Efforts to reintroduce scarlet macaws in Honduras for the benefit of Central America –
“Lenca” and “Lempira” hover in their nest, training for their first flight. They are part of an ambitious project in northwestern Honduras to repopulate Central America with the scarlet macaw, a bird worshiped by the Mayans.
The young birds, whose plumage appears splashed with yellow, blue and red brushes, poke their heads out of the front hole of a nest artificially constructed from a plastic barrel.
They were born in a coniferous forest, in the community of Gracias, Lempira department, about 180 km north-west of Tegucigalpa and near the Celaque National Park of 26,000 hectares with exuberant vegetation and a habitat of 290 animal species and 1,200 plant species.
“These young people will be released on June 28,” explains agronomist Karina Escalante, of the National Forest Conservation Institute (ICF), as she marks the two birds with a purple hue.
On one leg, “they carry a mark with a ring, and this allows us to identify in which nest they reproduced, in which year, and who their parents are,” she explains.
All this work is part of a work undertaken by the NGO Pro-Alas, both in Gracias and, mainly, in the Macaw Mountain Bird Park, near a Mayan sanctuary in the district of Copán Ruinas.
There the chicks hatch and are treated and cared for until they are grown and released.
According to the red list of the NGO International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Macaw macaw – scientific name of the scarlet macaw – is an endangered species but “of least concern”. They inhabit Central and South America.
The Sacred Valley of the Ara
Costa Rica’s Macaw Recovery Network estimates that there are no more than 4,000 wild Scarlet Macaws in Central America.
This project in Honduras “focuses on the reproduction of individuals of [illegal animal] captive trafficking, rehabilitate them, reproduce them and release them in their historic territory, ”explains Macaw Mountain Executive Director Mauricio Cuevas.
A century ago, there were large populations of these birds from Mexico to Costa Rica, but today fewer remain in small, wooded pockets.
The biologist says that since 2011, they have managed to produce 98 specimens at Macaw Park, 23 of which were released in 2020, and there are at least 24 that will be released this year.
He estimates that there are currently around 2,000 at large in the Copán Valley, where the authorities are undertaking protection plans with communities. Several of them have already reproduced in their habitat, without assistance.
President Juan Orlando Hernández takes part in the project, on the farm of which “Lenca” and “Lempira” grow in Gracias.
Scientists call the project the “Sacred Valley of the Scarlet Macaw,” which covers an area of 872 km2 and which they plan to extend from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.
For now, birds are fluttering around Celaque Park, in the forest and among the Mayan constructions of the Copán Archaeological Park. Also on the island of Barbareta and the islands of the Caribbean bay as well as on the island of Zacate Grande in the Gulf of Fonseca (Pacific).
“The Mayan road that ends in Copán Ruinas can become the macaw route, which includes Copán Ruinas, Gracias, Lempira, Lake Yojoa, La Ceiba and we end there in Roatán”, all regions of Honduras, emphasizes the Belgian director of Pro-Alas, Geert Van Vaeck.
The captive breeding process involves collecting the clutches, normally three eggs per pair, putting them in incubators so that after hatching, at 28 days, they continue to be hand reared.
At 90 days old, when they have taken flight, the chicks go to an aviary that experts call “the kindergarten”, where they interact with other specimens to learn social behaviors and vocalizations (song) , come into contact with branches, plants and fruits in a transition to release.
In the forests, they are gregarious animals that travel in groups of 25 or more, depending on the size of the populations.
Monogamous, they separate from others to reproduce and devote themselves to their young for 90 days. The parents look after them for at least a year afterwards, until they achieve their independence.
“We have the genetic variations and [the idea is] to take people from Honduras to other countries and to contribute, ecologically benefits the people of the local forests, ”said Cuevas.