The Spix Mystery: one year later
On June 19th, 2016, Damilys and her mother Lourdes Oliveira (pictured left) woke up before dawn to look for the Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii in the forest near their house in Curaçá, a small town of about 30,000 in the dry Caatinga area of Bahia, Brazil.
The day before, a farmer had assured them he had spotted the rare bird – a surprising claim, since it hadn’t been seen in the wild since 2000. Much to her excitement, 16 year old Damilys not only saw it, but also managed to film it with her mobile phone. After she shared on social media, her video went viral. One year on, we caught up with her back in the forest where she sighted the Spix for the first time.
When you were told that a Spix’s Macaw had been spotted, did you believe it right away?
No, we didn’t believe it at all actually! We thought it would be impossible for the Spix’s Macaw to be back in the Caatinga. It may be its natural habitat, but after so many years without sightings it was unlikely to be true. When we actually saw it ourselves, that’s when we really believed it. In the same way, many people only believed it after seeing the video.
Had you had any false alarms of people spotting the Spix’s Macaw before?
Yes, we had two of them last year, but we didn’t know whether or not they were true. One of them happened before I took the footage. When we were in another expedition after we had spotted it, I heard it myself. But since we had our thoughts so fixed in the idea we can’t say for sure… However, since other people also heard it, we thought that maybe it could be close, and it had only been a few days since the footage.
Why do you know so much about this bird?
I started as a volunteer for SAVE Brasil's Spix’s Macaw Project (Ararinha Na Natureza). Since the Project began I’ve always taken advantage of all the opportunities I had to go to the field with the team. When this volunteering opportunity presented itself, I did trainings on vertical climbing and radio telemetry. And now I’m still with the Project, going to the field, compiling data… it’s our daily routine.
Now we are starting to work with the Blue-winged Macaw Primolius maracana (Near Threatened) to observe and monitor them to help in the Spix’s Macaw reintroduction, since they’re closely related.
Do you still go out often to look for it then?
I’ve gone to all expeditions with the people of the Spix’s Macaw Project and until today I still have the hopes of seeing it again. The first expedition I went to lasted more than 15 days.
We also know that your grandfather Pinpin was an avid birder. Is it true the Macaw appeared right in the area your grandfather donated as a nature reserve?
It all started through him, he always had this will to protect nature. His dream was to donate part of his land to protect the environment and see the Spix’s Macaw fly around again, but he didn’t have enough information on how to do it.
There are many farmers’ associations here in Curaçá, and about four years ago my mom went to one of these association meetings and met the Spix’s Macaw Project staff. Then they presented some proposals and my mom saw that they matched with what my grandfather wanted. After this, he succeeded in making his land a protected area. He got us to open our minds, he has always loved nature, and he taught us that. That’s where all my passion comes from.
Watch Damily's video of the Spix's Macaw below.
Do you think the rediscovery of this Spix’s Macaw has changed the way people in Curaçá see the Caatinga and nature?
The town is divided. One has to have an open mind to learn and see the value in nature. A lot of people see that it has changed, and the rediscovery has brought benefits to the town, but other people say everything is the same…However, most people did notice the change.
But are people looking forward to its comeback?
I believe so. People are very excited about the return of the Spix’s Macaw. We have worked really hard on the Project to raise awareness and people are excited because it’s a species that only existed in the Caatinga. The Spix’s Macaw is the symbol of Curaçá, after all!
The footage was certainly appreciated by the online community – it went viral on Facebook, was shared by more than 1500 people and reached more than one million users. Why do you think the video was such a hit with people all around the world?
We knew it would be a success, but not as much as it was! I think it resonated because it made people curious. I guess many people didn’t believe it and wanted to see the video to know if it was real. Even today, a lot of people still don’t believe it.
We’ve been told you want to study biology. Tell us more!
I’ve always enjoyed walking around here and getting to know new places, and before, I wasn’t aware that this type of work even had a name. Then, through the Project they explained it to me, and now I know this is want. The Project staff influenced me in this decision, and they are very supportive. I want to study biology and become an ornithologist!
Are you aware of any threats affecting Curaçá’s nature?
Yes, the most important threats are poaching, mining, and ranching. I think all species are at risk, mainly the ones that feed on fruits and survive of the Caatinga’s vegetation. Ranching is damaging the vegetation, and mining is worsening the deforestation.
So do you see yourself in the future being a biologist for the Spix’s Macaw Project?
More than a biologist. I see myself speaking the Spix’s Macaw’s language, doing all the reintroduction work I’m currently doing with the Blue-winged Macaw, monitoring the nests, picking up the chicks. I see myself doing the same with Spix’s Macaw chicks and achieving what my grandfather always wanted to see, flocks of Spix’s macaws flying around Curaçá again.