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
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
with more photos and details of my travels that day. In brief, the roads are
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
The field workers Roni hired proved to be excellent in the field, and very
competent with the technology needed for precise documentation of poaching
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.
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."
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
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 (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)
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
#496656 - 10/10/1405:28 AMRe: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul
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...
#498576 - 12/03/1404:09 AMRe: Scarlet Macaw Monitoring in the Chiquibul
What you can do to help the Scarlet Macaw population in Belize!
Season’s 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com