Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul

Posted By: Marty

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.
Christopher Gabbard
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 macao cyanoptera) 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, and 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 special equipment:



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 activity:


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.


Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 04/30/13 12:04 PM

Scarlet Macaw Health Checks

Scarlet Macaw Health Checks | Cayo Scoop!'s E-mag. |

The Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic teamed up with the Scarlet Macaw researchers and FCD to do some Scarlet Macaw health checks in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Daniel Velazquez was there with camera in hand to get film for the documentary, and catch some great moments. Looks like they had some serious climbing to do.

"An amazing and inspiring trip, for which the "real" pics will follow (sorry). We had several professionals documenting and hope to share some of their images soon. But suffice to say that Roni Martinez, Charles Britt, Friends for Conservation and Development and the 8 Rangers on the ground in Chiquibul are doing an incredible job to protect the Scarlet Macaw from extinction! Myself and BWRC and many others will do what we can to support the efforts."

The blog for the project is here:

Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 05/21/13 12:00 PM

Tony Rath uploaded some more great pictures from the trip the Scarlet Six Biomonitoring team took through the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.

"This final Album from the Chiquibul documents the process these dedicated researchers go through to safe guard and learn about the scarlet macaws nesting in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Belize."

Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 05/23/13 12:05 PM

Attentive parents at nest entrance (thanks for all photos in this posting go to Tony Rath of Belize Photography)

Rest in Peace (RIP) Macaw

I was only back two days from my Belize/Guatemala/Mexico scarlet macaw journey when I got the news that poachers have struck in Belize, despite the tremendous efforts of those working there.† Here is the post from the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic‘s Facebook page:

R. I. P. little macaw. It is with great sadness that we share the announcement that 2 out of 4 macaw chicks examined during our recent Chiquibul trip were poached from their nest only days later.† This means that most likely they are dead†at this time.† The poaching pressure on the Chiquibul macaws is intolerable. The natural heritage is being pillaged. At this pace the last wild Belizean Macaws will soon be extinct.† Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) and Scarlet Six are trying to respond, before it is too late and have increased nest protection efforts. BDF has been called in to assist as well.† The conservation organisations are looking for volunteers to assist in the field. Contact Roni Martinez (Scarlet Six) or Boris Arevalo (FCD) if you think you have what it takes to participate.† Help us share the sad news to alert more people to this incredibly complex crisis.
A face that all mothers could love

A face that all mothers could love

These are birds that I and others had just recently held, adored, and gathered around as we heard their hearts beat to the same awesomely beautiful rhythms of nature as ours.† That these birds are doomed to death, or to a life time in captivity likely subjected to standards of care that do not approach the social and environmentally complex world in which their families of origin fly, is nearly unbearable – to me and to others who commented on the Facebook posting†above.

Roni Martinez examining chick, with pleasure

Roni Martinez examining chick, with pleasure (another face that all mothers could love)

I’m glad that those who can are rising to the call to help.† I was told that the Belizean Defense Force (BDF mentioned above) will send in about 60 people to sweep the area clean of poacher. †Others too have volunteered as well to increase protection.† What can you do? †You might share this story with others, and if you can donate time or money to help feed the volunteers, contact me or Roni Martinez.

Weighing a precious wild chick (weighing your options of how to preserve these parrots is also precious)

Weighing a precious wild chick (weighing your options of how to preserve these parrots is also precious)


Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 01/03/14 10:09 AM

Chiquibul's Macaw protection crew from daniel velazquez on Vimeo.

Wondering about what the Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team? Here's a great video documentary from Daniel Velazquez about the project.

"A documentary about the Chiquibul national park in Belize, and the people protecting it from poachers , a look at conservation today with Scarlet Macaw protection, and a short look back on Challilo Dam issue, and environmental destruction, with Sharon Matola, Greg Cho and people in Cayo. Film is produced by Roni Matinez, Charles Britt and Filmmaker Daniel Velazquez active wildlife conservationist in Belize, this is also a creative art media project, in wish we gave cameras to the protection crew, and they took part in documenting."

"This year was a REAL collaboration between many organizations and individuals to save our dwindling population of scarlet macaws in this little patch of our Jewel. We now have solid partners and concrete determination. Over 50 volunteers from Belize, US, Spain, Switzerland, Guatemala and other countries, joined us this year in our stand to protect a declining species in a remote corner of the massive Chiquibul. Want to join the Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team in 2014 as we continue our struggle? We promise you an adventure you will not soon forget. Thanks a million to the Belize Forest Department, Friends for Conservation and Development - FCD Belize, Blancaneaux Lodge, WCS-Guatemala, Daniel Velazquez, Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, LoraKim Joyner, Rainforest Restoration Foundation, Loro Parque Fundacion, Tony Rath Photography and Tony Rath plus the rest of the army of collaborators, volunteers and donors who lent us that helping hand this year."

How cool. Volunteers camping near a macaw nest to scare off poachers.

Some of our volunteers come all the way from the other side of the world, Spain in this case. Here, Marcos and Carmen along with young Sahara crossing the Raspaculo Branch en route to a camp near a nest. They stood guard for a week at the nest, protecting it from poachers. Thank You!

Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team

Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 10/10/14 11:28 AM

Click photos for more pictures!

The 2014 season finally ended today. The team and the funds are exhausted. We extracted today, with mixed feelings. 7 Macaw chicks survived this season (that's 2 more than last year). But, we found other active poacher camps in more remote areas...

Posted By: Marty

Re: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul - 12/03/14 10:09 AM

What you can do to help the Scarlet Macaw population in Belize!

Seasonís Greetings. For the past five years FCD has been conducting bio-monitoring of scarlet macaws with the aim of protecting the limited population of scarlet macaws left in Belize against the pet trade. With the Forest Department approval, FCD with multiple other partners will aim to add in a new component to the conservation of macaws, namely a lab rearing of at risk chicks with the purpose of increasing the probabilities of having more birds fly wild and free and restock the macaw population. To do this FCD is launching a strategy to obtain the funds to have local lab technicians trained, a laboratory, equipment and a flight cage in operation by March 2015. The facility will be constructed at Las Cuevas Research Station which is located in the heart of the Chiquibul Forest. To learn more of this program and how you can support contact:,,,

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