28/06/2016
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Spix's Macaw reappears in Brazil

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A 16-year-old girl has filmed an apparently wild Spix's Macaw in Brazil on her mobile phone, after the species had not been seen in the wild since 2000.

It was Grandpa Pinpin's dream to see his favourite bird, Spix's Macaw, fly again over the skies of Curaçá, a small town of about 20,000 in the dry Caatinga area in Bahia, Brazil, where goat-herding is the main activity. Pinpin Oliveira passed away last year, aged 94, his wish unfulfilled, but the baton was passed to his 16-year-old granddaughter, Damilys, who not only saw the macaw, but also managed to film it on her mobile phone.

Spix's Macaw is Critically Endangered and was presumed extinct in the wild, primarily as a result of trapping for the cagebird trade exacerbated by habitat loss. This famous vibrant blue bird also became the star of the animated film Rio, as main characters 'Blu' and 'Jewel'.

The bird was first sighted last Saturday, and the first person to see the bird was local farmer Nauto Sergio de Oliveira who, as soon as it was confirmed that is was indeed a Spix's Macaw, told his neighbours. On the following day, his wife Lourdes and her daughter Damilys woke up before dawn to go to look for the macaw in Barra Grande creek's riparian forest. At 6.20 am they were able to not only see the bird but take a video on Damilys' mobile phone.

With the video Lourdes contacted biologists from the Society for the Conservation of Birds in Brazil (SAVE Brasil, BirdLife Partner), one of the organisations that integrate Projeto Ararinha na Natureza (the Spix's Macaw in the Wild Project). The video and the distinctive vocal calls removed all doubts: it was indeed a Spix's Macaw.

Pedro Develey, SAVE Brasil's Director, immediately told other project members and organised an emergency trip to Curaçá to locate the bird. "The local people were euphoric," he said. "They set up groups to locate the bird and control any potential dealers from entering. They are really proud and hopeful for a reintroduction to save the species."

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This individual's origin is uncertain, and it quite possibly came from captivity. Since last Sunday there has been no more news concerning the macaw, but the project's biologists and local residents of Curaçá are now mobilised. The area is very large and some stretches have difficult access, which makes it harder to locate the macaw.

According to Ugo Vercillo, Director of Biodiversity of the Ministry of the Environment, another partner organisation of Ararinha na Natureza project, the fact that a Spix's Macaw appeared in Curaçá's region reinforces the necessity of protecting this area. Since 2014, Ararinha na Natureza project has been working to create a 44,000-ha protected area in the municipality to protect the Caatinga and riparian forests.


Spix's Macaws, such as this bird at Cromwell Purchaseal Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar, have been only known in captivity since the year 2000 (Photo: BirdLife)

There has always been a great expectation of the local community regarding Spix's Macaw's return. This macaw's sighting relights the population's hope of seeing one of their greatest prides back in the Caatinga.

This week, an expedition led by the federal government's environmental agency will join the local residents' attempts to locate the bird and obtain more information. In parallel to the field efforts, breeding the species in captivity for future reintroduction in the wild is crucial for the project's success, and counts on the participation of the breeders in Qatar, Germany and Brazil. Together they maintain 130 captive Spix's Macaws and soon will provide the first individuals to be reintroduced in Curaçá.

Many questions remain concerning this bird's origin. How did it reappear in the region? How long has it been roaming freely? How is it adapting to living in the wild? Answers will come in due time. For now just one, thrillingly pleasant thought: a Spix's Macaw is flying free, again, in Curaçá's Caatinga.

Written by: BirdLife International