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Sep 9, 2020

7 Scarlet Macaws are released into the wild – their population remains a target for Guat poachers!

Back in June we told you about the Guatemalan poacher Profilio Ramirez Tirgeros who was shot in the leg inside the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Tirgeros and another man were found with seven Scarlet Macaw chicks, as well as climbing equipment. The other man got away but the F.C.D. Patrol’s quick action led to Trigeros detention. Well, as we reported two of those chicks didn’t survive. But the other five were treated and cared for. So, after three months they were ready to be released. They were joined by two other chicks that were extracted from natural nesting cavities – and researchers saw that the chicks weren’t faring too well and decided to give them a chance to survive and took them for care. Those chicks were released into the wild. And while for more than ten years we’ve been reporting on the threats to macaws in our forests, today the F.C.D. highlights that these birds remain high target for poachers. Here’s the story:

 

Andrea Polanco, reporting

It’s freedom day for these seven Scarlet Macaws. They were placed in an aviary on Sunday to be released into the wild. For five of them – their start was a rocky one – they were collected by Guatemalan poachers for the thriving illegal pet trade across the border – but quick action by the rangers helped to rescue them. They spent the past three months at the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic where they prepared to be released back into the wild; that includes an evaluation and transfer to a field laboratory where they are hand fed. When they are over two months old they are then taken to a cage where they get to flap their wings and move around. Once they reach eighty-five days old or so, they are transferred to an aviary – where they learn how to fly, perch and become independent eaters:

 

Boris Arevalo, Wildlife Biologist, FCD

Boris Arevalo

“Fruits that we find in the wild that we know the wild macaws feed on. So, we go into the jungle, collect this type of wild food, go into the aviary and put them on the branches of trees or hang them all over the cage and then the macaws will start to fly and feed independently. When they start to fly it is total chaos. They will flap their wings, drop on the ground, climb up again and so it is a learning a process like a kid going to school. It is the same for scarlet macaw chicks. It is a learning process. And when we do the soft release, by this time the chicks have developed their flight ability and perching independent. So, those are three criteria that we look and chicks must have before we decide to open the avaiary for them to venture into the wild surrounding.”

 

But going back into the Chiquibul for these Macaws doesn’t mean that they are safe. Inside the Chiquibul – they face a number of threats. The macaws, particularly the eggs and chicks, are targeted by birds of prey. And because they use soft wood trees for nesting those are easily destroyed so they also experience nesting habitat loss. But the biggest threat is poaching. In Guatemala the illegal pet trade is booming – poachers there risk their lives for the Scarlet Macaw because it’s a prized bird in the illegal pet trade. They fetch high prices on the market – and so the poachers make big bucks. But to get them they come into Belize and poach the birds from our forest.

 

Boris Arevalo

“At one time of the monitored nests that we have, let’s say we monitor ten nests per breeding season, at one time we had a poaching rate of ninety percent. So, that means that nine out of the ten nests that we were monitoring were lost due to poaching.  And that is a huge blow to a wild population with only one hundred and fifty individuals. A well-feathered chick will fetch around three thousand quetzals. That is what the poacher will get. If the chick is not feathered, it can get maybe eight hundred quetzals because they factor in the probability that the chick may die and will not survive. But there are reports that people who traffic the chicks from the direct poacher in the Chiquibul, the middle man is making double that. So, he will be making like eight thousand quetzals for a macaw chick in Guatemala City or other departments away from the Peten. And that middle person will sell it to another person and the chain goes. So, we don’t know what exactly is the price that the owners of wild macaws are paying to get one macaw chick.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“But still, in a sense this is big money for these poachers?”

 

Boris Arevalo

“Yes, it is big money and if you consider their income it is minimal and most of these poachers are below the poverty line. And so if they could fetch eight hundred quetzals or three thousand quetzals in fifteen days of work that is like winning the lottery.”

 

A 2019 scarlet macaw census puts the number of wild Scarlet Macaws at around three hundred and fifty. With an already endangered status – an increase in threats can cause the population to dwindle. Due to limited resources, the FCD only monitors a fraction of nests in the Chiquibul Forest:

 

Boris Arevalo

“So for a wild population to have three hundred and fifty individuals that is a critical number. So, every bird, every wild macaw chick that we could put into the wild population is helpful to the overall population. On average we are monitoring eleven nests, that is a lot if you consider three hundred and fifty but I am sure that is not all the nests that are in the Chiquibul. Over the last four to five breeding season, we had managed to reduce poaching of the monitored nests. So, we were not losing any Scarlet Macaw chicks to poachers of monitored nests. But we started to document using other technology that poachers were still stealing scarlet macaw chicks from the wild and at one point we estimated that over twenty scarlet macaw chicks were taken from the Chiquibul in one season.

So, if I am losing more than fifty percent of my chicks that will eventually lead to a decline to Scarlet Macaw population in Belize. And with the critical number of three hundred and fifty at this point – that alone is something to take into consideration and start to see how we can monitor and prevent poaching of the other scarlet macaw nests that we cannot monitor.”

 

Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.

 

The F.C.D. Team believes that the lab rearing of macaw chicks can help to stabilize the population in the wild, as well as increased funding for monitoring and cross-collaboration.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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