The Scarlet Macaw may arguably be the most magnificent bird of the parrot family. They live in higher elevations and riparian forests, where they form their habitat in tall deciduous trees and lay about two to three eggs for the year. Only a small population of the endangered species remains in Belize. In the Chiquibul, their central breeding ground, it was first recorded that Guatemalans would engage in opportunistic poaching while in the forest to extract lumber and xate. But in recent years, there is evidence that they come solely in the Chiquibul Forest to poach the Macaws for a thriving pet trade. News Five’s Andrea Polanco tonight concludes a special report on the Chiquibul with the story of the beautiful macaw.
“The Chiquibul Forest is home to plethora of exotic wildlife. The life teeming among and within the trees beckons to tourists and nature lovers alike, especially birders, who especially come to see the Scarlet Macaws; but they aren’t the Macaws only visitors, for day and night, this endangered specie is preyed upon by Guatemalan poachers. After all, a Scarlet Macaw, is the big prize at the top of the illegal pet trade.”
Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director, FCD
“Over the last couple of years, the Guatemalans have been able to reach way down here to the breeding site of Scarlet Macaws and because this area is known as one of the best and in fact probably the most important breeding site for Macaws in the country of Belize, then certainly any extraction that is being done of the specie, then it is affecting the general population of the birds in this area and for the country of Belize at large.”
Indeed, the Upper Macal and Raspaculo Areas in the Chiquibul are where the Scarlet Macaws make their home.
They settle in the Qualmwood trees, where they depend on the forces of nature to help them form their nests:
“What has happened is that the vegetation here is ripe and good for the Macaw population. In fact as you have travelled up in this area you will notice that there is a lot of Qualmwood, and the Qualmwood is one of the particular trees that is sought by the bird in terms of its diet and of course there are other fruits and other nuts that they would consume in the jungle. And normally the Scarlet Macaw would find a high nest, which means you would have to find a tall tree.”
But no tree is too tall enough to conceal these birds from the poachers, like this one, this huge trunk is all that remain after guaqueros powered their chainsaws. Identifiable by its raucous calls, splendor of bright colours, and unique extensive wings, Macaws would fly by pairs or in groups and make them an easy target:
“These very same trails as we were able to observe, certainly they have been traversing through this lake, so you will see one side from the right hand arm to the left hand arm, so they are moving deeper into the jungles of Belize, into the Chiquibul National Park. So, as they reach around this area here, of course they observe and hear the sounds of the Macaws. They would actually traverse across the jungle for about two days, they arrive here at this location and then they either would climb the tree with spurs, or either they would remove or cut down the entire tree inorder to reach the small chicks. Eventually, as they are able to collect them and if the birds are alive, they would return back to their communities after two days.”
After extracted from Belize, they are taken as a commodity in the pet trade or used to supplement the poachers’ diet:
“From there they would sell them either at the municipality level, in other words, normally they would not sell them in their local villages, and they would have to go out either to Melchor De Mencos, either to Poptun, either to Guatemala City, where the buyers would normally go out and purchase them for, it can go from a thousand dollars Belize or more than that. We have come about with some evidence that if some of the adults are killed, of course they would not be able to traverse the jungle and take them back again to Guatemala; we have seen evidence that some of the Macaws have been eaten, we have seen feathers scattered, so there is evidence that some of these birds are being consumed.”
But the Macaws aren’t the poachers’ only target; they have been hunting other animals inside the Chiquibul:
“We started to work here in 2007 and since then we have not really come about any observations of white-lipped peccaries that certainly gives us an indication that that specie has already been over hunted. As we move more closer to the border we will not be able to find the game species again, including, the Great Curassow, the Crested Guan, Ocelated Turkey, the White-tail deer or even the Bracket deer and the white lipped peccaries. We see only a few of the colored Peccary, which is the next type. So practically any game specie would be hunted, so what does that mean? It means that people have firearms; people are walking in this jungle from Guatemala coming in with firearms to hunt these animals.”
Over the last four years, the FCD has been monitoring the nesting activity of the specie. In 2008, fifty percent of all monitored nests were poached and in 2011, almost ninety percent of the nests were also poached. With researchers putting the number of remaining Scarlet Macaws in Belize at a hundred pairs, the future of this prized bird of the Chiquibul hangs in the balance:
“Well certainly if the trend continues, this Macaw population will not survive it. We are certain that the population is relatively poor, in fact, all throughout this region. If we start to speak about Mexico, speak about Guatemala, speak about Belize, or even El Salvador; in Salvador there’s none left in the wild. In Guatemala, they had the same problem and they had to combat the same poachers as like what we are starting to do here in Belize. Eventually the population of Scarlet Macaws in Guatemala as been pretty much secured, but now they are coming down here in Belize and if we are not really good in terms of enforcing, in terms of being able good at detaining the people or trying to have a presence in the zone, then certainly, the question is that yes they will disappear for certain. How long will it take? We don’t really know, we can only be able to assume that given what we know, this bird population can probably survive the next seven to eight years.”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.