ENDANGERED AMAZONS FROM AN ISLAND PARADISE
The Caribbean archipelago St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not only a popular tourist destination and the setting of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but also home to the extremely rare St. Vincent Amazon. Natural disasters, illegal trade and destruction of the natural habitat for development nearly wiped the species out historically and still threaten it today.
In cooperation with the Government of St. Vincent, ACTP engages in the protection of the St. Vincent Amazon through in situ conservation measures and a joint breeding program at our state-of-the-art parrot breeding centre in Germany.
For the First Time Ever, St Vincent Amazons are Being Sent to St Vincent!
As part of the conservation partnership for this incredible species the plan has always been that when the time was right, birds bred at ACTP would be sent to St Vincent to boost the breeding program on the Island. We are extremely proud to say, that on the back of the very successful breeding results seen in recent years, this time has now come. The first two birds to be sent to St Vincent are two young males that where bred in our aviaries in 2018, these will be paired with two females held at the breeding centre located within the Botanic Gardens in Kingstown. This is in line with the long-term plan and agreement to exchange bloodlines between ACTP and St Vincent in order to ensure that we maintain strong breeding populations at both facilities. With the movement of these two young males to St Vincent we have reached an exciting milestone in the program.
As part of this ongoing conservation partnership the aviaries at the Botanic Gardens have also now been renovated in order to modernise the facility and provide the birds with the best possible captive environment. This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in this leading conservation program and we look forward to sending more birds bred at ACTP back to St Vincent in the future.
The St. Vincent Amazon Amazona guildingii, endemic to the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean Sea, is one of the rarest and most magnificent parrot species on earth. The limited size of its home island, human impacts on the habitat and natural disasters have steadily reduced population numbers, since humans colonised the islands around 10,000 years ago.
After the population of the St. Vincent Amazon experienced a sharp decline in the first half of the last century, various attempts have been made to reverse this trend. This has been carried out primarily through efforts to conserve the bird’s habitat and by developing captive reserve populations. Thanks to these efforts, the St. Vincent Amazon quickly became the flagship species for conservation efforts in the Caribbean region in general.
After a historic low of only around 400 birds in the wild, the St. Vincent Amazon population recovered due to measures targeting illegal trade, habitat protection and education of the local human population. In the mid-1990s, 800 St. Vincent Amazons were estimated to exist in the wild. However, a detailed census carried out between 1998 and 2002 indicated a population of only around 600 birds. This number is probably within the range of maximum carrying capacity of the birds on the island of St. Vincent.
POPULATION SAVED FOR THE LONG-TERM?
The success story may be deceptive, however. A growing population (approx. 125,000 inhabitants on 391sqm) and a high tourist appeal result in increasing infrastructure on the island, which may cause interference with the habitat of the St. Vincent Amazon. In addition, natural disasters in the form of hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, which haunt St. Vincent with regular frequency, pose an acute threat to the survival of the species. Such disasters can destroy the entire habitat of the St. Vincent Amazon, which comprises of only an area of 44sqm of rainforest, quickly and without warning.
THE DECLINE OF THE AMAZON PARROT
In addition to the St. Vincent Amazon and the three other surviving Caribbean Amazon species - Imperial Amazon A. imperialis, St. Lucia Amazon A. versicolor and Red-necked Amazon A. arausiaca - other Amazon species existed in the Lesser Antilles islands. However, these populations have become extinct during the time between the first colonisation of the Caribbean islands by humans and shortly after the arrival of Europeans.
The ecological niche "Amazon Parrot" was an inhabitant on almost all Antilles islands before humans arrived, and probably on even more islands than reports and bone findings indicate. This makes it all the more important to preserve the few remaining Amazon species for our future generations.
Given the threat to the survival of the St. Vincent Amazon, protection and conservation measures remain vital. Furthermore, actions must go beyond efforts currently in place. In particular, the risk of natural disasters forces us to act quickly with regard to further protection and conservation efforts.
Since 2011, ACTP has been working closely together with the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to ensure the survival of the species in the long-term. Thereby we are pursuing an approach that addresses all potential threats and risks.
The strategy for the protection of the St. Vincent Amazon is based on four main pillars:
- Raising awareness and educating the local human population:
ACTP supports the Forestry Department of St. Vincent in educating the local human population. Among other things, local school visits aim to increase the awareness of children at an early age on the importance of the St. Vincent Amazon, the national bird of the island.
- Stop illegal farming/protecting the rainforest:
ACTP donated 50,000 banana trees to the Government of St. Vincent to strengthen the local farming industry after the disastrous consequences of Hurricane Tomas. Illegal clearing of land for farming is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the natural habitat of the St. Vincent Amazon.
- Equipment of forestry staff:
ACTP has donated substantially, mainly in the form of technical equipment and vehicles, to the Forestry Department of St. Vincent. Only with adequately equipped forestry staff can illegal trade of the birds and habitat destruction be stopped.
- Build a safety net population outside of St. Vincent:
The only effective protection of the St. Vincent Amazon against natural disasters is to build a safety net population outside of St. Vincent. For this reason, ACTP is engaged in a breeding program for the St. Vincent Amazon at our state-of-the-art parrot breeding facility in Germany.
ACTP BREEDING PROGRAM
Protective measures to ban bird trafficking brought the hoped-for success and stopped the rapid decline of the species. However, as previously mentioned, natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, which haunt the island frequently, pose a permanent threat to the survival of the St. Vincent Amazon.
For this reason, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and ACTP made the decision to engage in a joint breeding program for the St. Vincent Amazon back in 2011. Among other measures, the agreement comprises the expansion of the breeding facility in the Botanical Garden of St. Vincent and the improvement of the breeding conditions for the birds as well as other measures to protect the remaining parrot population in the wild.
In our own breeding facility near Berlin, ACTP actively engages in breeding efforts for the St. Vincent Amazon. We are thereby pursuing a specific goal: Building a sustainable safety net population of the St. Vincent Amazon outside of St. Vincent. The purpose of this safety net population is to safeguard the species should there be an unexpected sharp decline in the parrot population in the wild.
In order to provide optimal breeding conditions for the St. Vincent Amazon, ACTP constructed two banks of aviaries, specially designed for the needs of the Caribbean Amazons. In 2006, ACTP took over the entire stock of St. Vincent Amazons from the Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary in Seffner, Florida. Extensive genetic analysis was performed by the renowned Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, to map the genetic family tree of the birds. One of the biggest challenges in breeding a rare species is to maintain a broad genetic pool, to minimise the risk of genetic diseases and defects. For this reason the close cooperation and the frequent exchange of parrots between St. Vincent and ACTP is particularly important.