helping to save the lear's macaw in the wild


I n November of 2004, lnstituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renovaveis (IBAMA), the Brazilian governmental agency responsible for conservation of natural resources, organized and held another official meeting of the Lear's Macaw Conservation Committee. The meeting was held in Praia do Forte, Brazil, near Salvador, at a convention center and Eco Resort. A total of thirty-four representatives attended the meeting to make decisions that may affect the future existence of Lear's macaws in the wild.

Although current conservation priorities are focused on conserving wild Lear's macaws, there are several birds in captivity in Brazil and a handful of legal birds outside of the country. Therefore a captive breeding program is planned for the few birds that cannot or will not be returned to the wild. The owner of the Eco Resort, Wilhelm Hermann Klaus Peters, has donated some land to IBAMA where a quarantine station is now being built, and where a captive breeding facility will be built for Lear's and Spix's macaws in the near future. Several non-governmental organizations 

are now participating in the funding, planning, an construction of facilities in Praia do Forte.

Brazil is home to several of the world's rarest parrots. Probably the most well known is the Spix's macaw, now extinct in the wild and found in captivity in only a few collections around the world. But there are other parrots that also face the threat of extinction everyday in this magnificent country that is so rich in biodiversity. The Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus /eari) strongly resembles its better known cousin, the Hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), but is smaller in size, more turquoise in color, and has a white eye-ring within the periopthalmic ring not found in Hyacinthinus. Today there are an estimated 450 to 500 Lear's macaws still flying free in Brazil. Pressures from illegal trapping are still a threat to this species, and this is one of the things that the committee has discussed in length. Hopefully in the near future the penalties for touching wild Lear's macaws without a permit will leave the violators searching for three-fingered gloves.

To find Lear's macaws in the wild, you would

As you can see in the photo above, the habitat in the Bahia region of Brazil is beautiful, but certainly not one where you might expect to find neotropical macaws.


have to venture into the State of Bahia in northern Brazil. Only two known populations exist in nature, and both of them are in the Highlands of Brazil. The terrain is not travel friendly, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. Forget about a map, because the Lear's macaw lives in areas where the roads end, and where maps won't do any good. It's highly unlikely that you will see any road signs directing you in the right direction, either. As a matter of fact, if you are heading in the right direction, you won't see a paved road for many hours - only widened horse paths where cars and trucks now travel between the small towns of the region. If you can manage to avoid falling deep into some ravine or pothole, the sights along the way are magnificent. You'll see cactus plants taller than the houses they

border along

 the path-ways, and distant cliffs that jut majestically out of the earth, creating a scene you might expect to see from the camera on-board the Mars explorer.

There will be no shortage of goats, cows, and horses along your way, and you'll probably get many friendly waves from the villagers as your noisy four- _ wheeler distracts them from their daily work in the fields and private gardens. An occasional town will appear right before your very eyes, and I'd suggest

you stop and get a drink of water or soft drink, because it may be hours before you see another

place to do so. Wear a big smile when you go into Thi town; the people are curious about you because wit; they don't often see strangers passing through. But the

make no mistake - if you are there to illegally trap 1

Lear's macaws, you will be stopped. The ranch own-

ers and townspeople

of the area have a keen eye for bird snatchers, and most of them are protective of their native birds.

In early December 2004, I was fortunate enough to be escorted into the Bahia with a great group of biologists and other interested committee attendees. We were crammed into three vehicles and drove for hours and hours in the hot Bahia sun, but our goal was to see the Lear's macaw in its native home, far away from human intervention. I was honored to have some of the most important field biologists in Brazil to show me around.