Up-to-date information on the Spix Macaw

A presentation at Loro Parque in August 1987 by Carlos KELLER, Executive Director of the Tropicus Breeding Center.

(Website editor: At the beginning of his article in the April 1996 issue ofCaged Bird Hobbyist John Stoodley, who sadly died very recently after a long illness, mentioned a meeting at Loro Parque on 17th August 1987 attended by some of the world's leading experts on parrot conservation and a few keepers of Spix's Macaws in Brazil. Among the latter was Carlos Keller. Carlos is regarded by some in Brazil as being somewhat maverick and is evidently unafraid of expressing his rather trenchant opinions on aviculture and conservation, particularly within his own country. Recently, for example, he vigorously opposed the re-release programme of captive-bred Illiger's Macaws (Ara maracana) supplied by Loro Parque in the Spix's Macaw area near Curaça through letters published in Atualidades ornitologicas resulting in a published rebuke by a senior Brazilian government official for his stance.

He made the following presentation during the meeting on 17.4.87 and I publish it here because of the interesting insights it provides into avicultural practice and thinking in Brazil, which I believe are still valid today twelve years later, as well as the "inside" information on illegal trade.

Of course certain aspects of the circumstances have changed considerably and dramatically since 1987, particularly in the illegal trade routes. Since Spain and Portugal have been members of the European Union, there is much more control over illegal trade in these countries. For a while much of the illegal traffic was routed through Yugoslavia, but the hostilities in that now dismembered country and the dissolution of the previously established order in eastern Europe has caused the main route to the European market to shift to the former Soviet Union and the Czech Republic - witness the large numbers of Blue-headed Macaws (Ara couloni, which have appeared in the latter country in the last five years and are now being introduced to the rest of Europe through livestock unintentionally legalised by Austria's entry to the Europe Union at the beginning of last year.

The publishing of this presentation on the Blue Macaws website happens to coincide with the parallel publication of an article in the September/October 1999 issue of Atualidades Ornitológicas by Nelson Kawall, the well-known Brazilian aviculturist, on the numbers of Spix's Macaw in captivity, which can also be found on the Blue Macaws website.)


As a pure aviculturist, I was very honored to receive this invitation to participate in the meeting on Cyanopsitta spixii in Loro Park, Tenerife.

My interest in birds leads me to read everything I can get my hands on, although my preference is for practical works that help me in my daily routine as a breeder, as well as scientific works that are the basis of everything and allow me a better evaluation of what I'm dealing with.

There are, however, intermediate works, those presented. in congresses, which greatly interest me as they allow me to judge to what extent Brazilian and foreign congress members know how to evaluate the actual reality of the status of our birds, and how our official reproduction and study entities are seen.

Due to the rarity of a private aviculturist being invited to participate in an official congress here in Brazil (and I believe this fact is relatively rare abroad as well), I will do my best to be worthy of this honor by lending a touch of reality in telling how nature is treated in our country, and how our official institutions work. Mainly, I would like to make contact with interested persons, the private breeders from all over Brazil who, to my way of thinking, constitute the mainstay of reproduction in captivity of all our fauna, and many of whom I already number among my acquaintances and friends.

I hope to be forgiven for the personal touch I am giving to this work but I believe that this is essential if I am to honor my position as a private entity, as only a non-official viewpoint allows one to discern the "other side of the coin", or simply "the other side......" 


There are animals that are rare because their habitat was destroyed, those whose geographical distribution is restricted. There are others, however, that are rare in themselves, or, as the saying goes, because "that's the way God made them".

This latter is the case of the Spix Macaw. From their discovery by Johannes Baptiste von Spix in 1819 on the banks of the São Francisco River, near what nowadays is the city of Joazeiro (see no. 1 on the map), nearly 100 years went by before they were sighted again. This time they were seen by Otmar Reiser in 1903, near Parnaguá (no. 2 on the map).

In 1974, Helmut Sick saw 7 specimens in the cities of Formosa (no. 3 on the map), and Riachão (no. 4 on the map), in western Bahia where, according to him, they were flying over a buriti palm (Mauritia flexiosa) plantation.

In 1980, Robert S. Ridgley sighted them during his reconnaissance trips in the northeast of Goiás and south of Maranhão.

At present, we have the excellent work of Paul Roth who, after searching throughout the south of Maranhão and the southwest of Piauí without having seen any Spix Macaws nor heard anything about them from the local population, finally found them in Joazeiro where they were known by the local population. He also obtained the information that these macaws also inhabited, in the 60s, the other side of the São Francisco River, in territory of the state of Pernambuco. The cause of its decline, presented by Mr. Roth, is the extensive capture of chicks in the nest for commercial purposes, more than the deforestation of the region.

For a long time Mr. Roth followed up the odyssey of three specimens (among them one pair) that tried to breed, but without success due to persecution by the trappers.

Roth also informs that the preferred food of the Cyanopsitta spixii was not the Buriti Palm, but the "craibeira" (Tabebuia caraiba).

Other species that he cited as food for the Spix in nature are:Cnidoscolus phyllacanthus, Jatropha sp., Ziziphus juazeiro and Maytenus sp.

According to Roth, the reproduction period is from November to March, and he also believes that the three he saw Joazeiro may have been the last in nature.

Oliverio Pinto cites two origins of C. spixii: Parnaiba (no. 5 on the map), and Rio Preto (no. 6 on the map).

In my opinion, the hypothesis that the Spix prefers Buriti Palm (Mauritia flexiosa) should not be completely discarded as many observations of this bird were made in the region of these palm trees. The behavior of the Spix in captivity is very similar to that of the Ara manilata which is closely linked to this plant.

As to the bird's rarity, this is unquestionable fact, but due to the enormity of the area and the lack of towns and roads, little can be affirmed with certainty as to the total population.

I made a dotted area on the map to show the Spix's normal distribution. Within the area outlined, the larger dark part shows the area in which there is practically no village, road, or railroad, and is therefore virtually unexplored.

The rest of the area is farmland with altered vegetation. The approximately vertical line dividing the area separates the two types of vegetation frequented by the Spix: "caatinga" or thorny stunted vegetation to the east, and "cerrado" or wooded meadow land to the west.

The "cerrado" is better land for farming so that I believe that deforestation of what is left will probably be from the west towards the east, via Goiás.

The trappers and smugglers that hunt for Spix I believe to be on the borders of the dark area without yet having penetrated it deeply. They use the cities of Joazeiro, Petrolina (no. 7 on the map), and Floriano (no. 8 on the map) as intermediate warehouses for their birds, at times deluding naturalists, who believe that they can still come from there. Roth's recent observations attest to the presence of Spix near Joazeiro, but I believe that in many cases, the above-mentioned cities receive the captured Spix only because they are the most developed of the region.

The Spix that were offered me for sale this year were inTerezina, Piaui, and I was informed that they were captured in the north of Goiás.

The Spix that were recently re-patriated and are now in the São Paulo zoo (they were in Paraguay), came from Petrolina, Pernambuco. while those that belong to Mr. João Alberto de Camargo Cardoso were in Floriano.

It is probable that the trapper, upon capturing them, goes to the nearest large city where there are means of communication to advise his customers.

During conversations with merchants of the region, and with observers and buyers of Spix, I obtained several pieces of information, two of which, after careful sifting, had so many references, and from persons who didn't know one another, that they are worth mentioning, although they cannot be held as scientific data. These are the cities of Tocantilha (no. 9 on the map), and Filadelfia (no. 1 on the map ) in the north of the state of Goiás.

These sites are outside of the area outlined for Spix and deserve more detailed study. In general, I see the Spix Macaw as one of the neo-tropical psittacidae least known in nature.


At times I recall an interesting scene that I saw as a child in the zoo of my home town: a recently civilized Indian, obviously all dressed up to look as civilized as possible for the occasion, was taken to the zoo by a well-meaning social assistant, to see the animals. After the expected astonishment at seeing animals unknown to him, the Indian and the social assistant stopped in front of the area reserved for the "ariranhas", that is, the Giant Otters (Pteronura b. brasiliensis ), just at the moment when the handler was feeding the otters. The Indian, to everyone's amazement, got extremely nervous to see the handler feed that "horrible beast", and his indignation would have turned into scandal and aggression had they not taken him away quickly.

I remember asking myself why the Indian would behave in such an odd way and I came to the conclusion that, to the Indian, the giant otter is actually a competitor as it eats fish, the Indians main food, and therefore it should be killed, not fed.

Supposedly, individuals of a higher evolutionary and cultural level (or at least a different level), urban individuals, should not see the wild animal as a competitor, but as a beautiful form of life; something to be preserved. In Brazil, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, for many Brazilians the "man vs. forest" situation still exists as there are still many forests and all of then are being rapidly destroyed. The idea of nature as something that must be destroyed is deeply rooted in the culture of our people and, strange as it may seem, this idea still persists, even on relatively high cultural levels.

In the political domain, the destruction of nature is quite calmly tolerated, as it pleases both the powerful landowners and the humble farmers of the region who, together, add up to a lot more votes than those of the ecologists who, in Brazil, are a small minority.

Our institutions of environmental preservation are, for the most part, simply figurative entities, created because "any country worthy of the name has them". They exist only to prove that they exist, surviving with very little in the way of funds (and even this little is usually poorly invested), and are, therefore, inefficient.

The members of these institutions are, from the presidents on down, honorary figures, "sacred cows" of national history, who do their best to satisfy everyone by not assuming any drastic position on any subject whatsoever. The administrative staffs are usually composed of bureaucrats who greatly enjoy promoting congresses in which the main topics of discussion are the offices available and the salaries that go with them. Then come the executive staffs, usually made up of newly graduated trainees who give the above-mentioned congresses a scientific appearance, and who publish in their journals works filled with hair-splitting details.

The reader of such journals should not be too surprised if he finds a very detailed graph of how many tines a certain owl yawned during the period from noon to dusk of a certain day, but it would surprise me if he were to find a detailed work on the reproduction of this same owl in captivity.

In an effort to be impartial in my narrative, I must say that within the above context there are also many people with good intentions who do what they can to fulfill their duties, often even to the point of taking money out of their own pockets to achieve this aim. These persons have even managed to make their departments quite efficient in the better developed states of the country such as São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Paraná, and Santa Catarina (excluding Rio de Janeiro). Unfortunately, in the less developed states, where poverty and hunger are rampant, dealing with ecological matters is considered superfluous.

As could be expected, it is exactly in these states that the capture and trade in wild animals is most frequent.

It is there that the international smugglers find suppliers for their exports.

In these states, the forest reserves only actually exist on the maps. They are constantly invaded, not only by roads and dams, but also by hunters and trappers as there is a great lack of forest rangers, due to the lack of money. There is also a great deal of unprotected natural forest; a real treat for trappers.

With the recent and continuing impoverishment of the country, the population's buying power has greatly decreased in relation to that of other countries.

The average monthly wage of a rural worker is on the order of US$ 44.00. It is easy to understand that once such a worker discovers the price of our birds, especially of parrots, on the international market, capturing birds to sell may become an irresistible temptation.

For example, the average worker from the state of Pará can sell a Golden Conure (A. guarouba) for five times his monthly wage.

Al1 of these factors add up to the present situation: Street markets that are full of birds for sale as they haven't been in many years. There are so many amateurs involved in the capture of birds and other natural products that repression is virtually impossible.

I do not believe that the country's situation can improve appreciably within the next few 5 years, nor that the export of our birds will diminish without the help of the importer countries, which should extradite them or at least, respect our restrictions.

Some countries, such as Portugal, France, and Spain, are used as springboards for the introduction of our birds into Europe, just as many of our neighboring countries serve as springboards for the re-exportation of our birds.

Upon examining a list of purchases that a European bird trader had made in French Guiana, I found a large number of Amazona xanthops, which were legally exported from there.

It is a well known fact that Amazona xanthops is a bird endemic to Central Brazil.

At present, the main points of illegal export of our birds are:

1) The State of Pará, and especially the city of Belém. There the animals are gathered together in large quantities in private warehouses. When there are enough of then, they are transported in fishing boats to Pararmaribo in French Guiana from where they are re-exported to Europe, via France. The individuals who collect these birds go up and down the rivers offering practically the bird's weight in gold (or better yet, in dollars) to the people who live along the river banks. The bird traffic relies on the support of persons connected with the local police itself. Such is the profit involved in this trade that nothing escapes; from snakes, turtles, marmosets, and silky anteaters, to Hawk Headed Parrots and Golden Conures.

Up to the present, only once did the fishing boats that transport birds have problems with our coast guard, when one of them tried to escape from a patrol boat and was machine-gunned because the coast guard thought they were transporting drugs. On1y later did they discover that it was "only" birds.

Needless to say, a large percentage of the birds die in the course of all these transactions.

2) A lot of smuggling goes on via Argentina. What greatly helps to promote the traffic of Brazilian birds via Argentina is the fact that the two countries have many birds in common, but in very different quantities.

Argentina has a small area known as "Misiones" which lies between Brazil and Paraguay in its north-western region. The vegetation and topography of this area is the same as that of all the Southeast of Brazil and Paraguay, that is, a type of vegetation similar to our Atlantic forest.

Thus, some of the birds that are to be found from the south of the state of Bahia to the north of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, also include Misiones in this geographical distribution, which gives Argentina the right to include them in their lists of national birds.

A few examples of these birds are: Pyrrhura frontalis, Amazona pretrei, Amazona vinacea, Pionopsitta pileata, etc, not to mention the softbills.

As Argentina exports its birds legally, those without restrictions are being exported in great quantities.

However, Misiones is a very small territory, totally insufficient to meet the existing demand. Thus, the Argentines come to Brazil to fill their orders for "Argentine" birds (and many Brazilians also take birds to Argentina). In a country the size of Brazil, crossing borders with trucks full of birds is not very difficult.

Among the birds smuggled into Argentina, the preference is for toucans and macaws, followed by tanagers, bell-birds, and finches.

Paraguay also uses Argentina to re-export its birds, even though Paraguayan law does not forbid direct export. The presence of birds such as Triclaria malachitacea attest to the fact that birds endemic to Brazil are also being sold from there.

Our birds are purchased from the local traders of the south and southeast regions of the country and paid for with birds imported from Europe which come into the country via Argentina.

Many traders would prefer not to supply the smugglers with Brazilian birds, but as this is the only way of receiving imported birds, they run the risk of the illegal activity.

At present, the red-tape involved in the importation of birds for commercial purposes is so great, and is aggravated by the total lack of quarantine, that the only way out is smuggling, and even so, it is much easier to smuggle birds out of the country than the opposite, without mentioning the difference in profit margins.

Many Brazilian birds that do not appear on the lists of Argentine birds are also re-exported from there. These are simply mixed in with the others to be exported and are rarely discovered. These are simply mixed in with the others to be exported and are rarely discovered.

3) A new smuggling route has appeared recently, and is growing rapidly. The departure point is Rio de Janeiro, and the destiny is Portugal and, as a sporadic exception, Spain. This is the only direct route that I know of, one which does not use another country as an intermediary.

It seems to me that, at present, Portugal is one of the European countries that deals most freely with the import and export of birds, thus making such a route feasible.

The birds that leave the country are paid for with others coming from Singapore, with a resting period in Portugal, or with other birds bred in Europe.

In the beginning of this traffic, the birds that left the country were only rare samples such as a very few Amazona brasiliensis or mutations of parrots in general, but recently the trade has become more intense, increasing in quantity and decreasing in quality.

The bird fair in Rio de Janeiro, with headquarters in the suburb of Caxias was, until last year, so large and so busy that the police, urged on by public opinion, tried to close it by carrying out raids and confiscating birds. Many of these raids were successful, but the fair still exists, and is considered by ecologists as a "national scandal". 

4) Finally, I must mention the evasion of birds via Bolivia.

At one time in the past this route was very popular, but now it is far behind the others. The main "merchandise" for export via Bolivia isAnodorhynchus hyacinthinus which, according to some also occurs in Bolivia. In this case the situation is similar to that of Argentine, mentioned above.

It seems that the main receiver of these birds is the United States. This traffic is subject to ups and downs due mainly, it would seem, to the instability of the country, and also faces stiff competition from traffic of much more profitable products.

All the facts cited above are, to a greater or lesser degree, known to aviculturists, as they must deal with these traders to acquire their birds, both Brazilian and foreign.

Many protests and denunciations have been made jointly with the IBDF (Brazilian Forest Development Institute), but none that overreached the borders of the State of São Paulo met with any success. In these matters the states are independent and, in some cases, possibly even in collusion.

As to requests made directly to the federal government, the most we managed to obtain was the promise that the president of the IBDF at that time would make a "protest speech" at a Convention that was to be held in Peru.


The legislation in force requires that all breeders must be affiliated to an ornithological entity or club and, as amateur breeders, through this entity or club, they must register their birds with the IBDF (governmental department).

This gives them the right to keep registered Brazilian birds in their possession, and also gives them the right to have the product of these birds in their possession, as well as allowing some elasticity in trades, as long as the animal has a closed ring.

Amateur breeders boast relative freedom and are only punished if they overstep their rights or begin to commercialize their animals. In general, the ornithological club of which the breeder is a member exercises a certain degree of care to avoid this sort of thing.

Should a breeder be very successful in his breeding, or have extremely rare birds, he is invited to become a "cultural and scientific breeder". If he fulfills certain requisites required by law, this status will be confirmed by a governmental administrative rule.

The status of "scientific breeder", as it is called here, gives the breeder the right to have rare birds in his possession, and possibly even receive from the government some bird that may have been re-patriated or confiscated.

The breeder agrees to submit yearly reports to the government in which he comments on any improvements or re-modelling carried out in his breeding ground, as well as reporting all births, deaths, and biological data.

Acquisitions by means of purchase are strictly forbidden, and those achieved by means of exchange are only allowed when the dealings are with other "scientific breeders", or with Zoos. Prior written permission from the federal government must be had for any of these dealings, as well as for the transportation of any animal from one place to another, the transportation of eggs, etc. The delay in receiving written permission is significant and makes it virtually impossible to make urgent decisions.

Although the excess of red-tape is minimized through the co-operation of the local IBDF offices, the restrictions to purchases and exchanges makes the status of "scientific breeder" almost impracticable as there are only five in the country (dealing with birds), and most of these are specialized in one single family of birds.

Trading with zoos does occur, but the zoos maintain that their function is to exhibit birds, and not bird reproduction, a point of view exactly opposite to that of the breeder, which makes it difficult to come to any understanding. (In Brazil, zoos that go in for bird reproduction are rare exceptions.)

Attempts have been made to get the government to make exceptions to the existing restrictions. The purpose is to attract a greater number of amateur breeders to the ranks of "scientific breeder", thus making it possible to have a greater diversity for exchanges, since with only five breeders exchanges are extremely restricted.

Unfortunately, all the attempts were in vain. The government intends to follow the law to the letter.

Obviously, this attitude on the part of the government creates a situation in which the great majority of amateur breeders simply refuses to accept the status of "scientific. breeder", as they would no longer be allowed to "change the blood" of the animals reproduced, nor to replace a dead bird. Some prefer to remain illegal, hiding their rare birds, while others got rid of their Brazilian birds and have dedicated themselves to the reproduction of foreign and more common birds such as pheasants, lovebirds and cockatiels; to me a waste of talent.

I am telling all this rather drawn out and detailed story because it directly affects the plans of the meeting in Loro Park on the Spix Macaw.

Most of the owners of Spix Macaws would not even authorize me to cite their names, and cannot participate officially in any breeding program as they fear that their birds will be confiscated by the government as a bird of such rarity could theoretically only be owned by "scientific breeders" Therefore possession of these birds must remain clandestine, and the birds are hidden well away from the breeding ground. Another factor caused by placing bureaucracy above common sense is that of increasing the traffic of these rare birds (which even here are extremely expensive) on the illegal export market, as the purchase of them here is definitely not encouraged.

For example, this year I heard about six Spix Macaws for sale in Brazil, and they were all exported as I could not legalize them if I had bought them, and had I bought them without the government's authorization I would lose my license as a breeder, plus all the registered Brazilian birds in my breeding grounds

Of the six Spix Macaws that left Brazil, two died during the trip abroad, two were discovered and repatriated to Brazil and are now in the São Paulo zoo, and two are in some unknown place abroad. All of them were chicks and were still being hand fed. Any denouncement to try to save them would have been a waste of breath as the smugglers are very clever and very efficient. The most we could have achieved would have been another "protest speech" in some other international convention.


The Spix Macaw does not seem to be a difficult bird to reproduce in captivity. Its recent reproduction in Singapore, and the information I received from Alvaro Carvalhaes who reproduces them here, lead me to believe that their productivity is similar to that of what in Brazil are known as "Dwarf macaws" (A. manilata, A.maracana, A.auricollis etc.).

The present lack of success in their reproduction here in Brazil, I believe to be due to the fact that many of those that are in breeding programs are still immature birds, and the three adult specimens in the São Paulo zoo were only placed in an effective reproduction program this year.

Another fact that makes their reproduction in captivity difficult is that, as far as the Spix is concerned, there is very little exchange of animals among breeders. This is easily explained when one considers the value of the bird. (I believe, it is the highest priced bird in Brazil.) Generally, no breeder trusts another to the point of handing over his animal for reproduction purposes. This situation creates problems at the time of joining couples, as each breeder wants to keep the couple in his own breeding ground.

My hope is that, once breeders become aware of the precariousness of the bird in captivity, and of the existence of an objective program that takes this into account, it may be possible to reach some mutual agreement more easily.

Another factor that must not be forgotten is that many owners of Spix Maca.ws in Brazil are clandestine, as was explained in item III of this paper. This fact obviously restricts open communication which would make it easier to find a mate for a single bird.

Examinations of Spix Macaws that died in captivity showed the existence of infantile organic rachitis due to poor feeding of the chicks while still in the hands of traders.

Besides poor formation of the pelvic bones, which could hinder egg laying, greater bone porosity was also noted. This poor formation results in thickening of the bones. This, in turn, decreases the space destined to the medula which produces the lymphocytes responsible for the production of antibodies. It is possible that this problem may cause a slight immunological deficiency in the bird (Roberto Antonelli).

The last reproduction in captivity of the Spix Macaw of which we had any knowledge was in the aviary of Mr. Alvaro Carvalhaes during the '50s. It took place in a small flight (2.60 m in length, 1.00 m in width, and 2.00 m in height) with a plain wooden nest lying on the horizontal and with two compartments, of the type used at that time, and here in Brazil still used for Budgerigars.

According to Mr. Carvalhaes, the bird required no special treatment and was handled in the same way as the other psittacidae of his breeding stock.

Unfortunately, at that time the conservationist attitude that exists today was not yet awoken, although one already had some notion of the rarity of the bird.

Mr. Carvalhaes has a specimen that he had obtained from a local merchant, and he managed to loan another from a friend of his, Mr. Lourenço Branco, who had found the bird mixed among other birds in a lot that had arrived in the Port of Santos. Fortunately, they formed a couple.

Eight young were born of this couple in various clutches, with an average of two per clutch.

With the exception of one specimen that ended up in the zoo of Naples, Italy, all the rest remained here, part with Mr. Carvalhaes, and part with Mr. Ulisses Moreira, a friend and neighbor of Mr. Carvalhaes. With time, the macaws began dying off from various causes, but the final blow that finished off the breeding stock was, according to Mr. Moreira, a batch of sunflower seeds contaminated by agricultural insecticides, that killed off most of his psittacidae breeding stock, as well as the Spix macaws.

At present there are, to my knowledge, 14 specimens in captivity in Brazil, and the existence of three of them is dubious.

Let's talk a bit about the owners of these birds separately:

1) The three whose existence I stated was dubious belong to a São Paulo breeder who did not authorize me to cite his name. I stated that the existence of his birds is dubious because of all the persons who have had the opportunity to visit the breeding grounds of this man, none have seen the Spix macaws, including myself, and this covers quite a length of time. The information I received from the breeder is that the birds are well hidden in a safe place to avoid confiscation, that they are in good health and that one couple has already defined itself.

As I have had other information from this breeder in the past, which was not reliable, I take this as well "with a grain of salt".

The last time I saw these birds, some years ago, there were actually three, and they lived in a spacious flight of approximately 4 m x 6 m x 2.30 m high.

2) Another breeder who did not authorize me to cite his name has one specimen which he believes is a female. Although this person is thought to be difficult about exchanges, in my opinion he is an excellent aviculturist and undoubtedly among the best in Brazil.

I. hope, with time and with outside help, to bring this man to become "legal", as I believe he would be a valuable member in any reproduction program.

3) Another breeding ground I can recommend is the "Centro de Proteço aos Psitacideos Brasileiros"· (Brazilian Psittacidae Protection Center), an association of aviculturists that tries to reproduce our endangered psittacidae.

The Center, besides one pair of C. spixii, also has a pair ofAnodorhynchus leari, one of which was repatriated to Brazil from Antwerp, Belgium.

In my opinion, this center is highly recommendable to take part in any program aimed at the reproduction of Spix Macaws in captivity, as its members are nearly all excellent aviculturists serious and well known, and seem to get along very well together.

Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the center does not yet have its own breeding grounds, and some of its birds are kept in the private breeding grounds of members.

However, the greatest part, about 90% I believe, is in the breeding grounds of Mr. Nelson Kawall, who also seems to be quite restricted as to available space. Mr. Kawall, who is a well-known breeder here in Brazil, has been dedicated to the reproduction of our endangered psittacidae for many years, and also has a good collection of mutations of Brazilian psittacidae.

The Brazilian Psittacidae Protection Center is registered as a "scientific breeding ground" by our government, and its members are subject to the rights and obligations of the law mentioned in Item III of this paper. 

4) In the State of Piaui there is another man who did not authorize me to use his name who has one specimen of Spix Macaw. This specimen was bought directly from a trader of the city of Petrolina, Piaui, who acts as intermediary in dealings with Spix Macaws.

In my opinion, this man is not a breeder, but simply a collector, and therefore should not have such a bird in his possession. The bird is not being properly kept, and is even being fed rice and beans. Not rice and beans specially prepared for it, but plate scrapings and leftovers from the table. (Rice and beans are the staple Brazilian food, well seasoned with onions, garlic, sa1t, pepper, and other seasonings.)

I have been insistently trying to acquire this bird to add to the collection of the owner who has a supposed female (sub-item 2 of this item). I cannot acquire it for myself, nor for the Protection Center, as both are "scientific breeders".

This man is very reluctant to give up his bird, and I am facing tough resistance. As he is quite rich, the only way might be to convince him to trade his bird for imported ornamental birds which are difficult to obtain in that region.

Denouncing him to the government to get his bird confiscated would be a waste of time as he is politically quite powerful in that state. Besides, the bird is well hidden and this attitude may cause even greater harm by forcing the owner to move the bird to an even more hidden place, or making him decide to hand it over to the international traders who already know of its existence and have frequently tried to purchase it. Needless to say, the traders can be more "persuasive" than I.

The fact of a bird being confiscated by the government in that state is not, to me, any guarantee that the bird will end up in good hands, although it is a certainty that it will not leave the country.

5) There are two specimens of Spix Macaw in the private collection of Mr. João Alberto de Camargo Cardoso, in São Paulo. Mr. Cardoso is the owner of the largest collection of Brazilian psittacidae that I know of and has a large and important aviary.

This man, has been devoted to the reproduction of psitticidae for a relatively short time, but already has a sizeable breeding ground.

His aviary is clean and well cared for and his birds, which in the past were a bit crowded, now have more space due to the construction of a new sector for the breeding ground.

Mr. Cardoso seems to be quite well off which would allow him to build good installations for a Spix Macaw reproduction program which he would be interested to participate in. However, personnel of the above-mentioned program's staff must take the initiative of making personal contact, or name a representative to lend direct assistance, while interfering as little as possible in the internal management of the aviary, in my opinion, a very delicate task.

I take the liberty of making such a suggestion not due to any suspicion as to Mr. Cardoso's good intentions, as he seems to me to be an extremely correct person, but due to the fact that he seems to be very busy with his own private business and could hardly, on his own, give the necessary scientific assistance needed in a project of this size, nor personally write up the works that may be required.

As to any restrictions I may have about the aviary itself, the only thing I might mention would be excessive concern with the aesthetics, to my way of thinking necessary, but which can hamper functional aspects, such as, for example, the lack of a closed corridor in some of the flights to prevent any possible escape, and the absence in some f1ights of a part of solid wall which can give the birds protection from the wind, as well as the necessary privacy.

The presence of strong lights that can be turned on at night is a debatable factor. If used for purely ornamental purposes they must be condemned. On the other hand, they can be very useful in case of emergencies.

Discounting these few points which can be easily resolved with good advice from a reproduction program, the aviary is extremely satisfactory, making a very pleasant visit for amateur bird lovers and a must for lovers of psittacidae, especially foreigners who visit our country.

6) Lastly, we have the São Paulo zoo, with five C. spixii, three adults and two young ones. The last two were recently confiscated abroad and re-patriated.

The three adults have been in the zoo for several years, but only this year did they participate officially in a concrete reproduction program. Influenced, perhaps, by public opinion, the zoo decided to participate "openly", in my opinion, too openly, as the couple that is meant to reproduce is exposed to the public.

The flight is not bad, but it should be deeper, receive more sun, and have less bare concrete, which gives it a heavy, cold appearance. The person in charge is aware of this but stated that this situation is due to orders from higher authorities. I advised him then to only exhibit the single adult bird to the public until a mate is found for it, .while keeping the couple he intends to reproduce in another sector where they have good flights for this purpose. By doing this, he could please both the public and the aviculturist.

I 'm afraid my advice was not heeded. Either they want to make it clear at any cost that they are participating in a program for the reproduction of Spix Macaw in captivity, for what reason I can't imagine, or it is just another case of giving precedence to bureaucracy instead of to common sense.

However, I must say that, at present, the zoo is quite clean and well kept, more so than in the past, and that it is one of the most beautiful zoos in the world as it is embedded in 60 hectares (150 acres) of tropical forest with several natural lakes. The zoo also has facilities such as veterinarians, laboratories, pathology department, etc., which serve to counterbalance the intuition and experience of a private aviculturist.

I would like to point out here that there are other breeders in Brazil with good installation and resources which, although they do not have any Spix Macaws at the moment, are enthusiastic about conservation projects aimed at reproduction in captivity.

Some, such as Mr. Pedro Nardelli of Rio de Janeiro, and myself in São Paulo, have breeding grounds registered as "scientific", and can only contribute to the reproduction of the Spix Macaw should we receive the birds officially from the federal government, in cases of confiscation or re-patriation, but we have the advantage of doing it officially.

Mr. Nardelli is an expert reproducer of Cracidae (curassows), and is the owner and re-discoverer of the last specimens of Mitu mitu mitu which are believed to be extinct in nature. He is also devoted to the reproduction of Psittacidae and other endangered birds of our fauna. Mr. Nardelli is a pioneer of conservationism in Brazil.

Finally, there is Mr. Mauricio Santos, who has a large breeding ground in Recife, Pernarnbuco, and who, before long, will manage to obtain Spix Macaws as he is near the route used by the international smugglers, and has the wherewithal to make substantial offers to intercept Spix Macaws that are on their way out of the country.


I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to speak a little about the matter of re-introduction in general. The reader must be slightly indignant to see that the majority of the aspects I cited when I referred to the governmental institutions of our country are negative.

Unfortunately, one cannot escape from the truth. On the other hand, I am very happy to be able to tell about a case in which Brazil showed itself to be more advanced that many much more well-developed countries.

It is known that all the marmosets of the Leontopithecus genus are well on the way to extinction. On the other hand, it seems that they have responded very well to programs of reproduction in captivity.

One of their subspecies, Leontopithecus rosalia chrysomelas, has proven to be so prolific that many of the breeders are reproducing them in such quantities that they turn to the IBDF as they don't know what to do with the product of their breeding success since these are very temperamental primates, and if they are crowded there are soon fatal fights.

The classic solution for this situation would be their reintroduction in nature.

It happens that the south of Bahia, the area this beautiful primate inhabits, is being rapidly deforested to make way for plantations, cities, etc. In many cases, the extraction of wood for building or for charcoal is also evident. Within this area there are forest reserves, but the majority of our reserves in the more backward states are not safe.

There are forest reserves in Brazil in which the land has not even been expropriated yet, and the traveller who wishes to see the reserve will find farms, and even small towns, inside the limits of the reserve, even though the map may show only a green spot.

Were the government of the demagogic sort, the re-introduction of the animals would be carried out even so, as if nothing were wrong, and complying with the "letter of the law". If the monkeys were re-captured it wouldn't matter as the government had done its part. Just put a bunch of trainees to write complicated works, find a career man who wants to have a good curriculum vitae about working with animals, look the other way, and that's it! Everything will go along beautifully and only the marmosets will suffer for it.

It happens that, in this case, the IBDF took the wise decision of recognizing that the reserve, or rather, the area of geographical distribution of this animal is no longer suitable for sheltering it, although legally it should be, and decided not to release them.

I imagine that this attitude must have caused many problems as it is, in a way, a confession that irregularities do exist. That is beside the point. They thought first about the animal and made the right decision.

A lot more arguments must have been caused by the rumors that Brazil will not have enough breeders with legal status to house these animals and that the excess may have to go to similar institutions abroad. I don't know if this decision was taken; that would be asking too much, but to my way of thinking it would also be the right decision.

Beauty should be admired by the greatest number of persons possible, and this I believe to be the main point of all efforts at preservation.

The day will come when this marmoset will be a common sight in all of the zoos (I hope), and may even be common in private collections.

Thus, if one day the forest reserve is really implemented with all the safety measures necessary, the population in captivity will be able to supply it easily with no problem. Then, Brazil can permit itself the luxury of saying that it has Lion Tamarins in its territory, free and safe.

For such things to happen, a series of measures should be taken.

First, the institutions that receive the animals must be reliable and must agree to comply with certain control requirements, carried out by those who furnish the animals. As long as sanitary requirementsare observed, the red-tape related to export and re-patriation of these animals must be minimized so that the exchange of information and specimens can be intensified to the advantage of all concerned.

I believe that if there is a sufficient number of specimens in the country of origin to satisfy the admiration of the public and stock in captivity, the surplus could perfectly well be loaned to other countries, and these, once they had proven their honesty, could have a certain elasticity, a sort of vote of confidence in their decisions.

The opposite could also occur. There may be animals so rare that the few existing specimens should be given to the best specialists known, even though these may be in another country. In this case, contracts would be signed so that the priority of the program's benefits would be destined to the animal's country of origin.

A typical case in which this did not happen was that of the Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata), the salvation program of which is full of errors and waste.

One or more specialists could have been found who had had success with similar parrots, and these could have been invited to reproduce this extremely rare psittacidae under control, once having supplied them with the breeding stock.

Mr. Ramon Noegel of the LIFE FELLOWSHIP INSTITUTB, for example, would be a person indicated for this purpose as he has done much with psittacidae in general, and much of this with species similar to the Amazona vittata.

What was done, however, was to concentrate all the specimens in one place, both in nature and in captivity, where they were handled by persons who, from their attitudes, I would say were not of this field, and the whole world population of these parrots were subject to all sorts of catastrophes, from hurricanes, quite common in those parks, to disease.

One should also take into consideration the fact that in spite of the population of these parrots being around half a hundred, the species cannot be considered to be saved, even if it responds well to the efforts of reproduction in captivity.

Upon accompanying the recuperation of the Nene Goost, or the Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis) which also reach such low population numbers, the staff of the program met with an impasse: upon reaching a relatively high number of specimens reproduced, they thought that the species was safe. The unexpected occurred: the number of infertile eggs was so great and was growing due to extreme consanguinity that, despite all the efforts, the whole program could be lost and the species become sterile and extinct. Thanks to one male specimen, the last one found in nature by a farmer, that the fertility standard was again raised to the desired levels.

This fact was added to the new discovery that populations maintained for a certain time in different hemispheres of the globe, even though they may be inbred, acquire a certain fertile vigor when they are reunited. This led to birds such as the Nene Goose, the Splendid Parakeet (Neophema splendida), the Manchurian Pheasant (Crossoptilon mantchurium) and others, being found today in any corner shop, when before they were on the brink of extinction.

Species such as those mentioned above, if they have not lost their original characteristics or if they have conserved at least part of them, are suitable to be used in re-introduction programs. Should some catastrophe occur which kills some hundreds of then, the world stock in captivity would be able to supply a new population without any great problem.

In my opinion therefore, and may the conservationists forgive me, the re-introduction of animals in nature is a sentimental luxury that can risk the safety of a whole species if this species is not abundant in captivity.

In the specific case of the Spix Macaw, the number of specimens in captivity is still very small and nothing is known about its status in nature which would allow its re-introduction. There is also no specific biological reserve for this purpose.


With the devaluation of our currency in relation to others, the funds that generally come with conservation programs are, for us, relatively large sums.

At times, they are sufficient to help not only already existing programs which lack funds, but also to build new programs, complete new installations, and support a staff of employees.

I would like to recommend, therefore, that it should not be the ingenuous, meritorious persons who send money, as there may be corruption and embezzlement of the funds sent.

The funds may be so significant that persons used as intermediaries may decide to build their own installations, hire friends that know nothing about the work, obtain some specimens by means of political influence to serve as breeding stock, and lend to the whole an air of seriousness. A well-known name can easily be contracted to lend qualifications to the project. All that is necessary is that the interested person have influence in the department that receives the funds.

A race to capture breeding stock in nature, or confiscation in private aviaries can also occur, to be used as "bait for funds" to forge already existing institutions lacking in funds, should there be rumors that this or that animal is becoming scarce and should be protected by some program.

In this case, the money invested can cause more harm than good.

Therefore, I recommend that when sending money to Brazil or any other country in the same situation, that tight financial control be exercised, by means of periodic auditing, as well as, if possible, that the funds come already with the right address, and that its use be made public. The beneficiary must be a person already well and favorably known in the same field.


The reader may note, after reading this work, that Brazil is technically and financially well behind the more developed nations. This fact naturally reflects on the performance of its breeders, both private and official.

We do not yet have sexing by laparoscopy or any other method, which are so useful, our pathological exams are also deficient in defining diagnoses.

Veterinary science specialized in birds has, not yet, surpassed the stage of handling poultry, so that the aviculturists who benefit from this science are only those who deal with game birds and who have adapted new improvements for smaller birds.

These aviculturists serve as connecting links between the poultry veterinarians and bird breeders in general.

On the other hand, nature in Brazil is among the most beautiful of the planet, with endless forms of lovely life which cannot be ignored by the rest of the world.

Our aviculturists, due to the lack of technical resources, have developed great personal talent which acts as compensation for the lack of resources, hard to be equalled in other more developed parts of the world.

In some cases, creativity here is such, that it is frightening. This talent that I refer to is present as much in some large aviculturists as in small breeders, humble folk, and often it is more noticeable in the latter, who would do great things if they had more technology and culture.

This means that Brazil could become a highly fertile field were it to receive the technical, financial and cultural resources that exist in the more advanced countries.

Obviously, the ingenuousness of the more advanced countries as to what goes on here could ruin everything since, in some aspects, as De Gaulle said, "Brazil is not a serious country".

Many of our birds were, and are being, smuggled across our borders, supplying the markets of more advanced countries.

These same birds may, some day, be re-patriated, or at least part of them, either through programs with this specific purpose, or by means of confiscation due to illegal activities.

Therefore, these more advanced countries which often acted unintentionally as corrupting agents may repay our losses by means of guidance and the sending of technology, bringing the level of our aviculturists up to the same level as theirs one day in the future.

Thus, all together we can honor the nature that has given us so much, and that, in my opinion, is not a national wealth, but the wealth of the whole world.

Latest News

  • Tuesday 9th July 2024

    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)