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I'm Sergio Paiva, the administrator of http://ParrotFacts.net, and I have a special interest in one of the species that are protected by the WWF, the Hyacinth Macaw. The biggest (and possibly most beautiful) parrot in the world is a species in danger, and I thought I could direct the traffic I have on those websites to raise awareness of this issue and possibly help the WWF with some donations.
Take your time to read this interesting story, taken from the WWF website.

Hyacinth Macaw story

It is a hot June day in the Pantanal, Brazil. It's the dry season, and although this is the world's largest tropical wetland, the grass is now yellow, and there's hardly any water to be seen. The few ponds that do remain after the wet season floods are full of caimans. A group of nandus have found shade under some trees on the rolling fields. I'm on my way to visit the WWF-supported Hyacinth Macaw Project at the Refúgio Ecológico Caiman, some 150 miles west of the city of Campo Grande.

Entering the project office, I see a poster showing all the parrots and macaws of Brazil. Four completely blue macaws catch my eye. Curious, I point to the first one.

"We call this Arara azul pequena, Anodorhyncus glaucus in Latin," says Cézar Corręa, the project's Research Assistant. "It became extinct in 1950."

I point to the second blue macaw.

"Ararinha azul, Cyanopsitta spixii. It became extinct in the wild in 2000. Around 60 birds remain in captivity."

I point to the third.

"Arara azul de Lear, Anodorhynchus laeri, Lear's macaw in English. Around 450 still live in the wild and some in captivity."

Three of these four beautiful blue birds gone or almost gone. I am shocked.

Hyacinth macaw
© WWF-Canon /Roger LeGUEN

I point at the last one, the hyacinth macaw. It's the largest of them all, measuring over 3 feet from beak to the tip of the tail, with a wingspan of almost 5 feet. I've traveled thousands of miles to see it, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, or Arara azul as it's called in Brazil.

"We estimate 6,500 hyacinth macaws remain in the wild, of which around 5,000 live in the Pantanal." I sigh with relief.

But not long ago the hyacinth macaw, the world's largest parrot, was also in great danger. In the 1980s an estimated 10,000 specimens were illegally captured and sold as pets, mainly on the international black market. A single bird could bring in $12,000.

On top of this, the species' natural habitat was being destroyed by deforestation, burning, and planting of pasture for cattle. Local Indians used to kill the macaws, taking their feathers to make souvenirs for tourists. By the end of the 1980s, only 2,500 - 3,000 remained in the wild.

Then, in the 1990s, the Brazilian Pantanal population of hyacinth macaws recovered. In one 1,550 square mile area, the number doubled within 10 years - from 1,500 in 1990 to 3,000 in 2000. How did this come about?

At the end of the 1980s, 27-year-old biology student Neiva Guedes was on tour in the Pantanal. Watching a flock of large, deep-blue macaws flying by, her professor said: "These hyacinth macaws are likely to become extinct during our lifetime."

Hyacinth macaws feeding
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER

Neiva was struck. At that very moment the course of her life changed forever. Determined not to let this extinction happen, she started the Hyacinth Macaw Project. The project - of which WWF-Brazil became the main supporter in 1999 - works with local landowners, communities, and tourists to monitor the hyacinth macaws, and ensure their protection.

Cézar drives me across the rugged terrain of the Refúgio Ecológico Caiman. It's a place of permanent and temporary lakes and ponds, with rolling fields of grass and shrub broken by corridors and islands of forest.

Wooden fences indicate this is cattle country. It's also the land of jaguar, ocelot, caiman, tapir, and giant anteater. More than 600 bird species live here too - ibis, storks, toucans, and, of course, macaws.

There they are, three hyacinth macaws! Two adults and a young. "A family," Cézar explains. "The young stay with their parents for around 18 months."

I train my binoculars on them. Blue, so very blue! Golden eye rings and cheeks. There they go, flying away with power and grace, their long tail behind them.

In the Pantanal, hyacinth macaws - highly social and faithful birds that mate for life - prefer to make their nest in the manduvi tree, whose soft trunk is easily hollowed out by a macaw beak. In the process of enlarging natural cavities, the birds also create a lining of small woodchips and sawdust for the eggs to rest on.

Hyacinth Macaw story (part 2)

We arrive at the first nest, about 25 feet above the ground. A small rope hangs down from a branch higher up. This nest has been monitored before.

After attaching a longer rope to the one on the tree, Cézar snaps on a harness seat. Stretching my neck, I watch him quickly haul himself up. He puts a hand into the cavity and feels around.

"The birds are preparing their nest," says Cézar after he's come back down. "I felt the wood chips." If the cavity had been too deep for the future young to get out, Cézar would have added extra woodchips to raise the floor of the nest.

Two black vultures sit on guard next to the second nest we visit. A hyacinth macaw appears in the opening of the cavity. Head slightly tilted, it calmly watches the predators. This macaw has no invasion to fear. Cézar has fixed boards of wood around the nest opening, making it too small for the vultures - and other predators like hawks and large owls - to get in.

The third nest we visit is not a cavity at all, but rather a wooden box placed high up in a tree. Cézar constructs these artificial nests because there are too few natural nesting sites.

These interventions were all developed by Neiva Guedes. With support from the University for the Development of the State and Region of the Pantanal, she created the Hyacinth Macaw Project in 1990. She then taught herself how to climb trees and began monitoring the macaws' nests and chicks.

Neiva found that the survival rate of hyacinth macaw chicks is generally low. Breeding pairs lay two eggs on average, but usually only one survives. The eggs and chicks are often taken by predators, and also, the second chick will not survive if it hatches more than four days after the first.

Neiva's ideas to increase the breeding success of the hyacinth macaw have been very successful. Artificial nests and the use of boards to keep predators out of natural nests have contributed considerably to the species' recovery in the project area.

Chick management has also been effective. In nests that have a history of unsuccessful breeding, Cézar replaces the macaw eggs with chicken eggs. The macaw eggs are incubated in the field laboratory. After hatching, the chicks are fed for a few days and then reintroduced to the original nests or to another nest with chicks of the same age.

Neiva is the hyacinth macaw's equivalent of Jane Goodall. Besides being a gifted researcher, she's also a successful 'warrior for the hyacinth', as one cattle rancher puts it. In between collecting data over the past decade, Neiva has tirelessly paid visits to the cattle ranches in the region - whose expanding pastures replace the macaw's natural habitat - raising awareness of the birds and what they need to survive.

Thanks to Neiva, ranchers are now beginning to be proud to have a macaw nest on their property. Raising awareness has also diminished the threat of the illegal trade in hyacinth macaws in the project area.

"The Hyacinth Macaw Project has brought hope to this species in the Brazilian Pantanal. The results are outstanding," says Bernadete Lange from the Brazilian office of WWF, which has supported the project since 1999.

"But unfortunately, the species is not doing so well in other areas of Brazil, such as the Cerrado savannas and the eastern Amazon," says Bernadette. "The Brazilian government must treat the hyacinth macaw as an endangered species, and work to protect its natural habitat."

One incentive for the government and local landowners to protect wildlife and natural habitats could be ecotourism - the Pantanal is one of the best places in the world to watch birds and animals - the money from which is desperately needed. The staff of the Hyacinth Macaw Project lack people and resources to adequately monitor nests and properly preserve macaw habitat.

Despite the difficulties, Neiva remains full of passion.

"The purpose of my work, which means my life, is to preserve the hyacinth macaw in the wild," she says. "I don't care about having 100, 200, or 300 birds in captivity, 50 or 100 years from now. I care about a sustainable population of hyacinth macaws flying free in Brazil."

* Meindert Brouwer is Communications Manager at WWF-Netherlands

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