Five years after the reintroduction of scarlet macaws into the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, leaders of the reintroduction project released a report detailing its progress. The report, “Slow but sure assimilation to culture and ecotourism of reintroduced scarlet macaws in Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, Mexico,” was published in the Journal of Ecotourism on April 18, 2019. Co-authored by Dr. Patricia Escalante of the Instituto de Biología of the Universidad Nacional Autonóma de Mèxico and Juan Carlos Cantú-Guzman, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico program, the report celebrates the engagement and support of local entities for protecting and preserving scarlet macaws.
Juan Carlos Cantú-Guzman, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico program, issued the following statement:
“Conservation of endangered species like the scarlet macaw cannot occur without the support of the community. Defenders of Wildlife has worked with our project partners to foster support for scarlet macaws through sustainable activities like bird-watching, which protect the species and provide economic opportunities for the community. This creates a win-win situation for all. Bird-watching can save endangered species from extinction, and Defenders is proud to raise awareness of this effort.”
Dr. Patricia Escalante-Pliego of the Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, issued this statement:
“The reintroduction project of the scarlet macaw is a success with increased nesting and newborn chicks flying with their parents. The incorporation of the scarlet macaw into the local culture is a good sign of people's interest and pride in the species’ local recovery. Economic benefits from ecotourism will gradually increase, enhancing both communities’ wellbeing and hopes for nature restoration and conservation.”
Found in tropical rainforests throughout Central and South America, the scarlet macaw has long been threatened by habitat destruction, poaching and the illegal pet trade. As agricultural production increased, forests were cleared to make room for ranches and fields, while wild birds were captured for the pet industry. The northern subspecies of scarlet macaws were wiped out from the Tamaulipas region (near the Texas-Mexico border) in the late 19th century, and by the 1970s the birds had all but disappeared throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2013, a reintroduction project launched to return scarlet macaws to their original habitat in Veracruz, Mexico. The project included representatives from academia, ecotourism and non-governmental organizations including Defenders of Wildlife. In 2014, the project successfully released 27 scarlet macaws into the wild in the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas in southern Veracruz, Mexico. This release was the first step to creating the second largest wild population of scarlet macaws in Mexico. Since 2014, 189 macaws have been released in Los Tuxtlas over the last five years, with a survival rate of 82 percent.
In February 2019 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted the northern subspecies of the scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) endangered status under the Endangered Species Act. This subspecies is native to the Los Tuxtlas region of Mexico. The Service also granted threatened status to the southern subspecies (Ara macao macao).
Defenders of Wildlife and Scarlet Macaw Conservation:
Defenders has been involved in the reintroduction of scarlet macaws in the wild since 2013, working with other stakeholders to gain support from communities and educate tourists and local residents about poaching and the illegal pet trade. Shortly after the reintroduction of the macaws to Los Tuxtlas, Defenders produced and distributed educational posters, comics and coloring books to surrounding communities, and provided funding for tracking devices to monitor individual birds. Through these materials, Defenders has played an integral role in fostering concern for protecting and preserving these birds in their natural habitat.