A journey to Brazil for the Spix's Macaw

A report in Cyanopsitta, the newsletter of Loro Parque Fundación. No. 72 - March 2004, Pages 18-19.

One of the Spix's Macaws hosted at São Paulo Zoological Gardens has been transferred to Loro Parque Fundación

As with other staff members, Dr Lorenzo Crosta, Head Veterinarian, sometimes has to travel for the Loro Parque Fundación. Although these trips are always interesting, Dr Crosta's trip in November 2003 was very special. In fact his duty was to carry back to Brazil one Spix's Macaw male, that was maintained at the Loro Parque Fundación breeding centre on behalf of the Government of Brazil, and bring back to Tenerife another one from the São Paulo Zoological Garden. This transfer is with hope that the new male's relationship with our female (born in our facilities in 1992 and its ownership ceded to the Government of Brazil), will be more productive.

Regular readers of Cyanopsitta will be familiar with the history of the Spix's Macaw and the key involvement of the Fundación in the effort to bring about a recovery of the species, which became extinct in the wild in October 2000 when the last free-living male disappeared. This was despite the huge efforts during the last ten years of the Loro Parque Fundación and other members of the Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw (CPRAA), both with field work and captive management, to set up a recovery (and possibly reintroduction) plan. In addition, the Loro Parque Fundación had financially supported these efforts to the extent of more than US$ 600,000. Details of these efforts can be found in previous issues of Cyanopsitta, and Juniper (2002)* has written a very readable overview. Since November 2002 a new Working Group has been started into which, among others, are incorporated the Loro Parque Foundation, Conservation International do Brasil, Fundação Garcia D'Avila and Fundação Parque Zoológico de São Paulo. . The newly formed Working Group is presided over by IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and the Renewable Natural Resources.

A new recovery plan, formulated through a Loro Parque Fundación / IBAMA collaboration, will take into consideration a broad range of actions. lf everything proceeds as planned, when the total number of Spix's specimens increases to an agreed level through captive breeding and/or by other holders of this species joining the Working Group, breeding birds will be shared across more breeding centres, and birds will be released to the wild by one of the reintroduction techniques proven effective in other bird species. 'There are approximately 70 birds known in captivity, but currently only 9 are managed by the Working Group, although these birds encompass more than 90% of the original genetic variability present in captive birds. Other holders of Spix's Macaws can help significantly by joining the Working Group, and thus increasing the size of the population being managed under the recovery strategy.

Obviously, given the importance of both the recovery project and the birds, the choice of the specimen to be brought back to Loro Parque in November could not be based on merely a visual inspection. For this reason Dr Crosta had to run a complete physical examination of the birds between which he had to choose (two siblings, born in captivity in 1994). To do this he took a complete series of samples and ran several tests on site. Those tests were coupled with the ones already run by the local veterinary services at São Paulo Zoo and were aimed to select the best male to be mated with our female, born at Loro Parque in 1992.

The examination included a complete endoscopy of the birds. It was not the first time Dr Crosta had performed an endoscopy on a Spix's Macaw, but he reports that to do it in Brazil, and for such an important purpose, made him rather nervous. Luckily the two first endoscopies went very smoothly and we could easily decide which male we wanted for our female. At that point he had to cmplete his examination of Presley, the Spix's male that was rescued from being kept as a pet bird in the United States for more than 25 years. This part was extremely interesting, since not much was known about that very special bird, and Dr Crosta is happy that his work could help in assessing the bird's health status.

At that point his job was almost done. He just had to sit down at the microscope and have a look at the blood smears collected from the Spix's Macaws to complete the assessment. But the surprises had not ended yet. Also due to the perfect organization of the Strattner company, which represents Karl Storz Endoscopes in Brazil, and the availability of the newest endoscopy tools, video cameras and monitors, Dr Crosta was asked to examine, run endoscopies and examinations on several other birds held at the zoo, including for him some very uncommon species. Just to mention some unusual birds on his examination table: Crowned Solitary Eagle (Harpyhaliaetus coronatus), Guiana Crested Eagle (Morphnus guaianensis), White-necked Hawk (Leucopternis lacernulata), Mantled Hawk (Leucopternis polionota), Stygian Owl (Asio stygius), Saffron Toucanet (Baillonius bailloni), Red-breasted Toucan (Ramphastos dicolurus) and Ariel Toucan (Ramphastos v. ariel). This work was a positive collaboration between the Fundación and the São Paulo Zoological Garden and we hope will be repeated in future.

Special thanks are due to H. Strattner & Cia. Ltda., representing the Karl Storz Endoskope GmbH (Germany) in Brazil, for making freely available the necessary equipment, as well as to Miss Tatiana Ferreira, Mr. José de Jesus Sobrinho and Mr. Roberto Pedrosa for technical assistance.
* Juniper. T 2002. Spix's Macaw: The race to save the world's rarest bird. Fourth Estate, London, England

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