Thursday, July 31

Macaw, symbolic bird of Guayaquil with an uncertain future

El Universo, Sunday, July 20, 2014

With a ´national conservation strategy´ and having been declared by a municipal ordinance the natural symbol of the city has not permitted maintaining or improving the population in its natural state of the Guayaquil Macaw (Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis), in critical danger of extinction and that tomorrow, July 21st is commemorated as the Day of the Guayaquil Macaw.

This subspecies of the great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) is distinguished by its brilliant green plumage and in its wings light up with turquoise blue that at the tail mixes with orange.   Before the beak begins to curve, a red crest projects out.

In 2005, the year that the  ´in situ (in its natural habitat) Guayaquil Macaw´ National Conservation Strategy  was released and updated and changed to ´Great Green Macaw National Conservation Strategy´ in 2009 as well as municipal council ordinance were expedited as protection measures, the Ecuadorian population of this rare bird was estimated at between 60 and 90 individuals or 20 to 30 pairs in the natural state.

Eric Horstman, executive director of the Pro-Forest Foundation, institution situated in the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest and has diverse programs and actions to guarantee the future of the bird, estimates that now there are between 40 and 50 individuals remaining in the wild.

The dry forest of the Cordillera Chongon Colonche and the humid forest of Esmeraldas Province are the two principal habitats of this species, but they are in danger because of deforestation and hunting.

In captivity survive 53 individuals, the product of confiscations, and voluntarily handing over macaws to wildlife rescue centers and zoos in the country.  They are distributed in ample cages in Cerro Blanco, the Guayaquil Historic Park and the Jambeli Rescue Foundation Center, that has worked since 1996 in the ex situ (outside of its habitat) conservation and captive reproduction of the bird.

This measure according to Joaquin Orrantia Vernaza, Director of Jambeli Rescue is a viable alternative for the recuperation of endangered species such as the Guayaquil Macaw. Captive reproduction also permits the eventual reintroduction of the species in its natural habitat, which according to Horstman, will help in increasing the population of Ara ambiguus guayaquilensis.

The biologist Mauricio Velasquez, who was the impetus behind the declaration of the bird as the symbol of the city during his time in the municipal environmental direction coincides in that macaws should be reintroduced in some patches of vegetation with adequate protection and follow them with radio telemetry (technique for measuring distances with radio transmitters and receivers) which is done with condors in the Andes region.

However, Horstman says that there is still much work to be done to ¨prepare the playing field¨ so that when macaws are liberated, conditions are apt and they will survive.  Without these guarantees, the six birds that would be reinserted in Cerro Blanco are waiting to someday fly free.

The principal limiting factor for any initiative of this kind according to the sources that were consulted is the lack of a budget.

Without funds, says Horstman a more extensive monitoring of the species cannot be carried out, a key point of the ´national conservation strategy´ which  ¨is somewhat moribund¨.

Orrantia believes that in order to set out a successful path towards the survival of the species, there needs to be a sufficient reduction or total elimination of the threats the species faces.  This can be achieved with integrated strategies and acting in a coordinated manner towards the same objectives, including the general public in the process so that they will be concerned about their local environment and not buy these birds that according to Velasquez can cost up to depending on the country between $2,000 and $3,500 dollars each.

In previous rainy seasons deep in the forest a lone flock of up to 11 macaws could be seen, but in the last three or four years this has not been possible.

The 6,078 hectares (of the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest) are not sufficient to guarantee the survival of the species.  ¨Cerro Blanco is becoming an island.  Its not that you leave the protected forest boundaries and find other forest remnants but instead you find housing developments and quarries that often do not permit the species to leave or if they do, they die.  Where we still have connectivity is in the eastern part towards the via a la Costa, we are working to implement a biological corridor to connect the patches of forest¨, indicated Horstman, who began to work in the area 24 years ago when the last housing development was Puerto Azul and where it was normal to still see the cities´ symbol flying free.

That the area be recognized as a biological corridor might not occur if the construction of alternate highway to the via a la Costa, because it would go through the Cordillera Chongon Colonche.

Another problem is that some of the owners of the nearby plantations see the Guayaquil Macaws as a plague that eats their crops.  In addition to eating the seeds of the cocobolo tree, the bird eats corn on the cob when it is still green.  The agriculturalists shoot the macaws to avoid losing their cornfields, refers Horstman.  Others cut down the pigio, the preferred tree in Cerro Blanco for the bird to nest in.

They see the tree as a threat to their lands, because within the trunk of the tree, the wood is similar to balsa, soft and spongy, a characteristic that the agriculturalist translates into the cause of droughts, when in fact it is only a strategy to store water reserves during winter rains and to be able to maintain the tree alive during the dry season.

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