Report on the journey in the region of Curaçá from 28th April to 10th May 1987

By Dr. Paul Roth in the ZGAP newsletter issued in October 1987. (Translated by the website editor from the original German text)

(Ed: the Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten- und Populationsschutz (Engl: Zoological Society for Species and Population Conservation) based at Munich Zoo is an important German conservation organisation.)

1. Introduction

This journey in the region of Curaçá where the previous year we were able to observe the last three remaining birds of a once good population of Spix’s macaws, was undertaken above all to establish the latest situation with regard to the birds and to recompense the local people, whom we had recruited to keep guard, with funding provided for this purpose from the ZGAP, Munich.

2. Programme

On 28th/29th April we travelled from Sao Luis, Maranhão via Teresina and Picos, Piauí, Petrolina and Juazeiro, Bahia to Curaçá. From 30th April to 7th May we undertook observation activities around the Fazenda Riacho Pau de Colher in Curaçá, sat close to the trees used most often by the Spix’s Macaws several times and talked to the local people. The return journey to Sao Luis took nearly three days, from 8th to 10th May.

3. Results

a)  Guard activities

From May 1986 observers were positioned on the road running through the “core area” so that unobserved penetration by vehicle into the area was made impossible. At more or less regular intervals we were kept informed by telephone on the location of the three birds. At the beginning of December 1986 we received a call that a poacher was in the area with a decoy bird and we warned the IBDF in Brasilia immediately. Unfortunately valuable time was lost through the complicated information process so that it was not possible to catch the poacher together with his decoy bird. He was, however, later (March 1987) caught at his house in Petrolina with a whole collection of illegal animals and taken temporarily into custody.

The news of these events seemingly spread into more distant areas and put off other possible poachers. We heard, for example, of a poacher in the region of Corrente, Piauí, who became aware of the guarding measures and therefore had decided not to visit the area around Curaçá.

b)  Information from the previous year

After our observations in May 1986 the birds remained almost permanently in the area and used the customary preferred craibeiras as perching/roosting trees. From the beginning of December 1986 after the above-mentioned poacher with decoy bird had been in the area, the birds disappeared and we already feared that this poacher was eventually successful despite all our measures in catching the last three remaining Spix’s Macaws.

It was only after the very late rains that year, which fell on 10th March, that the three macaws re-appeared. They seemed, however, probably because of the 2/3 months delay in the rainy season, not to have attempted any breeding activity. Until shortly before our arrival at the end of April three birds were always observed together.

c) Our observations in April and May 1987

After several unsuccessful sittings at the trees most regularly used by the Spix’s Macaws we sighted two Spix’s Macaws on 4th May, which judging from the size and proportion differences, looked to be a pair. Further observations showed just two birds. According to the evidence of the local people it occurred occasionally that one of the birds separated for a while from the other two and later returned. However the third bird has not re-appeared so that all the recent information refers to just two birds (beginning of July)

4. Future prospects

Because of the lack of breeding activity in this year and the absence of one of the three birds recently the survival chances of the rump population have been reduced so much that they can scarcely be seen any more as realistic. The only hope is that at least the remaining pair can be safeguarded until captive-bred birds can be released. However as the efforts towards achieving a co-ordinated breeding programme abroad have only just started and in Brazil are virtually without success, even such hopes are scarcely justifiable.

The fact that in the first half of this year several birds have appeared on the market and further birds are being offered (e.g more young birds for next February) seems to confirm that that at least another population of Spix’s Macaws exists. It is, however, facing the same fate as the Curaçá population. We find ourselves in a race against time if we want to save the species in the wild. That for a one year project, including the acquisition of a suitable vehicle, less money is available than already demanded by a Brazilian dealer for a single pair of Spix’s Macaws and that fetched by a single bird abroad, makes clear that the chances of a successful conclusion of the project, i.e for the effective protection of these birds, must be regarded as extremely small. As long as bird-keepers all over the world are ready and able to pay anything for such “rarities”, poachers will risk all to bring the last birds of a species to market. The attitude of the buyer is more worthy of condemnation as he sees the overall situation clearer and can judge it better than the poacher, who is often just trying in any way to support himself. There is, however, scarcely any chance of changing the attitude of the buyer substantially as he will not be prepared to forsake his prestige possession ……..unfortunately!

5. Accounts                                                                                         US$

a) Payment of guards

    3 people for the period December 1986 to March/April 1987          400


b) Travel costs

     Sao Luis- Curaçá- Sao Luis

     3,000 km at $ 0.25/km                                                                   750


c) Subsistence

    10 days for 2 persons at $20 per day                                               200


d) Expenses

     Film, telephone, petty cash etc.                                                       100           


Total outgoings                                                                                  1450


Received from ZGAP                                                                          965  

Total outgoings                                                                                  1450      

Balance                                                                                             -485

I will endeavour to cover the shortfall of US$ 485 from the ICBP budget for 1987.

Paul Roth

Depto. De Biologia – UFMA

Largo dos Amores 21

65000 Sao Luis – MA


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 " Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "

( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)

Horace (65-8 BC)