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Born Free USA Global Field Projects

Search for Nests Reveals Evidence of Poaching

Published 06/08/11

Dr. LoraKim Joyner of Lafeber Conservation and Wildlife blogs:

I have just come back from the field in the region known as La Moskitia in Honduras and am currently in Puerto Lempira. Out in the area surrounding the indigenous communities of Rus Rus and Mabita, we climbed Scarlet Macaw nest trees for nine days. We found that out of 20 nests, 18 have hatchet entrances made by humans illegally poaching the birds. In fact, the room in which I now write houses two wild macaw chicks who occasionally mutter from a cardboard box.

These birds probably came from one of the five poached nests we encountered during our field work. They were confiscated by the military from poachers who took them from their wild nests and their biological families in Rus Rus. So now these birds are in the hands of the governmental agency, Instituto de Conservación y Desarollo Forestal, Areas Protegidas Y Vida Silvestre (ICF in short) in charge of confiscated birds until they can be returned to the wild. To release them requires steady care, training and risk to their lives and well being, so it is always preferable that birds never come into captivity.

Along with ICF’s Tezla Gonzalez, I have the honor of taking care of these two birds, and three older, healthier birds who came from the very area where we just were. Though I say healthier: All five birds are thin, some very thin with signs of permanent stunting and developmental issues that will remain with them their whole lives.

The poaching pressure is intense, and I don’t know how this species can continue here with such threats from the human species. Though we yet don’t know the population numbers, I suspect is low given that we only saw 32 adults in the whole 10 days we were there, and some of these were probably counted twice. This region cannot lose one more chick to poachers, or to any other cause.

So convinced am I of the urgency of this conservation effort, I along with others of Project Apu Pauni (Apu Pauni means Scarlet Macaw in Miskito) invited the leaders of the indigenous communities, Rus Rus and Mabita, to a meeting on Saturday. There we presented the results of what we found, which included eight active nests containing 13 chicks, five to 10 weeks of age. I told them that I didn’t want to lose these birds if at all possible. Each bird is “gold” and has inherent worth and dignity. Then wearing my science hat, I explained how we needed their DNA and reproductive potential to stabilize the population. I then asked them if they were committed to the same cause.

They were. The leaders spoke amongst themselves in their language, Miskito, and nearly immediately agreed that they want to protect their birds. They further agreed to do their part by patrolling these eight nests with five men a day for the next seven weeks until the last chick fledges. They will donate half of the day’s salary to the project. I promised to send them over the these next seven weeks the $1,600 it will cost for our working group to do our part to cover the other half of the day’s salary. The average worker makes 200 Lempiras a day, which is about $11. Being able to work on their native lands helps keep them there instead of migrating out to provide the mere basics required for survival, and also helps diminish the chances that members of their own village will poach the birds.

When I asked a member of our working group what he thought of the meeting, he reported that it was “algo divino,” something divine. Indeed it was, for to behold a community coming together to risk their lives to save this bird and their way of life is nothing short of awesome inspiration of how to build a world that cherishes all species, against all odds. Over the last few years they have continuously received threats on their lives because people want to take their land, and have.

Tomas Manzanares was shot four times because he tried to preserve their communally owned land. They fear now to hunt and walk alone through the pine savannahs and forests of their ancestors, but they will do so for the sake of their macaws.

They are willing to do their part. Would you be willing to do your part?

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