Two rare ma­caws on show at Bird Park

Spix’s macaw set to be listed as ex­tinct in the wild, with es­ti­mates of only 60 to 80 birds in cap­tiv­ity

The Straits Times - - HOME - Ben­son Ang Lifestyle Correspondent

With its beau­ti­ful blue feath­ers on its wings and tail, it is no sur­prise the charm­ing Spix’s macaw in­spired the 2011 an­i­mated film Rio and its 2014 se­quel.

Sadly, this pretty par­rot, also known as the lit­tle blue macaw, has seen its numbers tum­ble in re­cent years due to poach­ing and habi­tat de­struc­tion.

A re­cently pub­lished study by bird con­ser­va­tion group BirdLife In­ter­na­tional sug­gested the species should be re-clas­si­fied as be­ing ex­tinct in the wild. Re­ports say there are an es­ti­mated 60 to 80 Spix’s ma­caws in cap­tiv­ity.

Two of them, now among the rarest birds in the world, are in Sin­ga­pore’s Jurong Bird Park. The Brazil­ian na­tives, both fe­male, have been on dis­play at its par­rot par­adise ex­hibit since last Novem­ber.

Frieda, 19, and Rio, nine, are here on a 10-year loan from the Al Wabra Wildlife Preser­va­tion in Qatar and the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Threat­ened Par­rots (ACTP) in Ger­many.

Here, they are “con­ser­va­tion ambassa­dors”, rais­ing aware­ness about the threats of ex­tinc­tion, and the con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes that aim to save them.

Dr Jes­sica Lee, 32, from Wildlife Re­serves Sin­ga­pore’s con­ser­va­tion, re­search and vet­eri­nary ser­vices de- part­ment, con­firmed that the Spix’s macaw is the only species in the Bird Park’s col­lec­tion that is set to be listed as ex­tinct in the wild.

Mr Zaid Harith­sah, 27, a ju­nior keeper who is part of the team look­ing af­ter the par­rot par­adise ex­hibit, added: “It is very sad­den­ing news to see that the birds have been listed to be ex­tinct in the wild.

“I feel that there is a higher form of re­spon­si­bil­ity for us, the keep­ers, to main­tain the high­est stan­dards of care for th­ese two par­rots.”

Be­fore their ar­rival, the Bird Park sent an­i­mal care staff to ACTP to learn about care of the birds, which have a life span of 20 to 30 years.

Since they ar­rived here, the ma­caws have been housed in an ex­hibit de­signed to re­sem­ble the dry scrub­land of north-east Brazil, their na­tive habi­tat.

They are also fed a diet of seeds, sprouts, cran­ber­ries, par­rot pel­lets, as well as a fruit and veg­etable “salad”.

To mon­i­tor the birds’ weight with­out stress­ing them out, the keep­ers trained the ma­caws to step onto the weigh­ing scale us­ing pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment.

Each time the birds dis­play this de­sired be­hav­iour, they are re­warded with treats such as sun­flower seeds.

The Bird Park is a mem­ber of the Spix’s Macaw Work­ing Group for the re­cov­ery and con­ser­va­tion of this species in the wild.

Other mem­bers in this group in­clude the Chico Men­des In­sti­tute for Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion, a branch of the Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment in Brazil; Al Wabra Wildlife Preser­va­tion-Lubara Breed­ing Cen­tre; ACTP; Par­rots In­ter­na­tional and Fazenda Ca­choeira.

In 2016, a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing was inked by mem­bers of the group, with the Bird Park com­mit­ting to pro­vide sup­port in es­tab­lish­ing a breed­ing and re­lease fa­cil­ity in Brazil, with the ul­ti­mate aim of re-in­tro­duc­ing the species into the wild.

This re-in­tro­duc­tion is tar­geted for 2021 and all the in­sti­tu­tions are mak­ing a great ef­fort to make this dream pos­si­ble.

Asked if there is any ur­gency for the two ma­caws in Sin­ga­pore to be part of a breed­ing programme, Dr Lee said: “There is al­ready a well-es­tab­lished breed­ing programme across three in­sti­tu­tions in the world. So th­ese two birds at the Bird Park will play a bet­ter role as con­ser­va­tion ambassa­dors for their species.”

She added: “We feel that the re-in­tro­duc­tion of the species into the wild is more likely now than ever be­fore be­cause we have got all the right part­ners to­gether to push this ef­fort.”

At the Bird Park ex­hibit, vis­i­tors can learn more about the Spix’s Macaw Con­ser­va­tion Ac­tion Plan and Re-in­tro­duc­tion Programme.

The Bird Park is the only zoo­log­i­cal park in Asia where vis­i­tors can see the three re­main­ing mem­bers of the blue macaw fam­ily – the Spix’s macaw, Lear’s macaw, and Hy­acinth macaw – at one lo­ca­tion.

The last mem­ber of the blue macaw fam­ily – the Glau­cous macaw – has not been sighted since the 1960s and is be­lieved to be ex­tinct.

ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Mr Zaid Harith­sah, a ju­nior keeper at the Jurong Bird Park, feed­ing Spix’s ma­caws Rio (far left) and Frieda. The Brazil­ian na­tives, both fe­male, have been on dis­play at its par­rot par­adise ex­hibit since last Novem­ber. Both ma­caws are here on a 10-year loan.

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