Set the three free

"Set the three free". A report by Greg Meenehan published in the issue of Cage & Aviary Birds for the week ending 12th January 2002.

A celebrity MP has launched a campaign for the speedy return of three highly endangered Lear’s macaws held in England to a breeding programme in Brazil.

Boris Johnson, editor of national news magazine The Spectator, and successor to Michael Heseltine as Conservative MP for Henley, is calling the crusade "Free the Brazil Three".

He wants to see the extremely rare birds given back to the Brazilian authorities, who run a breeding programme for the species. But the macaws are locked in legal limbo until the outcome of the latest in a series of court battles is resolved.

The three birds - a pair of eight year olds and a 12-year-old female were seized by Customs & Excise officials from rare parrot breeder Harry Sissen in April 1998.

They formed part of the subject of the charges for which he was convicted of smuggling birds in March 2000 and received a two-and a-half year sentence, reduced on appeal to 18 months.

After the raid on the Sissens’ farm in. North Yorkshire, the birds were taken to Harewood House, near Leeds, where they were kept out of sight of the public.

The Brazilian authorities expressed a desire to have the birds flown back to their country at the conclusion of the case, but ownership could only be decided by the courts at the conclusion of a confiscation hearing.

Three years after the seizure of the birds, they are still in Yorkshire, awaiting the outcome of the appeal hearing concerning the confiscation proceedings, which is expected to take place later this year.

"I do think it is appalling that these beautiful animals are kept where no one can see them or enjoy their beauty," said Boris "and they obviously need to go back to Brazil to take part in breeding programmes.

"I’m not an expert - put me down as an enthusiastic amateur-but these birds are needed for breeding purposes and they are in Britain when they could be in Sao Paulo getting on with breeding."

Flaxen-haired Boris, aged 37, who has twice been a guest on humorous topical television news quiz Have I Got New For You, was persuaded to launch the campaign by his father, who is an environmentalist and works in animal welfare.

"I have put down a question in the House and I have written to the Attorney-General to find out what is going on," said Boris.

"I’ve just had a letter back saying they are looking into it, to give an explanation why it’s taking three years, which is quite a chunk out of the life of a macaw."

Lear’s macaws are listed as a critically endangered species, with a wild population recorded as being fewer than 150 birds.

There are only two colonies left, both of which are in north-east Brazil. Poaching and the removal of the licuri palms that provide them with their staple diet of palm nuts, to supply farmers with grazing land, is blamed for their decline.

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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)