ENDANGERED AMAZONS ON PARADISE ISLAND
The Caribbean archipelago St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not only a popular tourist destination and venue of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but also home to the extremely rare St. Vincent amazon. Natural disasters, illegal trafficking and destruction of the natural habitat nearly wiped out the species and still threaten it today.
In cooperation with the Government of St. Vincent, ACTP engages in the protection of the St. Vincent amazon through conservation measures on site and a joint breeding program in Germany.
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 colonized 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. In particular, 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 400 birds in the wild, the stock of St. Vincent amazons recovered due to measures targeting trafficking, habitat protection and education of the local population. In the mid-90s, 800 St. Vincent amazons were estimated to live in the wild. However, detailed census between 1998 and 2002 indicated a population of only around 600 birds. This number is probably in the area of maximum carrying capacity of the birds on the island of St. Vincent.
POPULATION SAVED FOR THE LONG-TERM?
The success story may be delusive, however. A growing population (approx. 125,000 inhabitants on 391sqm) and a high tourist appeal result in a growing 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 in regular frequency, pose an acute threat to the survival of the species. Those disasters can destroy the entire habitat of the St. Vincent amazon, comprising only an area of rainforest of 44sqm, quickly and without warning.
THE DECLINE OF THE AMAZON PARROT
In addition to the St. Vincent amazon and the three other surviving Amazon species (Imperial amazon (Amazona imperialis), St. Lucia amazon (Amazona versicolor) and Red-necked amazon (Amazona arausiaca)), other amazon populations existed in the Lesser Antilles islands. However, these populations have become extinct in the time between the first colonization of the Caribbean islands by humans and shortly after the arrival of Europeans.
The ecological niche "Amazon Parrot" was habitant on almost all Antilles islands before humans arrived, probably on more islands than reports and bone findings indicate. All the more it is important to preserve the few remaining amazons 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 to act quickly with regard to further protection and conservation efforts.
Since 2011, ACTP is 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 which addresses all potential threats and risks.
The strategy for the protection of the St. Vincent amazon is based on four main pillars:
1. Raising awareness and educating the local population:
ACTP supports the Forestry Department of St. Vincent in educating the local 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.
2. 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 farming is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the natural habitat of the St. Vincent amazon.
3. Equipment of forestry staff:
ACTP donated substantial funds, mainly in the form of technical equipment and vehicles, to the Forestry Department of St. Vincent. Only through adequately equipped forestry staff, illegal trafficking of the birds can be stopped.
4. Build a safety population outside of St. Vincent:
The only effective protection of the St. Vincent amazon against natural disasters is to build a safety population outside of St. Vincent. For this reason, ACTP is engaged in a breeding program for the St. Vincent amazon at our 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, 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 engaged in a joint breeding program for the St. Vincent amazon in 2011. Among other measures, the agreement comprises the expansion of the breeding station 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 stocks 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 population of the St. Vincent amazon outside of St. Vincent. The purpose of this safety population is to develop a safety stock, in case of 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 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 analyses were 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 minimizing 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.