Saving the Blue-throated Macaw from extinction by creating the world’s first protected area for the species and tackling the illegal pet trade
The Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) is a Critically Endangered species whose population is estimated at just 350 birds.
Here at Armonía we created the world’s first protected area for the macaw in the Beni Savanna of northern Bolivia. It is found nowhere else on Earth.
Creating the Barba Azul Nature Reserve to protect the macaw’s habitat is just the first step in a much greater push to save the species. Along with habitat destruction, the illegal poaching of the Blue-throated Macaw for the pet trade is driving it to the brink of extinction.
We know that we must inspire behavior change across Bolivia if we are to protect the Blue-throated Macaw into the future. But how? Many people in Bolivia live in desperate poverty and the price a bird can fetch on the illegal pet trade market is too great a reward to miss. But by working in collaboration with local communities, we were able to find the solution. This was made possible thanks to substantial support from the Loro Parque Fundación.
- Protecting the macaw’s habitat by creating the Barba Azul Nature Reserve
- Creating suitable breeding sites within the reserve by installing nest boxes
- Running a nationwide educational campaign to tackle illegal poaching for the pet trade
If you would like to support the Blue-throated Macaw program – to save this Critically Endangered species and a wealth of other threatened wildlife – please donate.
Barba Azul Nature Reserve: saving habitat
In 2008, we created the Barba Azul Nature Reserve to protect the Beni Savanna in northern Bolivia. It is the only site in the world where the Blue-throated Macaw, a Critically Endangered species, is offered protection.
The savanna floods yearly, as seasonal rainfall merges with melt water from the Andes; it is this cycle of inundation that creates the ecoregion’s distinctive mosaic of palm forested islands. The Blue-throated Macaw depends on the motacu palm (Attalea phalerata) that grows on these forested islands and feed primarily on the motacu palm nuts.
Yet the habitat of the Blue-throated Macaw and the wealth of other wildlife in the Beni Savanna is under threat. The forests surrounding the reserve suffer from logging and cattle ranching. The grasslands are depleted by overgrazing and regular burning. We are keen to increase the size of reserve to create a greater safe haven for wildlife. Find out more through the Barba Azul Nature Reserve program »
Macaw Breeding: nest box program
Although Blue-throated Macaws spend half the year foraging and roosting in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, at the moment they do not breed in the safety of the protected area. Instead, the pairs tend to disperse widely throughout the region’s farmland in search of a suitable site.
To breed successfully, Blue-throated Macaws need to find two specific conditions:
- Isolated forest islands away from climbing predators
- Trees with large cavities in their trunks so they can nest within them
These conditions were abundant in the past, when trees within the Beni Savanna were left to grow old and then rot. But 150 years of intensive cattle ranching has cleared most old growth, large trees.
We believe it will be possible to entice the macaws to breed in the safety of the reserve by installing artificial nest boxes. We have identified the sanctuary of the Tiniji River forest islands as a potentially successful breeding site within the reserve. It is already a popular roosting area, so the birds know that it is safe.
We installed 67 boxes on the islands in 2014 but anticipate that the macaws will take time to adjust; the breeding season starts around December and it might take over a year for the birds to accept the boxes as viable nest sites.
But Blue-throated Macaws are intelligent birds and much of their behavior is learnt from their parents, their environment, and the behavior of others. So we are confident that once one pair of macaws successfully breed in the boxes, then their offspring and other adult birds will watch, learn and copy.
Educational Campaign: ending illegal trade
For over 7 years, we have been running a nationwide media and educational campaign to tackle the illegal trade in the Blue-throated Macaw to save it from extinction. The aim was to inspire a feeling of national pride in the macaw: a pride that would lead to behavior change.
First, we needed to let the people across the country know that the Blue-throated Macaw existed; most Bolivians were not aware of its existence, never mind that it was Critically Endangered and endemic to Bolivia so found nowhere else in the world. Next, we had to convince the people that only they could save the species. We told the local and indigenous communities of the Beni savanna that the Blue-throated Macaw was their bird and only they had the power to protect it.
To run this campaign successfully, we worked tirelessly to communicate the message locally and nationally. We appeared on TV programs, spoke on regular radio spots, we were present at all the festivals and fairs across the country, we went into schools and gave presentations. But importantly we didn’t just bombard people over a short time period, we consistently spread this message for 7 years.
Thanks to this ongoing work, the 20 to 30 Blue-throated Macaws that were being sold on the illegal pet trade market every year has been significantly reduced. The people of Bolivia now consider is shameful to be trading in the bird. While in 2014, the Bolivian national government declared the Blue-throated Macaw a national heritage species, giving it greater legal protection.
As part of our ongoing work, we are training indigenous groups in how to create alternative feathers for their traditional headdress. The indigenous communities of the Beni savanna have a dance of high cultural importance, in which performers wear a headdress made from the two central macaw tail feathers. Each headdress contains feathers from about 10 collected and killed macaws.
The added benefit of this training is that the indigenous communities can sell the artificial feathers and headdresses at festivals to generate an alternative, extra income for many poor and marginalized families. We combine this with educational programs for children and now every year different schools compete to win the best alternative headdress award.
Despite the success of this campaign, the illegal trade of birds in Bolivia continues and we haven’t been able to get the support of the police to prioritize a clamp down. As long as demand in the market remains, there will always be a threat to the birds of Bolivia.
The Blue-throated Macaw program has achieved great successes, but must continue its conservation efforts to secure the protection of the macaw forever.
The program urgently needs support to fund the nest box program and to conduct nationwide education programs on the illegal trade that continues in Bolivia.
If you would like to support the Blue-throated Macaw program – to save this emblematic species and a wealth of other wildlife – please donate.
Thank you for your support
We thank our international partners and individual donors for the achievements of Blue-throated Macaw program – we cannot save the species or empower our people without your generous support. Thank you.