Rosemary Low gives an update on the Red-browed Parrot and how it was rescued in Brazil.
Parrot conservation news from around the world was the subject of my previous blog. I have been asked to continue this theme and I can report on an inspirational story that has received no attention outside Brazil.
If you ever thought that reintroducing illegally captured birds back to their natural habitat was easy, think again! The logistics are complicated and the problems can be hard to overcome. To say nothing of the expense!
The rare Red-browed Parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha) occurs only in fragmented areas of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. Sadly, this is one of the most threatened and deforested habitats in that great country. As a result, many of the Parrots of that region are vulnerable to extinction.
According to BirdLife International the healthiest populations of the Red-browed Parrot are now found in Espírito Santo state, where the largest lowland forest blocks occur. It also occurs at three sites in south-east Bahia, and five in Minas Gerais, and five in Rio de Janeiro (see map).
A disjunct population occurred at São Miguel dos Campos, Alagoas, but it is unknown whether it has survived. Field work will soon reveal this.
Until a few years ago, research on the Red-browed Parrot, a comparatively little-known species, had been limited. At 36cm, it is the second largest of the mainland Brazilian Amazons, after the Mealy (A. farinosa) and has the solid build of that species.
Its head coloration is especially beautiful. The forehead and forepart of the crown are scarlet and the lores are yellow. The area below, extending under the eye and below the throat, is a soft blue. Generally the female has the yellow on the lores extending further downwards, thus there is less blue on the cheeks. The beak is dark grey with the upper part of the upper mandible pink.
Once abundant, despite the recent accumulation of records and localities, this Parrot has suffered a significant decline. Its IUCN status is Vulnerable but more logically under Brazilian law it is recognised as Endangered.
This colourful Parrot suffers not only from habitat loss but also from illegal capture. Even the eggs have been taken. As an example, in May 2013 a Portuguese man was caught at an airport in northern Brazil with 36 eggs which he was attempting to smuggle into Portugal.
Thefts of chicks from nests are difficult to control. In the 1998-1999 breeding season, for example, 174 nestlings were poached, mostly from reserves, for the national and international cage-bird trade.
In 2014, the Red-browed Amazon Project, Projeto Chauá, was created by the non-governmental organisation Fundação Neotrópica do Brasil (www.fundacaneotropica.org.br), a nature conservancy organisation.
It has mapped the distribution and estimated the population size in different localities in the historically known distribution in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. Simultaneously, environmental educational has been applied to create awareness about Parrots, habitat conservation and illegal trade.
In recent months (from 2021) the authorities have apprehended traffickers. In mid-October IBAMA’s environmental officers caught a smuggler with many Parrots in the Linhares area in the state of Espírito Santo. They included 23 chicks of the Red-browed Parrot, aged from 7 to 30 days.
Realising the importance of this group of nestlings, they contacted Prof Luis Fabio Silveira, Curator of Birds and Vice-director of the Zoology Museum of the University of São Paulo. They wanted help in placing them. In the right hands, the conservation potential of these Parrots was enormous.
At once a plan was forming in his mind: the first-ever reintroduction of the Red-browed Amazon. They could form a precious population in Alagoas where they were either extinct or on the verge of extinction. This was a very exciting prospect!
Where could these chicks go? A very careful decision had to be made. Prof. Silveira recommended Beto Polezel in the state of São Paulo. The chicks were not yet feathered and needed to be in the care of this very experienced aviculturist.
In the meantime it was vitally important that they received the best nutrition available. He personally paid for the best rearing food from the company Nutropica to be sent to the IBAMA rescue centre and to Polezel’s place. IBAMA is the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.
It took nearly three weeks to acquire the paperwork necessary to move them. The next problem was how to get the Red-browed Parrot chicks to São Paulo. Speed was of the essence. Air travel was out of the question. For Prof. Silveira there was only one solution. He would drive them, departing from his home in São Paulo on November 13, he drove about 1,000km (620 miles) to Espírito Santo with Dr. Maria Fernanda Gondim, a veterinarian from Zooparque Itatiba, near São Paulo.
They collected the chicks from the rehabilitation centre, leaving at 8pm on a 15-hour drive on very busy roads. This journey will forever live in his memory. He can still hear the sounds of the tiny chicks begging to be fed. This necessitated stopping every three hours to feed them with the zoo vet Maria Fernanda Gondim, who had generously donated her time to the rescue effort.
At 11am next morning they arrived at the property of Beto Polezel where the chicks were examined by the team. On November 2 he reported to me: “Babies super fine! Growing and eating 500g of high energy food every day.”
This is only the first chapter of the story. Sad to report, on April 8 IBAMA reported to Prof. Silveira that 40 more Red-browed Parrots had been confiscated from various sources. On April 10 they informed him that these birds would be sent by air to São Paulo on April 12. So soon!
Then followed two days of frenzied activity while he tried to find a place for these birds! Fortunately, he has a long working relationship with Bill Wittkoff of the Lymington Foundation in the state of São Paulo, 120km (75 miles) from the airport.
This Foundation is very important for Red-browed Parrot conservation and specialises in breeding Golden Conures for release (another of Prof. Silveira’s projects) and in rehabilitating confiscated Parrots. When I was there in 2016 I saw a large flock of Vinaceous Parrots (Amazona vinacea) being prepared for release.
On April 14 the Red-browed Parrots were caught up and boxed at 8am to be driven to the airport. On arrival the IBAMA staff were told the cargo terminal was too hot to leave the birds there. They would have to travel on a later flight, departing at 7.30pm. Unfortunately, nobody had thought to inform Prof. Silveira that the birds would now be arriving at 10pm. He had an anxious 12-hour wait at the airport.
On arrival he had to get two big boxes, each weighing 75kg, into his car. When this feat had been achieved, he drove home, arriving at 11.50pm, went to bed, got up at 3am and drove the Parrots to the Lymington Foundation. This man is a hero! On opening the boxes the vet Fernanda examined the birds (condition excellent to poor), which were released into a large aviary.
This was a big conservation story in Brazil, with footage on the TV news and extensive media coverage.
Now comes part three of the saga. All the birds had to be flown to Alagoas together but very soon. Winter was coming and these Parrot from the hotter climate further north would be very stressed by low temperatures.
On June 2 permits were issued to move them. What followed next was almost beyond human endurance for Prof. Silveira. He bought the tickets for June 8 and asked the airline to save space for two large boxes (70x60x70cm, and 100kg).
A message from him on June 9 read:
“Three days without sleep and eating! I am alive (but also extremely exhausted) and the birds are OK. I need to go home and sleep.”
On June 10 I got the full story
“Last Tuesday, June 7, I opened my eyes at 1am and I only slept again yesterday. Issuing the permits (health and interstate) was a drama, and without them, we could not book the flight and reserve cabin space. Then came the cold and the rain.
Tuesday afternoon I rented a van and drove straight to the Lymington Foundation to catch up the Parrots and then go to Beto’s place to get the other 20 young (ex-babies). I arrived there about 7pm in heavy rain and cold (13 degrees). The Parrots were stressed.
We packed them in one and a half boxes, and two and half hours later, we arrived at Beto’s. Another two hours and I arrived at the cargo terminal: it was 1am on Wednesday, and the flight was due to depart at 7:45am. They did not accept the birds until 3am. Then, at about 5am, when I was wet, cold, and hungry, I boarded the plane.
“Three hours later I was in Maceió. It was sunny, very hot and humid. More than 60 people, TV, newspapers, police, environmental agents etc, were there to meet me.
(https://globoplay.globo.com/v/10651025/?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=share-bar). A true nightmare!!! I was tense because I had no idea about the Parrots’ condition and all the media were waiting for me to open each box. I saw all the little warriors: very well, but tired like me. All very tired and hungry. At 1 pm I had a sequence of short meetings with a lot of people.
“Then I went to hotel and had a shower, ate a sandwich and went to the airport. I landed in São Paulo at 6am, drove to the museum and started work.”
Centro de Educacao Ambiental Pedro Nardelli, owned by Insituto de Preservacao da Mata Atlantica (IPMA), is an NGO which is taking care of the birds. A large aviary will be built in the forest fragment selected for the reintroduction, and the birds will be sent there in mid September/October, when they will receive the radio transmitters.
Already they are eating the foods, such as palm fruits, which they will find in the wild. Meanwhile they are enjoying the climate of their natural habitat: temperatures up to 40 degrees and two heavy rain showers every day. Their plumage is superb.
I have placed Prof. Silveira at the centre of this story but in fact it was an important collaboration between the environmental authorities and inspirational individuals such as Beto Polezel, Bill Wittkoff, Zooparque Itatiba, Nutropica, Blue Stone Metais, IBAMA, NGOs, and Maria Fernanda Gondim, all of whom gave so freely of their time and valuable experience.
Everyone who loves Parrots can be thankful that there are people, like those mentioned above, with the passion and dedication to override rational thought to achieve a very worthwhile task!
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Amazona rhodocorytha. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/07/2022.
Enormous thanks to Prof. Silveira for giving me frequent updates as the story unfolded.