Vogelpark Walsrode places Spix's Macaw in breeding program

An article by Steffen Patzwahl, published in a.f.a Watchbird, USA (Issue June/July 1991, Volume XVIII, Number 3,

(Website editor: Steffen Patzwahl is now Executive/Zoological Director at Parc Paradiso, north of the city of Mons in Belgium)

Situated between Hanover and Hamburg, Walsrode is a small town in northern Germany. This town is also well-known to bird lovers and ornithologists as having the world’s largest birdpark.

About 900 species of birds and approximately 5,000 specimens live in Vogelpark Walsrode in aviaries, open pens, sheltered houses and walk-through aviaries. The park is open during summer (from March to November) and is visited by more than a million visitors per year. It’s about a three mile walk to tour the length of the park’s unique landscaping, which includes a collection of more than 3,000 rhododendrons and azaleas. The park began as a private collection of waterfowl and pheasants about 30 years ago and is still in private hands.  

For breeding purposes and fort scientific research Walsrode also runs two breeding centers, one in the Caribbean for parrots and the other on Mallorca (an island in the Mediterranean) for subtropical and tropical birds.

Concerning conservation projects for endangered and threatened birds the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation (initiated by Vogelpark’s director, Mr. Wolf.W. Brehm) has  now been active for more than 10 years. This fund concentrates on several endangered species of birds around the qorld, including the Nippon Ibis (Nipponia nippon), which is the fund’s symbol, Eastern Sarus Crane (Grus antigone sharpii), Peregrin Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Eastern White Stork (Ciconia boyciana), Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) and many more.

Every year, several groups of scientists come to Walsrode for intensive training projects. These include the keeping, breeding and hand-raising of many delicate and endangered birds.

In addition to the several world’s-first breedings done at Walsrode, there is also a large number of birds being successfully raised at the other breeding stations already mentioned.

These breeding stations, however, are not open to the public.

Close cooperation exists between other governments and Walsrode concerning several important breeding programs.

A Spix’s macaw returns home (Cyanopsitta spixii)

One specimen of the world’s rarest macaw, the Spix’s Macaw, returned back home to Brazil on October 18. 1990 with the help of the German airline Lufthansa. This is, hopefully, the beginning of a successful breeding program set up to save this uniqueparrot from extinction.

The species was discovered in 1819 and has since remained a rarely encountered and poorly known bird. Very few sightings have been made of this blue macaw in the arid regions in the |Brazilian states of Piauí, Goias, Bahia and Maranhão. After a search in the mid-1980s by the Swiss ornithologist Paul Roth, it turned out that these birds only survived in one region. This single site was exploited until 1988 by trappers offering the birds for sale all over the world. As of today, only one bird is known to be left in the wild in north-eastern Brazil. Besides the trapping of these birds, it is clear that other factors such as killer bees and the hunting of the bird for food by the local inhabitants had led to the rapid decline of the Spix’s Macaw. It is also clear that this species wasnever very numerous in the wild in the first place.

The situation in captivity

About 20 Spix’s macaws are known to exist today, but evidence has now come to light that there are certain other (illegal) specimens scattered all over the globe. The main goal now should be to concentrate on those bids, now owned by aviculturists, who are willing to participate in a cooperative breeding program. In 1988 at the 2ndInternational Parrot Conference in Curitiba, Brazil, attempts were made with some success to get at least some of the holders of Spix’s Macaws to cooperate. The International Recovery Committee for Cyanopsitta spixii was created to work on the rescue of this species. The known birds have to be sexed and so far this has not been completed. Attempts now have to begin to pair up all the single birds.

Vogelpark Walsrode, holding a single male bird estimated to be about 20 years of age, immediately started to contact the other involved parties in order to find a partner for this healthy macaw.

An aviculturist in Brazil was soon found who had a female bird in his collection. He was also looking for a mate for his bird, but had so far not been successful. IBAMA, the environmental agency of Brazil, was contacted by both parties for permits to bring these two single birds together.  

There were several reasons to send the lone male (named Pelé after the world famous Brazilian soccer player) to Brazil. The most obvious reason was that the Brazilian climate is so much more favourable than the climate in Germany. Also the female, named “Pic-Pic”, had already laid several clutches of eggs in the past. They were, of course, all infertile as there was no partner available to her during this time.

The actual transfer

After all the paperwork was in order and the governments of Germany and Brazil had been informed about this transaction, Pelé, accompanied by Steffen Patzwahl, curator at Walsrode, was sent on his long journey home. The International Recovery Committee was updated on all these transactions.

After a 16-hour flight the Lufthansa plane arrived in Brazil. Customs and veterinary inspection were cleared in a very short time as everyone had already been informed about the return of this unique bird. Five TV teams and several newspaper journalists then followed to witness the “hello” of these two birds. The two birds would be separated by a fence for several days to ensure their compatibility. Later, they would meet personally in a more intimate atmosphere. 

End of article.            

Website editor:  Pelé was sent to Walsrode by British veterinarian George Smith. Then he was called Bobby. George Smith had acquired him from a well-known British bird dealer - the same one who shipped the Spix's Macaw now called Presley to the USA - in the 1970s. I saw Bobby/Pelé when I visited Walsrode in the 1980s. I next saw him when I visited Nelson Kawall, the well-known Brazilian aviculturist, in São Paulo in the summer of 1991. I took several photos of the pair in their rather sparse aviary. As far as I am aware they never bred and are now long dead.

In the November 1990 issue of the German magazine Papageien a photograph with short caption of Pelé returning to Brazil business-class appeared. This can be viewed here. 

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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)