Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Spix’s Macaw

The writings are Tony Juniper are not unknown to me, I’ve read and reviews two of his books previously. What was unknown to me was the fact that he spent what seems a lifetime researching, for a book on the plight of Spix’s macaw. This exuberant blue parrot is classified as extinct in the wild and if you’ve seen the 2011 film Rio, then you already know a lot about this species. Unfortunately, their numbers in the wild were decimated by illegal trade by men with more money than sense – they were used as a status symbol (and still are to certain extent). I’ve never understood this view, let’s keep something rare in captivity away from it’s own kind just to show that I’ve got lots of money. It’s like having a Lamborghini on the drive without ever driving it – pointless!

Frivolous spending aside, the plight of the Spix’s macaw is a sad one that is second only to the Yangtze river dolphin. First of all, they weren’t identified as their own species until 1832, 13 years after the first specimen was collected. They’re also only found in certain palm growth forests which are extremely rare due to the loss of giant ground sloths that would have germinated the palm seeds. The loss of such megafauna still casts shadows on the survival of animals around the world, although these relationships aren’t always clear to conservationists. After that first specimen was collected by Spix in 1819, one of the bird’s wasn’t seen for over 80 years so it’s likely that they were always quite a rare bird. It’s a shame that their global demand pushed them over the edge.

I don’t want to spoil too much (where is the fun in that?), you need to read things for yourself. Juniper’s writing style is very smooth and this makes Spix’s Macaw a great read. One of the things that is mentioned that I wasn’t aware of, was the number of island endemic parrots that have gone extinct in the past 500 years or so. It’s truly staggering, especially as their island homes were converted to plantations by European colonists, to which they couldn’t adapt to fast enough. Parrots were also collected for food, their feathers and as companions to pirates, that stereotype comes from somewhere!

Generally, Spix’s Macaw is a fascinating read. Among all the doom and gloom, there is some hope. Despite the clashing of egos and government organisations, a captive breeding program for the Spix’s macaw is active and attempting to breed birds for release back into the wild. There is a very real possibility that within my lifetime, these spectacular birds could be back in the wild in numbers not observed for centuries. They are a symbol of hope, just like the Mauritius kestrel.

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