There were two aspects of this September meeting at Chester Zoo that were appealing. First there was the sense of celebration that the Parrot Society has continued to flourish for 50 years and secondly there was the serious message that the speakers presented: conservations matters for the birds and ourselves.
The council had made a unanimous decision to have conservation as the main topic. Over one hundred Parrot enthusiasts of mixed ages and levels of expertise attended.
Richard Johnson, the CEO of Johnston and Jeff, has been sponsoring the Parrot Society for ten years. On the vexing question of seeds versus pellets Richard said that having a seed diet gives a variety. Parrots take more interest in what they are eating.
David Dickason worked at Manchester University. Now retired, he has kept birds since the age of seven. Has been on the council for two years. David sees a decline in the interest of younger people in conservation and bird keeping. He aims to promote both through the Parrot Society.
Steve Brookes sold his business 12 years ago and went to live on a boat with his wife. Now he runs Wild Parrots Up Close taking small groups to visit birds in the neo tropics. He is a keen photographer of wild living Parrots.
The atmosphere in tea, coffee and lunch breaks was lively. I was delighted to meet Parrot people I had seen at other events especially one in particular Poul Jorgenson, Danish breeder of the Blue Throated Macaw.
Poul is a council member at Lora Parque so plays a distinguished role in the Parrot world. In our chat he confirmed what he’d told me in Dublin, that he uses high grade monkey nuts in shell as a major diet component for his breeding Blue Throats. It’s something to ponder when monkey nuts have such a poor reputation
The seminar was chaired by Eric Peake, the celebrated avian artist. Most of us cannot afford his originals but the prints and cards are a delight and not costly. Eric is a witty speaker who had the audience chuckling many times. Underlying his humorous anecdotes is his ultimate message: ‘Extinction is forever.’
This event would not have been so well organised, everyone agreed, had Dr Alan Jones not presided. Since his retirement as a popular avian vet, he has been writing books, traveling and is president of the Parrot Society.
The seminar took place at Chester Zoo, which has an honourable record in conservation matters. We listened to eleven presentations during the day. I asked my companion Natalie Spencer, who has recently joined and begun keeping Parrots one year ago, which presentation did you like best?’
She was definite that it was Mark Stafford’s. His presentation, ‘What’s so special about Parrots?’ gave a broad overview of how their physiological and anatomical adaptations are honed to an ultimate efficiency, to fit into whatever evolutionary niche they’ve adopted.
Among many topics covered was language, dancing and playing - all signs of cognitive ability. Natalie (as I did) found his information fascinating as it related wild bird behaviour to captive bird behaviour.
Mark wore another hat when he gave an update on the present situation of the Spix Macaw - now extinct in the wild.
Mark, along with his wife Marie, are closely involved with fundraising for threatened species like the Spix. Mark sits on various government and non-government committees concerned with the breeding in captivity and eventual reintroduction into their unique habitat in North Eastern Brazil.
The Stafford’s charity Parrot International partnered with other charities and individuals in buying the 400 ha (1000 acres) Garinga Farm where the last wild Spix nest was found. The Brazilian government has offered to protect the region around the introduction which should take place within a couple of years.
The history of the Spix was recounted by Tony Pittman – a business man who has bred blue Macaws and researched extensively in their history. His website is a valuable source or facts about these so heavily persecuted species.
A talk I especially enjoyed was given by David Woodcock, curator of World Parrot Trust headquarters in Paradise Park in Cornwall. David was encouraging us the general public to play an active role in Parrot conservation. He pointed out the many vacancies for volunteers in sanctuaries, zoos and projects worldwide. Even small donations, if there are enough of us, can make a difference.
One presenter took a modern route and talked to us over a video link. Ray Ackroyd gave an inspiring view of how taping tree trunks first using tin now with plastic sheeting prevents snakes, lizards iguanas and similar predators taking egg and chicks out of Cockatoo’s nests.
The Parrot Society take deserved credit for this now widespread initiative because it began in thr 1980s by John Mollindinia, who was one of the founders of the Society and whose bequest helps finance the continuance of the nest protection scheme.
Do aviculturists (breeders professional or part time) help preserve the threated species? Parrot species are threatened at various levels of severity. In the case of the flightless New Zealand Kakapo whose story was given to us by Barbara Heidenreich the answer is clear.
Without the devotion of professionals and volunteers and millions of dollars there would be no Kakapo. This applies to the Spix Macaw. The last wild one was spotted in 2000 and over 127 are now living in various breeding facilities.
After decades of wrangling, the Brazilian government now pledges a protection area around the hoped for reintroduction range. Stafford told us that funds and architectural plans for the Spix Field Station where they will breed and eventually be released are now finalised and he hopes building will start this year.
It was heartening to hear of success stories. The Echo Parakeet of Mauritius has come from almost extinction (10 birds known in the 1980s) to getting towards a thousand. Anne Morris and her colleagues from Chester Zoo described how conservation in the field happens. She told how the rare Eucudorean Amazon was persuaded to use manufactured nest boxes.
Chester Zoo itself has reduced its bird population to concentrate on other species. But they are still funding part of Katala, the NGO in the Philippines where devoted work means that the red vented Cockatoo numbers are climbing back from a few dozen to over one thousand.
Rosemary Low, as befitted someone one of her long experience, gave the world overview. Of 356 Parrot species at least one third are threatened. Rosemary Low pointed out that Pssitacene species are the most threatened of all birds.
Whether you are downcast or optimistic that wild Parrots will survive has to be a matter of temperament. Certainly the efforts Rosemary spoke off, like teaching local inhabitants to care for their wildlife have a high degree of success, giving primary school kids in remote area education about their local Parrot species.
But until our culture as a whole can stop allowing illegal smuggling, the trade in endangered species of all animals as well as birds, the burning of virgin forests to plant commercial crops, logging and other activates of a similar nature, wild birds don’t stand much of a chance.
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