Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country, is truly remarkable, especially for the beauty and diversity of its birds and their habitats. And, of course, it has more Parrot species than any other country on earth. The people love to keep birds, mainly songsters and Parrots.
One reason why there are so many bird keepers in Brazil is, unfortunately, the ease of acquiring illegally trafficked birds.
The most targeted species is the charismatic and much-loved Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazona aestiva), now known to the ornithological world as Turquoise-fronted Parrot.
In 1997 Gláucia Seixas started a project to rear confiscated chicks and to rehabilitate and release those that survived. Since 1988 more than 11,000 chicks, nearly all Blue-fronts, have been confiscated by police and taken to just one rehabilitation centre, CRAS in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Other rescue centres take hundreds more each season. Of course the confiscated birds are only part of the story. Most chicks are never recovered or they die from malnutrition and neglect.
It can be months before the survivors are fit for release. But where can they be liberated without the risk of recapture? Eighty per cent of the Pantanal in southern Brazil is covered in cattle ranches.
Birdwatchers flock to the tourist lodges there, thus the birds around ranches are protected and many of these areas have become unofficial reserves.
Gláucia Seixas told me: “Besides my research on the ecology of the Blue-fronted Amazon in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, I also monitor its reproductive success in an area of cerrado and Atlantic forest, also in Mato Grosso do Sul. I identified and catalogued 252 Amazona aestiva nests (up to 2018); 95% were in two species of palm trees (Acrocomia aculeata and Syagrus romazoffiana.
Approximately 85% of these nests either showed signs of break-in or the trees were overturned for the extraction of the nestlings (or, sometimes, eggs) to feed the national and international illegal animal trade.”
For more information you can access these websites:
The Blue-fronted Amazon Project www.papagaioverdadeiro.org.br
The photos Gláucia sent me of confiscated chicks are heart-breaking. How many of them survive the rough treatment from traffickers? It is such a wasteful trade. We must also consider that so few young fledge that the breeding population is an ageing one, which will suddenly crash to extinction in the region.
Prof. Dr Luís Fábio Silveira assists NGOs and the police in rescuing seized Parrots. Renowned as the Curator of Birds at the Zoology Museum of the University of São Paulo, conservation and reintroduction to the wild of captive-bred birds of threatened species are his special interest.
He told me: “Between August and December thousands of chicks are confiscated, mainly in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. This traffic has continued for decades along established routes by well-known and repeat offenders. Chicks are taken to sales events, mistreated, crammed into boxes, suffer heat and stress and sold at low prices.”
Luís Fábio Silveira is strongly in favour of legal captive breeding (closed-ringed, micro-chipped birds) as a means of reducing trade in illegally trafficked Parrots.
My question to him was: Would legal captive breeding reduce the trade in aestiva when captive-bred birds must surely be more expensive than illegally trafficked ones?
He replied: “Of course this species is still expensive in the legal market. The first Budgies in UK were also expensive in the beginning of captive breeding, as certainly happened with Lories, Parakeets and so on.
You must act at both ends: incentivise the legal market with clear rules (aiming principally at the well-being of the birds) and cut the lines offering illegal Parrots. People must know that a legal route exists. But the breeders must have help from the relevant officials.
A lot of key people in the government are against captive breeding (despite laws to the contrary), and many NGOs also oppose it. Some politicians also embrace the cause and IBAMA does very little to fight against the traffic.” (IBAMA is the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the principal organisation that should be fighting strongly against illegal wildlife trade).
Captive-breeding of the Golden Parakeet, known to aviculturists as the Queen of Bavaria’s Conure (Guaruba guarouba) in registered breeding centres in Brazil has reduced the demand for wild-caught specimens, even although the young, legally available in pet shops, are still high-priced.
They have also been used in a reintroduction project initiated by Prof. Silveira in the state of Pará in north-east Brazil. This project is a collaboration between the government and Lymington Foundation.
In August 2017 fourteen captive-bred birds were sent to Pará for release into their natural habitat. This was big news in Brazil, with footage shown on several TV channels. These birds are now successfully breeding in the wild.
The Lymington Foundation exists for conservation purposes, not for commercial breeding. There are a number of government-registered commercial breeding centres in Brazil. But this status is hard to acquire – and captive breeding of native birds by other breeders is illegal.
In 2013 Luís Fábio Silveira wrote in Mundo das Aves (World of Birds) about illegal Parrot trafficking in Brazil: “It is indisputable and undeniable that the reduction in wild populations has been caused by poachers. The most amazing thing is that there are still Blue-fronts in the wild.”
In North-east Brazil Fabio Nunes of Aquasis is renowned for his work in massively increasing the numbers of the Grey-breasted Parakeet (Pyrrhura griseipectus) (IUCN status Endangered). It was plummeting towards extinction, due to illegal trapping and habitat destruction. He told me:
“In this area there have been many local extinctions, including those of Parrots, Macaws and Parakeets, leaving empty niches that only these birds filled. These Parrots not only disperse seeds -- some of which no other species are capable of breaking – they are also part of complex ecological interactions which are important for ecosystems.
The Grey-breasted Parakeet, which was extinct from 13 of the 18 areas where it occurred, will soon have the opportunity to return to some areas.
Birds confiscated from the illegal market are being sent to the famous bird park, Parque das Aves (near the Iguassu Falls), where their offspring will be reintroduced to original areas of distribution.
“Institutions that breed for reintroduction are unfortunately few and focused on endangered species”, said Fábio. “High costs and bureaucracy are still very strong barriers for many other species to return to nature.”
Global warming and poor fire management practices made 2019 the year in which fires on a scale never before seen, ravaged Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and Bolivia, to name the worst-hit regions. Undoubtedly incalculable harm has been done to many Parrot populations.
Already established captive populations may be the only means of preventing the extinction of certain species. However, it will be a long time before some of their habitats recover – if they ever do.
And catastrophic fire seasons are likely to become more common. In some parts of Australia years of drought have produced tinder-dry areas. And throughout the tropics, deforestation, mainly for agricultural purposes, has already greatly reduced countless Parrot populations.
Wise use of many Parrots already in captivity will be crucial for their survival. This means emphasis should be on the original wild type – and not on mutations. More about that in a future blog.
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