SAVE THE BUFFON'S.
There are only 35 breeding pairs of Buffon's Macaws left in Costa Rica.
on behalf of
the Buffon's or Great Green Macaw.
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
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
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
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
Macaws are, of course, very difficult birds to study, because
they range over such big distances and spend much time high in the forest
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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.
"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
"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
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
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.
BUFFONS NEED YOUR CASH!
PARROT FUND INTERNATIONA
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 :
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
Photos by Steve Winter.
Email "Buffons Project"
Go to"Wild Macaws" homepage.
Email "Wild Macaws"
Webpage by Harold Armitage.