There are only 35 breeding pairs of Buffon's Macaws left in Costa Rica.


Rosemary Low highlights an urgent appeal on behalf of the Buffon's or Great Green Macaw.

Nesthole I have been passionately interested in parrot conservation for more than two decades. In 1984 my book Endangered Parrots was published. It was the first book to address the issue at a time when parrot conservation projects were few and experience was limited.


Since then I have followed the progress of many parrot conservation programmes worldwide, in my capacity as editor of Psittascene, the magazine of the World Parrot Trust and as an interested individual.


When conservation projects commence and funding applications are made, it can be difficult to assess the potential value of the project. So much depends on the dedication and expertise of the personnel.


The best projects combine research with education among the people in the locality of the parrot in question. Research without protection of the endangered species can prove to be pointless.


I would therefore judge the success of the project by the quality of the information obtained, especially as regards the scientific papers published and by the degree of success in persuading the people in the country or locality to preserve their parrot.


I can say in total honesty and without exaggeration, that the conservation project which has impressed me most in recent years is that for the Buffon's or great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua) in Costa Rica.


Recently I went to Costa Rica for a holiday. Before I left I decided to re-read some of the scientific papers which emanated from this project and which had so impressed me.


Attached to one of the papers was a copy of an Email from George Powell, the founder of the project, to the World Parrot Trust, requesting funding. At that time the trust could not help, as it has long term commitments to allocate funds to certain projects.


When I read the Mr. Powell had invested a large sum of his own money into the Lapa Verde Project ("Lapa Verde" or Green Macaw is the name given to the species in Costa Rica) to keep the project afloat, I was dismayed.


Why was not the international conservation community doing something to keep this exceptional project going?


Before I left for Costa Rica I Contacted the two people managing the project and arranged to meet them near La Selva Biological Reserve.


When I met Guiselle Monge Arias, the project manager and Olivier Chassot, her assistant from Switzerland, I was enormously impressed by their dedication to the project and by further research published in more published papers.



Desperate finances.

They told me the funding situation was desperate. They seemed to regard me as their last hope They had applied to a number of organisations for funding and had received only one small grant which would allow them to continue for a short while a scaled down version of the project.


I vowed I would somehow raise funds to allow their work to continue.


At this point I should describe the project and it's importance. It is not generally realised that the Buffon's Macaw has a small range compared with other large macaws. Only that of the Blue throated (Ara glaucogularis) and Lear's (Anodorhynchus leari) are smaller.


Both these species are classified as critically endangered. Their plight was discovered too late. Due to illegal trapping and habitat loss it is doubtful whether they can be saved from extinction.


There is still time to save the Buffon's Macaw, but we must act fast. The range of Buffon's has been contracting with alarming speed in recent years. It occurs in lowland humid forest in Central America, from Eastern Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to Panama and North-western Colombia.


There is a tiny relict population in Western Ecuador (sub-species guayaquilensis) which is nearly extinct. Compared with the scarlet macaws, the range of Buffon's or Great Green Macaw, covers an area of about 1/20thof that species. Yet much has been made of the decline of the scarlet.


It is seldom realised how small are the countries of Central America. At less than 20,000 sq. miles (51,000 sq. Km), Costa Roca is about two and a half times the size of Wales. However the macaw's range there covers only a small area, although it was once found over about one third of the North-eastern part of the country.


The research project began in 1993. I t was initiated by George Powell, am American conservationist of world wide renown. In 1972 he was involved in founding the famous cloud forest reserve at Monteverde in Costa Rica.


Macaws are, of course, very difficult birds to study, because they range over such big distances and spend much time high in the forest canopy.

DD>Telemetry was increasingly being used to track the ranges of birds and to discover details of their lives, which would assist in their conservation. But a transmitter had never been successfully fitted to a large macaw.




With the help of the well-known American macaw breeder Joanne Abramson, a device was tested on her birds. Similar devices were then fitted to wild Buffon's Macaws. They are tiny and weigh about three per cent of body weight.


The radio tagged macaws were tracked in off road vehicles. This ground breaking method resulted in invaluable information on diet, nesting habits and range.


In short, it provided the information needed to protect the Buffon's Macaw not only in Costa Rica, but also throughout it's range in Central America.


For example the, observation of nests indicated that the success of clutches (surviving incubation, brooding and fledging, to produce at least one young) is sixty percent.


The productivity of 18 successful nesting attempts involving 15 nest holes during five years was equal to 1.83 young. First year survival of 23 fledglings from 12 nests was monitored and 15 of them survived until the start of the next season, when juvenile birds separate from their parents.


These results are good. Unfortunately, extensive data collection indicates that fewer than 35 pairs of Buffon's Macaws are breeding annually in the Northern zone of Costa Rica.


The population there is believed to number in the region of 200 macaws. There is no evidence of breeding elsewhere in the country.


Satellite images of the macaw's breeding area in Costa Rica reveal that about 35 per cent of the forest was eliminated between 1986 and 1992.


The felling of nest trees has compounded the problem of habitat loss. Some 16 percent of all nest sites known since 1994 have been cut down.


Half these trees were felled since the 1996 law, which prohibits the cutting of nest trees and hollow almendro (Dipterix panamensis), the tree species on which this macaw relies most heavily for food and nest sites.



National Park

The project had just entered a new phase when the funding crisis became evident. A proposal for the establishment of a national park along the Nicaraguan border (the study area) has just been completed.


The park has been designed, on paper, on the basis of the research findings, plus a wildlife corridor that would connect the proposed park with other major parks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.


This would allow the birds to migrate between breeding and nn-breeding areas which are protected. The proposal was developed at the request of Mario Boza, Costa Rica's leading conservationist.


Mario, founder of the countries National Parks system, intends to use the proposal as a fund raising tool.


On January 16 I received the following message from George Powell:


"We could not face giving up and felt certain that one of our dozen or so proposals sent out would bring in the desperately needed funds.



Shut down?

"But so far this has not happened and we have been forced to set January 31 as the date we will have to shut down the project if no funding is forthcoming.


"It is sad to face this after building up a six year database that is almost certainly the best data on individual wild macaws in existence.


"We wondered if you could consider the challenge of raising funds to pay the modest salaries of Guiselle and Olivier plus $200 a month to keep them operating effectively as the voice of Ara ambigua


"Our data is showing dramatic declines in the macaw population in Costa Rica. It is our hope that making this tragic situation known to the Costa Rican public will cause them to demand corrective action by the politicians"


It should be pointed out that the press campaign organised by project members has reduced to almost nil the numbers of Buffon's Macaws shot in Costa Rica.


In addition volunteers from other countries in the neotropics have worked with Olivier and Guiselle, then returned to their own countries to implement macaw conservation strategies there.


You and I can make a difference to this project. We can raise funds! How proud we would be to say that the Buffon's Macaw's future has been secured due to the generosity of parrot lovers in the UK and elsewhere.


We can all think of ways to raise funds. Please do not turn the page without considering what you can do to help. Perhaps you could give five percent of the income from sales of your young birds to the project.


Or you could organise a car boot sale among your friends. Modest sums which cost almost nothing to raise can all add up to make a difference to the survival of one of the most majestic parrots in existence.






 To start the ball rolling, Parrot Fund International has already emptied it's coffers and donated it's last £1,000 to this urgent project. It has pledged to continue the effort to support the appeal, but urgently needs more funds to enable this to happen.

Well known avian artist Eric Peake is painting a watercolour head study of a Buffon's to be silent auctioned. Send your bids for the portrait to"Parrots" Magazine. (UK) (Website) and we will publish the highest bids in future issues. Names and addresses of bidders will be kept confidential unless otherwise advised. The portrait is expected to be completed by August.

Rosemary Low is donating her fee for this and future articles on the Buffon's project to the appeal.

We will be reporting on this and other fundraising efforts in future issues. Why not write and tell us how you will help?

If you would like to donate to the Buffon's appeal, send a cheque or money order made payable to ‘Parrot Fund International‘, to :


Unit B2,
Dolphin Way,                                                                                                                                                                                           
West Sussex
BN43 6NZ

Unfortunately we are unable to accept credit card donations. Every penny donated will go direct to help parrots.


This article was previously published in UK "Parrots Magazine"

Photos by Steve Winter.

Email "Buffons Project"

Go to"Wild Macaws" homepage.

Email "Wild Macaws"

Webpage by Harold Armitage.


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