It was this Saturday, June 11 at 6 a.m. that the Spix’s Macaws had the opportunity to spread their blue wings to find their natural environment of origin, the semi-desert area located in the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Bahia near the small town of Curaça, along the Rio San Francisco river. The birds, born among men, took their time before daring to cross the opening of their rehabilitation aviary. The first came out at 9:03 a.m. (Belgian time: 3:03 p.m.) and 5 others followed within 30 minutes. Two Macaws preferred to stay, the door is now permanently open. This emotional moment, which evokes the flight to freedom of Blu and Perla at the end of the animated film Rio, constitutes an immense hope for all those who fight to preserve species and protect biodiversity.
Tim Bouts, Pairi Daiza veterinarian who has followed the Pairi Daiza Foundation from the start, is on site: ” A very great emotion reigns here in Brazil. We have completed one of the crucial phases of this collective project. With the ACTP, ICMBIO, and our other partners, we are aiming for the reconstitution, in the wild, of a population of Spix’s Macaw large enough and protected to ensure the survival and development of the species within the ecosystem. from which she should never have disappeared”. The objective of the partners is to be able to proceed to other releases so that the population of Aras stabilizes and that it can evolve without the help of man. Spix’s Macaws flew with Ilger’s Macaws who shared their rehabilitation aviary. These parrots from the region served as a model for the Spix for months. Their presence in the rehabilitation aviary allowed the Spix’s Macaws to learn the behaviors to adopt in the Caatinga. Discovered by the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix at the beginning of the 19th century, the Spix’s Macaw lived in the Caatinga, a semi-desert biotope in northeastern Brazil.
This bird with blue-green plumage and eyes circled in light blue was poached and its territory destroyed by humans for the benefit of agricultural activities. So much so that in 2000, the Spix’s Macaw had completely disappeared from the wild. The species is officially declared “extinct in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Berlin, experts from the breeding and conservation center of the Association for the Conservation of Endangered Parrots (ACTP), took care of the last living specimens still in captivity and set up a breeding program. In 2018, the Pairi Daiza Foundation became a partner of the ACTP and the Park was entrusted with young Spix’s Macaws to contribute to this species conservation project. This is how a Center for the Conservation of Threatened Bird Species was built within Pairi Daiza itself. In this ultra-modern breeding complex, Spix’s Macaws are closely monitored and pairs are formed in the hope of attending future births. Pairi Daiza is also the only place in the world where Spix’s Macaws are visible to the public.
A step-by-step reintroduction
In March 2020, three Aras de Spix de Pairi Daiza were sent to Brazil with 49 others from Berlin, in a site co-financed by Pairi Daiza. Since then, some of them have been living in a breeding building where we hope to see many babies born. And others stay in huge rehabilitation aviaries, where they have gradually relearned the reflexes of life in nature. To resettle in their area of origin, Spix’s Macaws must be able to find food and nesting sites there. The Brazilian authorities have been working for several years now to restore this once degraded habitat. Within protected nature reserves, measures such as the installation of fences to protect the vegetation from grazing by goats and cows, the management of non-native tree species or the installation of devices to slow down the water, allowed the Caraibeira trees, so precious for the Aras de Spix, to redeploy. This June 11 marks an important step in the long process of reintroducing the species into the wild.
A mini GPS was placed on the 8 Macaws to allow the teams to follow the adaptation of the parrots in the field. The project is also based on a “soft release”. This means that the original site in which the released birds lived will remain open for a long time. In this way, they can, if necessary, return there. Eric Domb, Founder and CEO of Pairi Daiza: “The entire Pairi Daiza team is particularly moved by this release today. If this reintroduction succeeds, it will be proof that nothing is impossible. That together, if we want to, we can achieve great things and protect or even rebuild what has been madly damaged by man. We all have together, each at his own level, this ability to be an agent of change. The wonder for nature and animals must drive us to action”