Rosemary Low explains how she got into conservation.
Why are you so passionate about birds? What drew you to them in the first place?
I have noticed that many people are passionate about a certain subject from a very early age. This age is so young that it almost seems as though they were born with that passion within them.
So I cannot say why except that it seemed to be innate. No other family member was interested. Birds fascinate me for their beauty and their behaviour. You can never tire of watching them.
What inspired you to dedicate your life to birds and bird conservation?
Nothing actually inspired me to dedicate my life to birds. I never thought about it! I never thought about anything else except birds. It all progressed naturally without me making any conscious decisions.
Why is this cause so close to my heart? Partly because a world without birds would be unthinkable. We need them: the most visible of all the creatures around us, to remind us that we are not the only creatures on this planet.
Unfortunately, we are the most destructive creatures and we are destroying the habitats of birds and all other creatures worldwide at a rate never seen before.
At BirdLife International’s World Congress in September 2022, it was reported that almost half of the world’s bird species are in decline. One in eight bird species is currently threatened with extinction.
With about 400 species widely distributed across continents and oceanic islands, parrots are notable among birds for their poor conservation status. According to the 2019 IUCN Red List, 26 % of parrot species are threatened with extinction and 14 % are listed as Near Threatened. Moreover, 58 % of all the species are experiencing global population declines.
In October 2022 WWF published its most comprehensive finding to date, Living Planet Report 2022 (WWF, 2022).
One million plants and animals are threatened with extinction. 1%-2.5% of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish have already gone extinct; population abundances and genetic diversity have decreased; and species are losing their climatically determined habitats.
An average 69% decline has occurred in the relative abundance of monitored wildlife populations around the world since 1970 and 2018. The principal threats are stated to be agriculture and unsustainable logging. It seems to me that someone left out the world’s human overpopulation.
The staggering rate of decline is a severe warning that the rich biodiversity that sustains all life on our planet is in crisis, putting every species at risk – including us. The climate and nature crisis is not only an environmental issue, but an economic, development, security, social, moral and ethical issue too.
Our world’s most vulnerable people, places and wildlife – and those least responsible for the climate and nature crisis – are at greatest risk, and already suffering.
While conservation efforts are helping, urgent action is required if we are to reverse the loss of nature this decade. We all have a role to play in building a better future for our wildlife, our climate and for all of us.
In the case of Parrots and Asian songbirds, illegal trapping of live birds for trade, in recent years assisted by internet sales, is having a terrible impact on some species. Many have been reduced to worldwide populations of a few hundred individuals or fewer.
Are there any conservation projects you think should be talked about more?
There will always be people who oppose the keeping of birds in captivity. While it is true that illegal trapping, usually with high mortality and with little concern for the birds’ welfare, is a dreadful problem, we need to look at the other side of the picture.
In very recent years, the number of projects to release captive-bred birds into the wild, to augment wild populations which have dwindled due to exploitation, have increased, with increasing expertise and success rates.
Rehabilitation of confiscated illegally caught birds, sometimes socialised and released with captive-bred birds, is also proving successful. One recent example in Brazil is notable. After years of habitat restoration and captive-breeding, Spix’s Macaws were restored to their native habitat in June 2022.
More birds will be released at intervals. This small blue Macaw was never numerous in its limited and specialised habitat. So unlike any other Parrot, it was trapped to extinction, the last single bird existing until the year 2000.
Why do you think it’s so important to get involved in conservation, especially if you own birds?
For years the impact and consequences of climate change and other human-driven factors causing catastrophic loss of biodiversity have been very well known.
In fact intelligent observers warned of it decades ago. Everything Rachel Carson said in her ground-breaking book Silent Spring (1962) has come to pass. Literally. Humans have been too slow to act but time has almost run out for so many species. Personally I mourn the loss of bird song in my garden and depleted bird numbers wherever I look.
Even three or four years ago there was great concern over these issues. Remember the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and the tremendous impact she made, influencing thousands of young people to take more interest in the environment? She made headline news in national newspapers in 2019.
Now most people are more focused on their own financial situations. Furthermore, the government has ignored its promises regarding policies that are favourable for the environment.
In September 2022 it opened a new licensing round for companies to explore for oil and gas in the North Sea, offering nearly 900 locations. There must be no new fossil fuel projects if there is any chance of keeping global temperature rises under 1.5°C.
In October the RSPB, Wildlife Trust and National Trust, with a combined membership of 15 million, joined forces to lobby the government about its damaging environmental policies that will not protect nature. Many people were outraged and forgot their individual problems to protest. People should make their feelings known to their MPs.
On another level, how do people become involved in conservation? To start with they should join organisations such as BirdLife International, which manages and funds conservation projects all over the world.
There are so many projects and never enough funding, especially at this time when household budgets are causing serious cuts in charity donations. Raising funds through a local bird keepers’ club can be very rewarding.
What has your most positive experience been?
Undoubtedly, watching Parrots in their natural habitats is the ultimate experience for me. Parrots are not the easiest birds to observe, except in Australia, but it is so rewarding to have glimpses into their lives.
To know how they behave, what they eat and where they breed and roost. I have watched Parrots in 30 countries, from Panama to Peru, and from beautiful palm-fringed Pacific Islands to cold and inhospitable mountain habitats from New Zealand to the highest slopes of the Andes. (Not all Parrots live in the tropics!)
Visits to these locations were often in connection with Parrot conservation projects. Over the years my life has been enriched by meeting many dedicated men and women involved in bird conservation. Indeed, they inspired one of my latest books Female Heroes of Bird Conservation.
If someone wants to get involved in protecting a species they are passionate about, where do they begin?
If you are passionate about protecting a particular bird species, it is almost certain that you are already a member of an appropriate society.
In the UK, of course, you could provide help via the RSPB or the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). For example, helping with bird surveys carried out by the latter organisation provides much needed information on the habits and abundance of certain species.
Anyone interested in a species from overseas can help by donating to a conservation project.
If you have a degree in conservation biology or in environmental studies you would be welcomed as a volunteer in the field by many organisations. For high profile species, such as the Hyacinth Macaw, for example, there may be an NGO whose sole purpose is to assist the survival of this species, in this case
This organisation, and others in South America, allows you to sponsor a nest-box. Providing nest-boxes for Parrot species has become a highly effective way of boosting Parrot populations.
Nest sites are scarce, not only because of habitat loss, but because poachers often cut down Parrot nest sites to take the chicks. Sponsoring a nest is very rewarding. In the case of the Hyacinth project, you will receive reports telling you about the success (or otherwise) of your nest.
One Hyacinth Macaw nest that I sponsor contains two chicks at the time of writing. A camera is mounted in the roof of this nest box so it is very exciting to see what is happening inside.
Contacting the major NGO for bird conservation in the appropriate country is important for information on NGOs working with various species. You can contact BirdLife International’s global office in Cambridge wwww.birdlife.org
or contact one of their numerous partners worldwide.
Rescue and rehabilitation centres
If your aim is to work with Parrots in the country of origin, but you do not have a degree, working in a rescue and rehabilitation centre could be very rewarding.
Especially in Central America and in Brazil, also in Indonesia, there are now many organisations which look after illegally traded birds. These have been confiscated by the various authorities. In some cases the birds are prepared for release back into the wild. This is very time-consuming work.
Extra hands in the form of volunteers are usually welcome. You might need to have a basic understanding of the language in that country and you must be to be able to pay your airfare.
One of the easiest and safest places to work in the Neotropics is Costa Rica. Several organisations are rehabilitating and releasing Parrots, especially Macaws. This work has been going on for two decades and has boosted the population of Macaws that have been heavily trapped for the pet trade.
Volunteers are welcomed. In Costa Rica, where it is estimated that one in every four households owns an illegal Parrot. MINAE (Costa Rica’s Ministry for the Environment) has the authority to confiscate animals, including Macaws, but often they cannot, due to lack of facilities. Below are examples of organisations that welcome volunteers.
The Parrot Rescue Center (PRC) of Costa Rica is a non-profit rescue that collaborates with the local Costa Rican wildlife government branch (SINAC) who brings them illegally kept Parrots. The primary focus is to rehabilitate, and, whenever possible, to release (soft-release method) these Parrots.
The PRC wants to construct new facilities to house additional Parrots. In 2021, it moved to a new, 17-acre property in Sabalito, Coto Brus, Puntarenas, to allow for the expansion. One of the future goals is to develop a breeding centre on site for the endangered Yellow-naped Amazon.
However, this centre charges for accommodation in a shared volunteer house at $250.00 per week or $800.00 a month (per person).
The Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary focuses on rehabilitation, reintroduction and behavioural research of the Scarlet and Great Green Macaws. Many of which have been seized by MINAE. It also looks after the many Macaws – Scarlet (Ara macao) and Great Green (Buffon’s) (Ara ambiguus) – that cannot be released.
Jaguars, sloths and tapirs are other animals that receive care here.
In its volunteers it looks for people with a high degree of commitment. Technical knowledge is not necessarily required and all activities are supervised by biologists and vets. Volunteers also support the environmental education programme and can help in restoration of the environment by planting trees.
Vanessa Lizano, the founder, is passionate about rehabilitating birds and animals native to Costa Rica and releasing them if possible. The centre is located in Guacima, Alajuela, a short drive from the international airport in San José.
An on-site hospital is staffed by dedicated vets and interns. There are extensive and comfortable living quarters for volunteers. The animal enclosures include aviaries, sloth gardens, and monkey cages. It costs US$75 per night to volunteer. This sum supports the centre which relies on donations.
Please note that the well-known organisation Macaw Conservation Costa Rica (originally called Hatched to Fly Free) does not have a volunteer programme at the present time (www.macawconservation.org).
Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to travel – but please do something! Don’t just think about it! And if young people of your acquaintance have no interest in conservation or the environment, please, try to influence them.
They need to stop looking at their phones and start looking at the wonders of nature that surround them!
You can introduce them to the subject with this Powerpoint presentation:
- Living Planet Report 2022 – Supporting Slides – Primary (Powerpoint)
A versatile slide deck for lessons, assemblies, youth groups and events where this report will be introduced to young people aged 7-11. There are also Powerpoint presentations for teenagers and above, suitable for youth groups. The Living Planet reports are made every two years to provide up to date information on the health of the planet.
WWF, 2022, Living Planet Report 2022 – Building a
nature-positive society. Almond, R.E.A., Grooten, M.,
Juffe Bignoli, D. & Petersen, T. (Eds). WWF, Gland,