A look at the work of our Macaw conservation project in Costa Rica

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Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Wednesday, 11th February 2015

Macaws flying over the beach in Costa RicaAround 30 years ago, the couple Margot and Richard Frisius decided to settle down after many years of travelling the world. They settled in Rio Segundo de Alajuela, in the centre of Costa Rica, where they established a parrot conservation centre to help restore the increasing decline of the many magnificent birds native to the country. Many years later in February 2012, the project turned into an official NGO. The aim? That has always been to ensure a long term future for wild parrots to roam freely and safely in their historic ranges of Costa Rica. 

The main two parrots protected by the organisation are the Scarlett and Great Green macaws. The Scarlett macaw (Ara macaw) can be recognised by its beautiful coloured feathers of red, yellow and blue with a shade of green in between. The Great Green macaw (Ara ambiguus) is the largest parrot and actually the third heaviest species in the world. The name gives it away, but it is recognised by its green feathers with a turquoise shade on the tips and its red forehead. While both species are internationally classified as endangered, due to the increasing trade in tropical birds, the Great Green macaw is in particular danger of extinction with a wild population estimated to less than 1,000.

The Scarlett macaw is a popular species to keep as pet or for captive breeding, while the Great Green macaw has a more nervous nature and thus rarely seen as a pet. However, one of the main reasons for their endangerment, besides the wild bird trade, is habitat loss. Logging, gold mining, hunting and agriculture all have had an impact on the macaw habitats. Thus natural reservations have crucial importance to the protection and future of all kinds of tropical bird native to the country.

The project works in several locations across Costa Rica. While the original breeding centre in Alajuela was closed in 2012, a new centre was opened in Punta Islita in December 2013. Next to this, the release sites where the macaws are introduced to their natural habitat are located across Costa Rica, including Punta Islita, Manzanillo and Punta Banco.

Great green macaw in Costa RicaThe macaws that arrive at the project include confiscated birds, former pets that have been donated, and birds that have been raised at the centre. They are bread at the centre, where they are taken care of until they are considered ready for release into their natural habitat. The project applies a ‘soft method’, meaning that the birds will experience a gradual re-introduction to their release, which can take several months. They are still being fed after release at certain monitor points, which assures that they stay safe and healthy.

One crucial element in the protection of macaws lies with the local community. The project engages in many ways with the locals to educate and inform about the macaws, and the importance of them staying in the wild. Members of the communities located near the project sites get to enjoy afternoons at the project stations to learn about the introduction programs. Other initiatives include cooperation with the school of veterinary medicine at a local university to assist in keeping the birds healthy; tree planting for macaw food with the local community; and educational activities with school children that often come to visit the project.

When Margo Frisius passed away in 2008, it was decided by her husband to pass on the project to the Beruite family and other collaborators, who up until then had been associated with the birds. While it now is a local NGO, the organisation still very much rely on help from volunteers. One has to stay for minimum one month in which the work can include collection of data, monitoring of macaw releases, feeding and education about macaw conservation. Costa Rica is rich and diverse in nature and wildlife, and not only will one get the chance of experiencing everything that the country has to offer, but one will be doing it while helping in restoring a future with wild macaws in Costa Rica.

For further information on volunteering at this project, please click here.

By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad Team

Author: WorkingAbroad Projects

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