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Americas
24 Jun 2016

Spix’s Macaw reappears in Brazil

Captive Spix's Macaw © Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation
Captive Spix's Macaw. The species was possibly extinct in the wild until now © Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation
By Shaun Hurrell

It was Grandpa Pinpin’s dream: to see his favourite bird, Spix’s Macaw, fly again over the skies of Curaçá, a small town of about 30,000 in the dry Caatinga area of Bahia, Brazil, where goat herding is the main activity. Pinpin Oliveira passed away last year, aged 94, his wish unfulfilled. But the baton was passed to his 16 year old grand-daughter, Damilys, who not only saw the macaw, not seen in the wild since 2000, but also managed to film it with her mobile phone.

Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii is Critically Endangered and possibly extinct in the wild, primarily as a result of trapping for trade plus habitat loss.  Does this vibrant blue bird look familiar? The species also became the star of the animated film ‘Rio’, as main characters ‘Blu’ and ‘Jewel’. 130 Spix’s Macaws remain as part of a captive breeding programme.

The bird was first sighted on 18th June by local farmer Nauto Sergio de Oliveira. On the following day, his neighbour Lourdes Oliveira and daughter Damilys woke up before dawn to look for the macaw in Barra Grande creek’s riparian forest. At 6:20 AM they found and filmed it.

With the video Lourdes contacted the biologists from the Society for the Conservation of Birds in Brazil (SAVE Brasil, BirdLife Partner), one of the organisations that make up Projeto Ararinha na Natureza (Spix’s Macaw in the Wild Project) which aims to bring the bird back from extinction. The video and the distinctive vocal calls killed all doubts: it was indeed a Spix’s Macaw. Pedro Develey, SAVE Brasil’s Director, immediately told other project members and organised an emergency trip to Curaçá to locate the bird.

“The local people were euphoric,” said Develey.

“They set up a WhatsApp group to coordinate and maximise the search for the bird, and ensured no potential dealers could enter the area.”

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The people of Curaçá are extremely proud of the Spix’s Macaw. It is a symbol of their town, and they are aware of its importance, thanks in part to two years of community work from SAVE Brasil. 

This individual’s origin is uncertain, but was quite possibly released from captivity. Conservationists have had a large presence in the area where it would likely have been seen, and recent patrols and project warning signs against trapping might have prompted a panic release.

That said, Spix’s Macaw can live for 20-30 years in the wild (more in captivity) and the area is very large with some parts difficult to access.

“We don't know yet,” said Develey. “And that makes it even more interesting."

One thing is for sure: a Spix’s Macaw in the wild is precious. “Now we have a model to understand the bird's behaviour in the wild,” said Develey. “We can understand what to do when we release the captive birds in Curaçá.”

The video:

There is no more news as yet, but the project’s biologists and local residents of Curaçá are now mobilised. An official project expedition is also commencing, led by Instituto Chico Mendes para a Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio, federal government’s environmental agency responsible for biodiversity conservation). The expedition is sponsored by Vale, through Fundo Brasileiro para a Biodiversidade (Funbio – Brazilian Fund for Biodiversity).

According to Ugo Vercillo, Director of Biodiversity of the Ministry of the Environment, another partner organisation of Ararinha na Natureza project, the fact that a Spix’s Macaw appeared in Curaçá’s region reinforces the necessity of protecting this area. Since 2014, Ararinha na Natureza project has been working to create a 44,000 hectares protected area in the municipality to protect the Caatinga and riparian forests.

Lourdes Oliveira and her daughter Damilys in front of the tree where they shot the video of Spix's Macaw © Pedro Develey

 

In parallel to the field efforts, breeding the species in captivity for future reintroduction in the wild is crucial for the project’s success, and is thanks to the participation of the breeders AWWP (Qatar), ACTP (Germany) and Fazenda Cachoeira (Brazil). With improvements in artificial insemination technologies, this year there were 19 new-borns.

According to Ugo Vercillo, Director of Biodiversity of the Ministry of the Environment, another project partner, the fact that a Spix’s Macaw appeared in Curaçá’s region reinforces the necessity of protecting this area. Since 2014, the project has been working to create a 44,000 hectares protected area in the municipality to protect the Caatinga and riparian forests.

In fact, Granpa Pinpin’s family donated a small area of their property (30 hectares) to become a reserve for Spix’s Macaw. And the bird then appears in front of their house!

“It’s very symbolic,” said Develey. “There’s hope again, and the people there are really committed for the reintroduction.”

Many questions remain: how did it reappear in the region? How long has it been roaming free? How is it adapting to living in the wild? Answers will come in due time. For now just one, thrillingly pleasant thought: a Spix’s Macaw is soaring free, again, in Curaçá’s Caatinga. BirdLife will keep you updated on progress.

For more information contact SAVE Brasil CEO Pedro Develey