September 1, 2015

Last month, Defenders was involved in yet another release of iconic scarlet macaws in Mexico, in the state of Veracruz. These beautiful birds were nearly wiped out half a century ago, as their prime habitat was taken over by agriculture and the birds themselves were aggressively poached for the pet trade. What was once a population of thousands had been reduced to an estimated 250 birds in all of Mexico, and the species had disappeared entirely from many areas.

But Defenders has been supporting work by the Mexican National University’s Institute of Biology to reintroduce captive-bred birds into their native habitat. Last week’s release of 29 scarlet macaws inside the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas added to the surviving birds from earlier releases, increasing the wild population in Mexico by 36%!

All the reintroduced macaws are marked on their bills, wear a tag on their wings and carry a transponder for identification and to help prevent future poaching. Some of them are also wearing radio transmitters so that a team of biologists can track them to determine where they go and what sites might be best for future releases.

macaws in tree, © Juan Carlos Cantu/Defenders of WildlifeBut releases are just one part of recovery efforts in the region. There has been an intense reforestation program that has gradually brought back lost habitat. To help ensure that the macaws will not be captured by poachers, we developed a quick bird identification guide for the area to promote bird watching so that tourism can bring income to the local communities instead. Locals are now actively protecting the macaws because they know they can profit from their well being. And Defenders is particularly proud of the educational materials, including posters, coloring books for kids, and comics books for youths and adults, that are helping to teach local communities about the importance of restoring this species to the wild.

The plan is to keep on releasing macaws every three or four months during the next five years or so until a stable population of 300-500 individuals is reached. When this happens, Veracruz will be home to the largest wild population of scarlet macaws in Mexico!

Anyone can now see scarlet macaws flying free in the Nanciyaga reserve alongside beautiful Lake Catemaco. If you like to travel, please help us conserve these magnificent birds by visiting Los Tuxtlas.


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