Spix's Macaw meeting on Tenerife

A report by Thomas Arndt in the ZGAP newsletter October 1987.

After the first reports in 1986 about the catastrophic situation with the Spix’s Macaw aroused concern worldwide and brought about considerable discussion, it became clear to all interested conservation organisations, zoos and a small number of bird-keepers that the first steps for conserving this parrot species in the wild as well as in captivity needed to be urgently undertaken.

Encouraged by the Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten-und Populationsschutz  (Ed: Zoological Society for Species and Population Conservation) the ICBP and New York Zoological Society began in July making the first preparations for a Spix’s Macaw meeting on Tenerife. The meeting then had to be postponed to 17th and 18th August to match the diary dates of those involved.

The director of Loro Parque, Wolfgang Kiessling, agreed to accommodate the meeting and - what is especially worthy of mention, because it was not expected of him - cover the costs of some of the participants.       

Unfortunately shortly before the meeting was to begin it looked as if its success would be in question as some of the keepers of Spix’s Macaws known at the time would not for various reasons be attending.  Finally present at the meeting were Wolfgang Kiessling (Loro Parque, Tenerife), Rosemary Low (Loro Parque, Tenerife), Nigel Collar (ICBP, UK), Ulysses Seal (IUCN, USA), Thomas Arndt (Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten- und Populationsschutz, Germany), Luis Pedreira Gonzaga (Brazil), Pedro Scherer Neto (Brazil), Carlos Keller (Brazil) and Paolo Mambelli (Italy).

After a short tour of Loro Parque the meeting began finally on Monday morning with a welcome address to the participants from Wolfgang Kiessling and Nigel Collar, the deputy director of the ICBP. The proceedings that followed set out the objectives of the meeting as well as including a presentation of a paper on the latest situation of the species in the wild prepared by Carlos Keller. It was accepted by all that despite the fears in the previous year there was at least another population in the wild, but this would be small and obviously already under threat from local poachers as young birds had been offered on the illegal market in Brazil and Europe in recent months.  

A list of the confirmed known Spix’s Macaws in captivity produced a depressing result. Altogether there were outside Brazil just 10 birds. In Brazil there were possibly 14, of which 7 were illegally held and their inclusion in a breeding programme seemed for the time being questionable. According to the Brazilian representatives present legalising the latter birds could be possible, but this would bring disadvantages for the owners, which they would be unlikely to accept.

In the afternoon and on the morning of the second day a Spix’s Macaw document was set down and discussed under the guidance of Ulysses Seal, the Chairman of the Captive Breeding Specialist Group IUCN/SSC. Its most important points are summarised below.

1.      Agreement 

The participants at the meeting are in agreement with other experts that the wild population of Spix’s Macaws Cyanopsitta spixii known at present consists of just three birds. Although further populations could exist, they are convinced that a captive breeding programme for the conservation of this seriously endangered species should be set up at once.  

The objective of the programme is to preserve 90% of the genetic variety of the remaining birds over a period of 200 years. A minimum of 10 birds is required to enable a stable captive population of 80 to 100 breeding pairs to be achieved. Every effort must be made to reach this target in as few generations as possible.

The aim of the agreement is to take the necessary measures to conserve the species in order to guarantee in the long term the basis for the size and protection of the species in Brazil.

2.      Recommendations

-          all captive bids should be endoscoped within the next 6 months

-          a report on the condition, sex etc. should be submitted to the studbook keeper 

-          all birds should be rung if possible with the studbook number inscribed on the ring

-          a consortium consisting of the keepers as well as one representative each of the ICBP, CBSG SSC/IUCN and the Brazilian Government should be set up, which will administer the captive population             

-          the members of the consortium should sign a contract in which they agree to the goals and measures of the captive breeding programme. These would include a willingness not to sell resulting captive bred birds at a later date, to place these under the control of the consortium, to meet once annually, to comply with the necessary scientific measures to conserve the captive population or place young birds at the disposal of the consortium for releasing into the wild if the number of birds in captivity and the situation in the wild allow this

-          studies on the status of the species in the wild should be continued

-          as a result of these activities reserves should be established which can ensure that a population of at least 500 birds in the wild can be achieved

3.      The ICBP and IUCN are requested to strive for the conservation of the Spix’s Macaw, gain the support of the Brazilian Government and the entry of keepers in the consortium.   

All those present signed this document. The most important signature at that moment was that of Wolfgang Kiessling as the owner of a pair of Spix’s Macaws. At the concluding press conference the meeting and its results were made public for the first time. Finally there was a meal with D. Pedro Duque, the Brazilian consul on Tenerife, who agreed to get the support of the Brazilian ambassador for the breeding project.  

It should be noted that W. Kiessling agreed to cover the costs of sending his veterinarian at Loro Parque to Brazil to endoscope the captive Spix’s macaws there  and that the curator at Loro Parque, Rosemary Low, offered to keep the international studbook.

Even if the meeting suffered from the absence of most of the keepers of Spix’s Macaws it was still a considerable success. The first important steps towards the conservation of this seriously endangered species were taken in a relatively short period of time. Some of the known keepers as well as institutions have signaled their agreement and up to now unknown keepers will now have to consider whether their birds should not be part of the project or face the risk in the future that they will own birds, which cannot be legalised any more.

At the same time the project can be trend-setting - after all here for the first time the large international conservation organisations are actively co-operating with private keepers in a captive breeding programme – a step which will become even more important in the future.


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    There is a short interesting article in the July 2024 issue of the German magazine "Papageien" about the setting up of a nature conservation centre for Spix’s Macaws  in the São Paulo zoo. Under the guidance of biologist Fernanda ... Read More »


 " 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)