Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 09/18/12 02:01 PM
In 2012 The Rainforest Restoration Foundation became involved in an
important conservation project in Belize. Outlined in the report below,
submitted by our field science advisor Dr. Erik Terdal, is our first attempt
to help stop poaching of a very beautiful and threatened bird, the Central
American Scarlet Macaw, Ara macao cyanoptera. I hope those with a passion
for wildlife will consider helping the Rainforest
Restoration Foundation protect this beautiful animal.
Executive Director, RRFinc.
Central American Macaws
In May, 2012, I traveled up the Macal River and Raspaculo Branch, deep into
the Chiquibul Forest to see the only nesting site of the Central American
Scarlet Macaw (Ara
in Belize. This beautiful, large parrot is a distinct subspecies of the
more abundant Scarlet Macaw found in South America. The Central American
Scarlet Macaw is larger--and in steeper decline. It needs large tracts of
forest areas for habitat, yet most of the remaining forest in northern
Central America is fragmented into small patches. This forest fragmentation
is a result of conversion of forest lands to agriculture (some legally and
some illegally), urbanization and for hydroelectric development (dams,
reservoirs). Additionally, the demand for pet Scarlet Macaws has led
wildlife poachers to venture into their remaining forest patches to steal
nestlings. Wildlife smuggling of this species for the international pet
trade has severely affected the remaining populations from maintaining
themselves, while conservationists work to protect the remaining forest
habitat. It would be sad, and frustrating, if people set aside rainforest
for their grandchildren to enjoy only to be too late for wildlife like
jaguars and macaws to inhabit it.
The Rainforest Restoration Foundation, a Tulsa-based conservation NGO, is supporting a local initiative to monitor Scarlet Macaw nesting sites in Belize and deter poachers from stealing macaw chicks. The monitoring program was led by Ronaldi “Roni” Martinez. Roni lives in the nearest village, San Antonio. He works as the Conservation Officer for Blancaneaux Lodge, the premier ecotourism resort in the Maya Mountains of Belize. His son shares his love of birds and Roni wants to make sure that scarlet macaws are around for his children’s children to admire.
Roni hired men from his village and trained them with help from Charles Britt, a wildlife biologist from New Mexico who studies scarlet macaws in the area. These trained field workers paddle inflatable kayaks up the Chalillo Dam reservoir and into the Macal and Raspaculo rivers which flow into it. They record Scarlet Macaws sightings and look for nesting trees. They also search for camps used by wildlife poachers and report those to law enforcement authorities. They have digital cameras, GPS receivers and a satellite telephone so they can report precise information immediately.
I accompanied Roni, Charles and the monitoring team during their first week in the field. I travelled to their site on Monday, May 21, in a 4wd Ford Ranger diesel truck I rented in Belize City. I kept a blog, with more photos and details of my travels that day. In brief, the roads are very rough.
Several times, Roni had to get out of the truck and make repairs to the road right in front of me:
Eventually the road ended and Charles, Roni and I continued up the reservoir
in a raft:
We camped in the forest, sleeping in hammocks in the rain. (It is called
“rainforest” for a reason!)
We spent the days of
Tuesday, May 22,
Wednesday, May 23,
searching for Scarlet Macaws, other wildlife--and poachers. My blog entries
for those days have more details and photos. In brief, we saw several flocks
of macaws and were able to get close enough to photograph them without
We also found a nesting tree that had scars in the bark from where poachers
had climbed the tree to steal macaw nestlings:
We also observed other rare wildlife, such as Morelet’s Crocodile and Spider Monkeys:
The field workers Roni hired proved to be excellent in the field, and very
competent with the technology needed for precise documentation of poaching
The team also worked effectively with law enforcement, the Belize Defence
Force and other conservation groups, here the
Friends for Conservation and Development:
In conclusion, my brief site visit and extensive conversations before and
after with Roni, Charles and people involved in the
Belize Wildlife Conservation Network
leave me confident that this program is exceptionally cost-effective. The
costs are low, as Roni, Charles and I donated our time and travel costs.
Field workers are paid modest wages. Employee “housing” consists of
hammocks! The rest of the field equipment is similarly modest. The only
technology (digital cameras, GPS receivers, satellite phone) is necessary
for the project aims. The effectiveness is high, as the project takes place
right in the macaw nesting sites where poaching is taking place. In fact,
independent observations by the FCD indicates that poachers left the area
when Roni’s Macaw Monitoring team moved in! I have no doubt that some macaw
fledglings are learning to fly right now in the forests of Belize because of
the support by the Rainforest Restoration Foundation.