Watchbird January 2022


Community Education is Helping to Save the Scarlet Macaw in Mexico by Rick Jordan, Rodrigo Leon, Sebastian Arriaga and Janice Boyd, PhD

Scarlet macaws in southern Mexico have had a tough history. In the early to mid - 1900s the spe- cies was still plentiful throughout the country, from southern Mexico and into northern Guatema- la. Fragmentation of the habitat occurred as large tracts of forest were harvested in Mexico ’ s rain- forest leaving dwindling tracts along the coasts and only a very small area of intact rainforest along the very southern border. This area is known as the Lacandon Jungle or Rainforest. It is a riparian utopia and the last hope and home to parrots, toucans, lizards, crocodiles, jaguars, oce- lots, margays, tapirs, blue morpho butterflies and more. In the midst of this last jungle is a small communi- ty known as Chahul. Directly across the river from this little town is the small biologist ’ s com- pound, the Chahul Biological Station. This is the epicenter for scarlet macaw conservation in south- ern Mexico. A small team of biologists struggle to save the last wild populations of the species fighting, poaching, deforestation, lack of govern- ment and apathy from a community that has relied on the land to survive for generations. Although this last area of forest is protected as a national reserve, some of the local people are laying claim to tracts of land and are constantly clearing trees to farm or make a residence. One of the biggest obstacles to conserving the par- rots in this area is an almost “ acceptable ” cultural practice of poaching baby macaws to be sold to wildlife traders. Generation after generation of fathers teaching sons how to climb the huge Ceiba trees to take the chicks has instilled a sort - of tradi- tion in many families looking for an easy way to make money. In most cases they are residents that do not own land or have paying work. This ac- ceptance of the practice has made conservation education very difficult in the community. The

latest program objectives by the biologists at the Chahul station include education and instilling pride in the people and a new appreciation for the scarlet macaws of Chahul. Biologists Rodrigo Leon, Sebastian Arriaga, Die- go Noriega, Fiorela Ortiz, Paulina Arroyo, and a few others work tirelessly to assure the survival of chicks hatched in the wild. Although their primary objective is to guard nests from poachers, some- times it is necessary to take a chick and raise it at the station in order to interrupt the cycle of poach- ing and eventual sale to wildlife traders. Chicks raised at the station are released immediately after they fledge and can eat native foods for survival. This method has resulted in over 200 birds being reintroduced back into the local population. The program has been so successful that Natura Mexi- cana is seeking other release sites for the macaws because the number of birds in the area of Chahul is reaching a stable population point. One of the most important aspects of in situ con- servation is the education of the local inhabitants. This is especially true in an area where poaching is a way of life for some. Recognizing that educa- tion and respect for wildlife must start at a young age, the biologists from Chahul have initiated a program for young children ages 6 - 13 in the local

Rodrigo Leon observes as young Guacaguardianes receive instructions

20 Volume XLVIX ● January 2022

Made with FlippingBook Digital Publishing Software