Special Report: The Spix's Macaw Conservation Program


T he Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii, one of the world's most critically endangered species, was recently the focus of three days of meetings in Houston, Texas (September 30 - October 2, 1999). Endemic to one small area of Northeastern Brazil, in a habitat known as the "caatinga" (an arid region of flat savanna scrubland interspersed with seasonal creeks and gallery forests), the Spix's Macaw was considered to be extinct in the wild 10 years ago. Nevertheless, this species is now recovering through the concerted efforts of the Brazilian government and an international committee whose members include the aviculturists that hold this endangered species, government officials, conservationists and ornithologists.

With only one known remaining bird in nature, the conservation of this


species is dependent on the success of the captive-breeding and field program. The global captive population has grown significantly from a low of 11 known birds to 60 (54 of which are captive-hatched); new holders are participating in the program, the field research program has collected valuable data on the natural history of this species and the ecology of the region, a strong community outreach program is in place, habitat protection and restoration projects are ongoing, and basic-research on psittacine reintroduction techniques has been successfully completed. The progress of the last 10 years has been dramatic.

The meeting, hosted by the Houston Zoo, included a symposium entitled "The Spix's Macaw - Conservation and Management of an Endangered Species," focusing on the last 10 years of field research, community outreach


and captive-breeding efforts; the 2nd Workshop on Population Management and Captive Breeding of the Spix's Macaw; and the official meeting of the Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw. This meeting highlighted the importance of the collaborative nature of this program, which is proving to be a model of international public/private collaboration in endangered species management.

Misleading Headlines

However, recently published articles promote a much different scenario. In London, The Times headline screamed that "Collector's may drive world's rarest parrot to extinction" and the World Parrot Trust's PsittaScene August 1999 newsletter article entitled "More on Spix's Macaw" claimed that "the holders of the captive birds simply refuse to cooperate" and included much erroneous information. Readers of these articles cannot be faulted for believing the stories, as these seem to be reliable and knowledgeable sources.

Unfortunately these type of misinformed statements are great for "sound bytes" that attract media attention, but do not contribute to the conservation of the species. This is not the first time that the Spix's Macaw has been used as a political and fundraising tool, a "symbol" of how aviculture contributed to this species' demise.

The Actual Story

If those headlines are false, then what is the actual story? It is a story that involves a great amount of hard work, both in the field and in the captivebreeding efforts. It is also a story of success against great odds, and international collaboration between public and private sector that is unparalleled. How can one make that statement considering the recent reports? The answer is easy - with facts and data.

The Vanishing Spice's Macaw

To truly understand the current situation of the Spix's Macaw conservation effort, one must first go back to the late 1980s when only a handful of ornithologists and aviculturists realized that this species was on the verge of quietly vanishing. In an attempt to draw atten-


tion to this situation, a meeting was held by Loro Parque, a major bird park in the Canary Islands, Spain (which had a pair of Spix's Macaws in its collection). Although this attempt was unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for the future international program.

The status of the Spix's Macaw was at the center of much controversy at the 1988 meeting of the now extinct IUCN-SSC Parrot Specialist Group in Curitiba, Brazil. Although everyone talked about the need to develop a recovery program, there was no chance for a consensus as the participants differed greatly on how to proceed as politics and personalities got in the way of any agreement. Much of the meeting was spent on arguing about the legality of individual captive birds and not on steps to develop an urgently needed recovery effort. Many ornithologists and conservationists were already considering the Spix's Macaw extinct, believing that the few captive birds scattered throughout Brazil and the world were relics of no conservation value. At that time, it was much easier to blame the wildlife trade and aviculture for this species' demise than to formulate a strategy to save it.




Barros, Y. M. (1999) "Conservation and Management of Spix's Macaw:

Successful Experience of Parental Care in a Hybrid Couple." Book of Abstracts, VI Neotropical Ornithological Congress, October 4-10, 1999, Monterrey and Saltillo, Mexico.

Collar, NJ., Gonzaga, L.P., Krabbe, N., MadronoNieto, L.G" Naranjo, T.A., Parker & Wege, D.C. (1992) Threatened birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book, Cambridge: ICBP.

Juniper, A.T. and Yamashita, C. (1991) The habitat and status of Spix's Macaw Cyanopsuta spixii. Bird Conservation International 1: 1-9.

Schischakin, N. (1999) ''The Spix's Macaw ( Cyanopsitta spixii) Studbook and Population Management Plan of the IBAMA Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw." Houston Zoological Gardens, Houston.

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