In the Arabian Peninsula, one particular Qatari sheikh, His Excellency Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, a member of the royal family, has got a very special passion. For more than a decade he has been dedicated to saving the Spix’s macaw from extinction. He employs a world renowned international team of specialists in a race against the clock to save this incredible parrot.
The Spix’s macaw is a beautiful medium-sized blue parrot which inhabited the semi-arid “Caatinga” biome in north-east Brazil. The last known wild bird has not been seen since 2000 and the species is now presumed to be extinct in the wild. Habitat destruction and eventually poaching lead to the demise of this charismatic species. The animated film “Rio” made the species world famous and has increased the conservation attention for this bird. A sequel is being produced and will add even more interest to this species.
The Spix’s macaw captive breeding program coordinated by ICMBio in Brazil, counts 80 parrots of which 60 are living at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation (AWWP) in Al Shahaniya, an oasis in the middle of the harsh Qatari desert, some 40km outside the nation’s dynamic capital city Doha. Of these 60 macaws 33 were bred at Al Wabra since breeding began in 2004. Last month Sheikh Saoud sent Al Wabra representatives to Brazil, to offer their experience in breeding Spix’s macaws and to add to the effort that is being developed under the reviewed official Action Plan for the species in Brazil.
AWWP representatives attended an official meeting at the headquarters of ICMBio where the National Action Plan (PAN) for the Spix’s macaw was presented. All current and new stakeholders in the program were present including Brazilian government authorities (ICMBio, CEMAVE and IBAMA), members of the PAN advisory committee, captive Spix breeders (AWWP, QatarandACTP, Germany), captive Spix holders for the Brazilian government (LPF, Spain and Lymington Foundation, Brazil), SAVE Brasil and their affiliated partner Birdlife International and NEST, Brazil. The meeting presented the future plans that are being developed over the next 5 years under the current PAN and discussed the challenges ahead in the captive program. The meeting was very animated but eventually had a positive outcome.
Following the meeting, SAVE Brasil hosted a lunch for the meeting participants and several special guests, including the mayor of Curaça, where the last Spix was observed in 2000. Here, the program ‘Projeto Ararinhana Natureza’ was officially launched. A fantastic video showed the history of the Spix’s macaw conservation efforts. A band from Curaça, accompanied the video with a heartbreaking song calling back the Ararinha Azul (Spix’s macaw in Portuguese) to their homeland.
This year, 5 chicks have hatched in AWWP and are currently being hand-raised. So far these are the only five chicks born in the program this year. Also, for the first time ever, systematic artificial insemination was performed in these parrots by a specialist team from Giessen University in Germany and Parrot Reproduction Consulting who developed the technique with the University. In conjunction with veterinary and bird department staff at Al Wabra, the specialist team aimed to increase the chances of breeding success with this very challenging species. The exciting prospect of in-vitro fertilization was also trialed and will be developed further in the future.
Increasing the numbers of Spix’s macaws is still the number one priority because a reintroduction program in Brazil can only be successful if enough captive birds are bred for release and AWWP is playing an important role to achieve that target.
On top of all the efforts in Qatar to save this parrot, Sheikh Saoud also bought 2380 ha of historically important land in the region of the Caatinga near Curaçá. The farm was formerly used as the field-base for the species recovery efforts in the 1990’s and still boasts the tree nesting-hollow used by the last known wild pair back in the 1980’s. There are actually many trees with nesting holes suitable for Spix’s macaws on his land, some of which are currently occupied by bats, bees, falcons and Illiger’s macaws but there is big hope that once again they will be used by Spix’s macaws.
Al Wabra Staff is already present in Brazil preparing the land for reintroductions. Overgrazing of livestock, deforestation particularly of the nesting tree of the Spix and damaged creek systems are the biggest challenges for habitat restoration in the area.
Al Wabra also has plans to set up a breeding facility for Spix’s macaws in Brazil where birds from the preservation in Qatar can be sent to continue breeding near the release site. Hopefully their offspring will be ready to be released in the Caatinga to give them back to Brazil and the Brazilian people as this is the biggest wish of H.E. Sheikh Saoud.
Thanks to the vision and generosity of Sheikh Saoud, the Al Wabra team is working tirelessly to prepare the land for reintroductions in the future. At the same time Al Wabra is also preparing to set up a captive facility in Brazil to bring some of the Spix from Qatar back for breeding. If successful, it would mean the first breeding of Spix’s macaws inside Brazil since its extinction in nature”
AWWP is a well-recognized and respected international conservation organization focusing on breeding and protecting threatened species. AWWP is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), is non-commercial and is not open to the public. Except of the conservation program in Brazil, AWWP also runs a conservation project in Ethiopia. Local schools also visit the preservation where custom-made educational projects are run to educate the local and expat society in Qatar.
All developments of the Spix’s macaw reintroduction project can now be followed on a specially designed facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Spix-Macaw-AWWP/328625947211249 where AWWP staff interacts with the wider conservation community to prepare the world for the reintroduction of this incredible parrot.
Tim Bouts, Director
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation
PO Box 44069
State of Qatar