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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Animal Rescue X: Nicaraguan Macaws

Two species of macaws, large parrots of the genus Ara, are found in Nicaragua. The Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) is limited to extremely humid areas with abundance of a particular tree, Dipteryx panamensis, and it is only found from Mexico to northern South America. The bird is big and noisy and flies above the canopy while screaming, bringing ample attention to it wherever it goes. As a result, its population has been severely affected by commerce in macaws as pets. Today, only about 2500 adult birds are left in the wild, the majority of them in the Rio San Juan area of Nicaragua.
macaws Nicaragua
Bumbelina is a Great Green Macaw. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The birds are heavy, strong, and have large, piercing claws and beaks that can sever a finger. Handling them requires rough treatment if they are wild. Sadly, these birds are pursued for the pet trade so vigorously that broken wings and legs do not deter the pet traders from ravaging the forests.
Bumbelina, pictured here, has suffered this typical, yet tragic, fate. We do not know her specific history, we can only reconstruct it. Her right wing was so badly broken that it required amputation. She loves to flap her wings, but given that her right wing is now a stump, she can not even manage a soft landing. Falling from any height presents a risk for her. Furthermore, she has been affected psychologically by the trauma of captivity: she is extremely unsocial, does not permit any human to touch her. (Yet.)
Nicaraguan macaw
Bumbelina sits atop her cage. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The Great Green Macaw is the largest of all the macaws. Like all others, Bumbelina "walks" on three points, using her beak as a third appendage when climbing on any but the flattest of surfaces. Her splendid colors include bright red, baby blue, maroon, and lots of green. When excited, the light pink skin exposed on her face flushes to bright red.
great green macaw
The Great Green Macaw is the most endangered of the macaw species found in Central America. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
The association between this species and the river almond tree Dipteryx panamensis is remarkable and problematic.  Not only are these birds pursued for the pet trade, the tree with which it associates is harvested for its fine wood. The trees remaining in Nicaragua Because so few birds remain in the wild, and because the habitat and the birds themselves are under severe, direct threats, the Great Green Macaw is now listed as Endangered.
Ara ambiguus
The Great Green Macaw loves to climb. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Bumbelina came to us accompanied by a Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), named Midorna. These birds are rescued from the pet trade in Nicaragua. Midorna is considerably more sociable than Bumbelina, and she allows brave people to touch her, sometimes. She, too, was captured in the wild and subjected to the trade in wild animals as pets. Captivity has also been very unfortunate for her. She has a broken wing which prevents flight, so she, like Bumbelina, will never return to the wild. Life in a cage has led to self-destructive behaviors, too, such as feather-plucking. She has eliminated many of the feathers on her breast and back, and she has begun to do the same to Bumbelina. This is a typical pathology of animals kept in captivity without sufficient recreation. 
Midorna is a female Scarlet Macaw, now residing at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Their calm demeanor and spectacular plumage make the Scarlet Macaw highly prized as a pet. As a result, these birds no longer can be found over almost all the Pacific region of Nicaragua, where they are native. The last bird regularly seen in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve was in 1969, according to the consensus of older residents. The Scarlet Macaws were either captured for use as pets, or killed for their aptitude as crop pests. Macaws can eat a lot of corn in the field! No one thought, just a few decades ago, that these majestic birds would never again fly over the cities and countryside of western Nicaragua.
The Scarlet Macaw is no longer found in most of the Pacific region of Nicaragua, thanks to hunting and the pet trade. Photo by Hans Rademaker.
Don't be a part of the problem. Macaws are not entirely domesticatable animals. If set free in a setting with abundant food available, they rarely return willingly. Even hand-raised birds from captive-breeding programs will readily go wild if permitted. These birds want to be free, and whenever feasible, they should. Most of the macaws treated as pets in Nicaragua are owned by wealthy people, especially non-Nicaraguans, who propel the illegal trade in these animals.
The macaws found in the pet trade or their progenitors were the victims of poorly established or enforced laws regarding poaching and the trade in wild animals. However, better procedures for enforcing environmental laws are now operating throughout the ranges of the macaws. Active monitoring of many macaws populations are now underway, as well as environmental education programs. Forests are protected against habitat destruction as well as poaching, better than at any time in the past. Some of the forests could be inhabited by macaws, if only there were a program to reinstate them into natural areas.
Even when macaws in the pet trade are injured, such as Bumbelina and Midorna, they could still be utilized as genetic stock in a program to reinstate wild macaws into the forests. If you know of anyone with a macaw, encourage this person to led the bird to a captive breeding program. There are so few of these birds left in the wild, every fertile adult in captivity could play an important role in saving the species over large parts of their habitats.

These beautiful birds need a lot of attention and food. Would you like to help them? Feel free to make a visit, bring them a bag of nuts or a papaya. These birds consume large quantities of food, so your donations are more than welcome. Macaws live for many decades, so these birds need a lot of resources to make their lives happy. If you would like to help these birds, please visit or write

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