As of 2011, the Spix's Macaw is considered "extremely endangered" and "Extinct in the Wild" - although not officially declared extinct yet due to the unlikely possibility of populations being found in unsurveyed areas.
Their decline and likely extinction in the wild has been attributed to the following:
- For decades, trappers captured adults and removed nestlings and eggs from their nests - mostly to supply the illegal bird trade. Without a doubt, this presented the most important threat to the already small wild population and irrefutably led to their extinction in the wild.
The first captive bird was recorded by Othmar Reiser at the beginning of the century. Others had left Brazil for the first time in the twenties and made their way to Europe or the USA. (Low 1972). At that time, nestlings were occasionally taken for the pet trade, and the impact on the existing populations at that time wasn't as detrimental as those taken after the 1960s, when specialist trappers began to remove chicks out the nest systematically and, as nestlings became harder to come by, they captured the adults.
- Habitat loss and destruction caused by colonization and exploitation of the area also took a heavy toll on this parrot species. Spix's Macaws heavily rely on a Caraiba woodland habitat with the Caribbean Trumpet Trees along the Rio São Francisco corridor for feeding and nesting. Their complete dependence on this habitat prevented the Spix's Macaw from expanding into surrounding territories, which left them vulnerable to any disruptions in its habitat.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the building of the Sobradinho hydroelectric dam above Juazeiro could possibly have contributed significantly to this species' decline.
Collar et. al. (1992) drew the connection between the clearing ofthe Caraiba woodlands in Pernambuco, and the subsequent disappearance of the macaws.
- African Bees: In 1957, the colonization of the macaw's range by the introduced aggressive Africanized honey bees (also known as "Killer Bees" posed another serious threat to the already small surviving populations. They aggressively competed with the Spix's Macaws for their nesting sites, and swarms of these bees invaded the macaws' nesting cavities, driving nesting Spix's Macaws out and killing the chicks. In some cases, they even killed the nesting females. These bees are being blamed, at least in part, for the low breeding yields and some of the adult losses.
- Hunting: Historically, indigenous people of Brazil hunted them for food, for their feathers, or simply for the pleasure of hunting. Even though hunting was not as much of a factor in recent history, several reports of shooting are on record. Indeed, one of the last remaining birds in 1985 was killed in this way. Even though this has not helped the situation, this is not believed one of the primary causes of their extinction.
In 1967, Brazil banned the export of its native wildlife.
From July 1st, 1975, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibited all international commercial trade in Spix's Macaws between countries that had ratified the Convention.
Attempts were made in the past to reintroduce captive birds to rebuild population. However, no activity has been recorded since a female was released to hopefully pair up with the last remaining male in the wild in March 1995. After only seven weeks, she was electrocuted as she collided with a power line.
Considering the high monetary value of these parrots, and the high level of risk they would be exposed to, in an unfamiliar environment, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. Although, it would be a desirable goal, it requires a very high level of planning and carefully managed execution.
As of 2011, the numbers of registered captive Spix's Macaws has increased to 75.
- 56 are kept at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation (AWWP), Qatar, Persian Gulf, Middle East (27 of which were bred in captivity)8 are kept at the Loro Parque Foundation (LPF), Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain (5 of which were bred in captivity)4 are kept at the São Paulo Zoo (SPZ), São Paulo, Brazil.3 are kept at the Lymington Foundation (LF) São Paulo, Brazil.4 are kept at the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP), Berlin, Germany (3 was bred in captivity - 2 hatched on 18th and 21st January, 2011)
Others have formally been kept (may still be, but unconfirmed):
- 20 in private collections in Brazil18 in private collection in northern Switzerland4 at Walsrode Birdpark (Germany)4 in private collection in the Philippines4 in private collection in Qatar1 at Naples Zoo (Italy)Others have been reported to be kept in the United States, Japan, Portugal and Yugoslavia.
It is suspected that up to 120 individuals may exist, if one includes any that are potentially maintained in private collections - the exact number of which is obviously unknown. However, what is certain is that these last surviving Spix's Macaws are amongst the most valuable and protected birds in the world.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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