Church In The Wild For Macaws

Back in July we told you about Guatemalan poacher Porfilio Ramirez. Ramirez was shot while attempting to poach 7 juvenile scarlet macaws presumably for sale on the exotic animal black market. Ramirez was criminally charged with aggravated assault, entering Belize illegally, wildlife poaching, and illegal entrance to a protected area.

And the story has a happy ending tonight. The macaw chicks he poached were rescued and rehabilitated and, now, released on Sunday. Cherisse Halsall has the story:

The expectation of hurricane Nana had a huge effect on Belize. People boarded up their houses, did the customary 3-day grocery shop and, put quite a few plans on hold.

And while that was the effect on the human population the storm also put a stall in a very important milestone for 7 Scarlet Macaws who were poised to make their return to the wild.

And today Biologist Boris Arevalo the man in charge of Scarlet Macaws in the Chiquibul told us that after nearly three months in care those birds had their release.

Boris Arevalo, Wildlife Biologist, FCD
"The release was for 7 chicks including five of the original seven who were rescued from Poachers. So five of those made it through the whole release program plus two that we extracted from natural cavities because they required veterinary care and they ended up with the other rescued or confiscated chicks so seven in total so these chicks that we released."

"On Sunday morning they went through a process of hand rearing and we prepared them in an aviary where they learned how to become more independent from humans. They started to feed by themselves and get to a stage where their flying ability is similar to that of wild macaws and also their perching you know they have to have those abilities. One the ability of flight, feeding, and perching ability, once we see that they are in that stage then we prepare them for the soft release and that is what we did on Sunday morning so the release is like their graduation day."

And while the Macaws are technically on their own they haven't been abandoned by the FCD

Boris Arevalo, Wildlife Biologist, FCD
"While they are in the aviary they don't have the full ability to forage by themselves so providing them with food and water after the release is critical. It just helps them adapt better and increases their chance of survival. That's why we refer to it as a soft release compared to a hard release which would be just opening the gates of the cage and have them figure out life by themselves."

It's hard and delicate and extremely crucial work.

Boris Arevalo, Wildlife Biologist, FCD
"The lab rearing or the rehabilitation program that we have for Scarlet Macaws in the Chiquibul is the last treatment option that we have left on the list. The top management option that we have for the Macaws is to have them fledged from the wild biomonitoring and safeguarding of Scarlet Macaws out in the wild when we have confiscated chicks then we rescue them and try to put them back into wild nests with wild parents but that is very difficult because of age difference trying to find the adequate or the right nest so chicks that end up in the lab and end up being reared, that the last option we have. It is a very important management strategy that we are doing because if we don't do that then most likely those Macaws will end up somewhere else, they could end up as a pet, they could end up dead throughout the illegal trade of wildlife and so every scarlet Macaw that we manage to put into the wild population is I think contributing to the overall conservation of the species because in Belize we have around an estimated total of no more than 350 wild individuals so if we can add one more and in this case we added seven more that is a huge boost to the natural population."

A happy ending for these Macaws but just another drop in the bucket for the conservation of a species that remains at risk.

The Chiqibul's rehabilitation program seeks volunteers annually. The average volunteer will be trained to perform biomonitoring, but the FCD is also seeking volunteers with experience in animal husbandry to help in raising confiscated chicks.

Channel 7