of new colonies in the event that this is needed. At present the wild population is growing well, and there is no need for captive birds to be released. In fact the main wild population is now growing quickly, which in turn is increasing the farmer/bird interaction, suggesting that this local population is reaching its current capacity. Due to this, it may now be a good idea to move some of this population to other historic locations; of which Parque Nacional do Boqueirão da Onça is one such locality.
In 2014, ACTP became an official partner of the Brazilian Government in the Lear’s Macaw program; we gave our support on site in Brazil, as well as via the development of a captive reserve population at our breeding facility in Germany.