RECOVERY PROGRAMME FQR THE SPIX'S MACAW (Cyanopsitta spixii)

Conservation in the wild and Reintroduction Programme by Dr. Ma. Iolita BAMPI and Marcos DA-RÉ. A presentation at the International Loro Parque Parrot Convention, Teneriffe, 14 -17 September, 1994.

Spix 's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is among the most threatened species in the world. In addition to almost thirty individuals maintained in captivity, there is only one Spix 's Macaw living in the wild. Since 1990, then the Permanent Committee for the Recovery of Spix 's Macaw (CPRAA) was established, much has been done to ensure the survival of the species by means of conservation, education and research activities. At the present time, this commitment has become an interdisciplinary effort to preserve the species and its habitat.

The known historical distribution of Spix's Macaw associates its occurrence with part of the lower Middle São Francisco river,which crosses the semi-arid northeastern region of Brazil. From a phytogeographic standpoint, the prevailing vegetation in the region is the "caatinga", made up of xerophytes, which are plants adapted to low rainfall conditions. The gallery forests along the São Francisco river and its tributaries, which are seasonal in this area, contained tall trees and exuberant vegetation which contrasted with the smaller stunted plants in the surrounding "caatinga". These gallery forests were the main specific habitat of Cyanopsitta spixii. Two centuries ago, the whole of the São Francisco valley was settled by European colonists, who destroyed the gallery forests of the São Francisco river for timber. Only a few gallery forest areas remained along the São Francisco 's tributaries. The population of C.spixii, which was already small an account of its restricted habitat, was further reduced.

Nevertheless, it was during the last fifty years that the virtual extinction of the wild Spix's Macaw population occurred because of the capture of the birds for trade. Until the 60s, hunting must have also contributed to the large destruction of existing populations, which attained its climax in the 70s and 80s with the capture of the remaining adult individuals, until only one C.spixii remained. The minimum estimated age of the last wild Spix 's Macaw is eleven years.

The remaining habitat is made up of only three river basins out of the original four basins where the species prevailed. These are tributaries of the São Francisco river. !t is estimated that the area could support 120-180 birds (CPRAA, field work) and could be expanded through habitat management programmes.

This project is financially sponsored by Loro Parque Foundation.

CPRAA/IBAMA created the Work Group for the Reintroduction of Spix 's Macaw on the basis of the information obtained through biological and ecological studies of the last wild Spix 's Macaw. In October 1992, CPRAA/IBAMA together with the Captive Breeding Specialist Group and other collaborators held a Workshop on Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA). The discussions and evaluations pointed to the feasibility of a reintroduction programme. On the one hand, the small size of the captive population, which its impact on the genetic and demographic parameters, may call for a delay of a reintroduction programme until a basic founding stock be reached. On the other hand, however, there is a peculiarity in the status of this species, since the only wild individual is the sole cultural source, or environmental memory of the species, and holds a set of information about the temporal and spatial availability of environmental resources, potential predators and other fundamental aspects for the survival in the wild, which would be transmitted to the individuals reintroduced on a long term programme.

Several VORTEX simulations were carried out during the PHVA Workshop in order to evaluate the impact of the release of individuals from the population in captivity for reintroduction into the wild. At the time, on the basis of a population of 26 individuals in captivity, 250 simulations were carried out for each scenario, for a 10-year period in the case of a wild population re-established through reintroduction and for a 100-year period in the case of the captive population. The model considered two types of catastrophes associated with the semi-arid environment. Very severe draughts would cause reduced survival and reproductive failure, with an occurrence probability of 0.05. Medium draughts, with an occurrence probability of 0.20 would only result in reduced reproductive success. A third catastrophe would be the capture of the sole wild individual, for animal trade. The third catastrophe was not taken into account because of the strong involvement of the local population in the conservation of the species.

The basic scenario for the simulation of results with the wild population, considering the possibilities of reintroduction, includes two catastrophes (with occurrence probabilities of 0.05 and 0.20 respectively), a 2-year interval between births and 50% mortality of chicks in the first year and 6.5% adult mortality. For the captive population, the basic scenario (without release of individuals for reintroduction) resulted in a 0.928 (92.8%) survival probability after 100 years, with an estimated average captive population of 82 individuals and a standard deviation of 22.

The position of the Committee in the face of the simulation results was to recommend the reintroduction of a female in 1994, the first year of the programme. A female was selected on the basis of the study of the wild individual, which has had male early breeding behavior with two separate Ara maracana individuals with which it paired during the last three years. The capture of the remaining wild individual in order to establish its gender was considered inadvisable because of the risk involved. At the present time, research is being carried out to determine whether the wild individual is a male, by means of moulted feathers. The release of an adult female C.spixii from the captive population for the purpose of reintroduction will not result in significant damage to the captive population. The probability of survival is still 0.928 for a 100 year period and the average number of individuals after such period is 86.32. However, for the wild population after a period of 10 years the probability to continue as a potentially reproductive population will be 0.408 and the average population size after this period will remain at 4.02 individuals.

The reintroduction of a 3 year old breeding pair, after 2 years would result in no alteration whatsoever for the captive population over a period of 100 years with an average probability of survival of 0.936 and an average population size of 87.4 individuals. As compensation, for the wild population the probability of success after 10 years increases by 0.84 and the average population size is 6.28 individuals.

The various aspects considered in selecting the initial individual to be reintroduced include reproductive age, birth in the wild, untamed behavior, least period in captivity, and captive accommodation located near the reintroduction area.

A reduction of the catastrophe effects may improve the estimated performance of the wild population, reducing the probability of extinction by almost 0.11. Another important aspect in the reduction of the probability of catastrophes is the status of the climatic cycles. The normal pattern is that of severe cyclic draughts followed by several mild years. One of the most severe draughts of this century occurred in the region of the wild C.spixii from 1991 through 1993. This draught coincided with a period of high probability of draught according to a rainfall series going back to 1911. In 1994, the rainfall index went back to normal, following the recurrent pattern. This points to an optimal moment for reintroduction.

The main cause of the small size of the captive population in a 100-year time frame is that few couples are reproducing. The success of Birds International Inc. in the Philippines suggests that the present picture may change in the next few years, when other institutions also come to master the reproduction of C.spixii. Thus, the estimates for the captive population may substantially increase creating a new supply of individuals for future reintroduction.

Besides the population problems evaluated during the simulations, the small captive population may also have genetic problems, which have not been evaluated. DNA Fingerprinting studies of the species show a large heterozygosity in the population, although results are not clear with regard to the long-term effects of consanguinity on the simulation model.

Reintroduction of the first specimen is envisaged for October/November 1994. In order to determine the most favourable period of the year for the release, the following aspects have been considered : most favourable environmental conditions as well as behavioural and displacement patterns (taking into account seasonal variations) observed in the wild individual during the last 3 years. In October and November there is plentiful food from trees with relatively dense crowns that permit camouflage and protection and, thus keep the bird from coming close to the ground, which happens at other times of the year. Also, the bird has relatively stable displacement patterns at this time of the year and its daily flights average only 40-50 kms, as compared with the irregular patterns which prevail during other periods, when the bird flies up to 100 kms per day.

The period also coincides with the beginning of the breeding season and, thus, the interaction between the released individual and the wild specimen could be considerably enhanced.

After the release schedule was established, clinical and laboratory tests of the selected individual were carried out, as part of the preparations for its reintroduction.

The field work included the building of a reintroduction compound along the traditional displacement route of the wild individual. The largest facility, designed for exercising, is 20 meters long, 7 m. high and 5 m. wide. It has a metal structure and screw-on screen frames. In the upper part of the sides there are 12 hidden doors for the entry/exit of the birds. Inside the exercising facility, at one of its upper ends, there is a smaller aviary (3x3x3m), to be used for the initial adaptation period of the individual, being reintroduced. The smaller aviary permits access to the larger exercising facility and will serve as main feeding site, in order to facilitate the management of the bird, when required. At the opposite end of the feeding aviary, within the exercising facility, there is a Schinopsis brasiliensis specimen, which will serve as natural roost. This tree was selected because it is one of the natural food sources for C.spixii available in the wild during the period when the bird will be released. Several other perches will be placed in the exercising facility, subject to removal as the bird develops, better flying conditions. Other support structures have been built in the vicinity: a wire protection fence around the reintroduction facility, raised observation post, surveillance tower, clinic, kitchen and lodge.

After transportation to Curaçá, the following procedure will be implemented :

(a).- the bird to be reintroduced will remain in the feeding/maintenance facility for no less than a week, for the purpose of close monitoring.

(b).- the maintenance aviary will be opened, providing free access to the exercising facility, while part of the food will continue to be provided in the maintenance aviary.

(c).- when the bird adapts to the new living conditions artificial protection devices against the weather will be slowly reduced after the third week in the exercising facility.

(d).- supplement the food with such items that the bird will find in the wild simulating natural supply conditions (i.e. on the branches). The food will be placed in different places to foster the search for food and help the bird learn that natural food sources vary.

(e).- routine veterinary follow-up procedures will continue.

(f).- continuous monitoring of reactions, muscular fitness, and behavior of the reintroduced bird, together with monitoring of the wild individual and possible interaction between the two.

(g).- after the required conditions have been achieved, the bird will be released through one of the upper exit devices, which will remain open during the following weeks, in case the bird wishes to return. Supplemental food will be provided around and inside the facility.

(h).- the released bird will be monitored using radiotelemetry.

The release of the bird will depend on its strong interaction with the wild individual.

Other reintroductions may occur at the medium and long terms. Any future reintroductions will use individuals born in captivity from foundation stocks. This will only take place, however, after testing and approving techniques that facilitate behavioral adaptation. To this end, an experiment is being planned for next year, using Ara maracana individuals under similar conditions. Six individuals were offered by Loro Parque Foundation for this experiment and will be used for the purpose of developing interaction techniques with wild populations.

For the success of a long term conservation programme based on the successful reintroduction of a C.spixii individual, it is necessary, however, to conserve the habitat and promote the participation of local communities. To this end, the programme must undertake actions that emphasize the local culture, foster improvement of existing living conditions and promote Spix's Macaws as a heritage of the region, whose recovery will be a symbol of the socio-cultural recovery of a people that live in extreme poverty. On-going actions include the regeneration of "caraibeira" thickets (an essential tree for C.spixii, by means of protective fencing that also facilitates better cattle management and, therefore, greater profitability for the farmers - a way of combining conservation and social development. The project also contemplates the cultural enhancement of the population, with a view to introducing or valuing conservationist ideas of the local population. For this purpose, a Centre of Environmental Culture will be created, where the arts will be used to provide environmental education. The site selected for the Centre is a 100 year-old theatre at Curaçá, which will be remodelled - a recovery of an important historical and artistic heritage of the population motivated by the recovery of Spix's Macaw. 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES

Juniper, T. 1991. Last of a kind. Birds internatn 3:10-16
Juniper, t. & Yamashita, C. 1990. The conservation of Spix's Macaw. Oynx 24:224-228
Juniper, T & Yamashita, C.1991. The habitat and status of Spix's Macaw, Cyanopsitta spixii .Bird Conserv. lnternatn. 1:1-9
Roth, P. 1989. Spix's Macaw. Population, actual status and biology of Spix's Macaw, Cyanopsitta spixii. Not published.

This Project is sponsored by the following organizations :
Loro Parque Foundation
IBAMA
Fundação o Boticario (Brazil)
Instituto Herbert Levy (Brazil)
WWF
Ashoka Foundation
Grupo Relampago
Conservation International
Fundação Biodiversitas (Brazil)

Pro-Aves (Brazil)

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