The Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, located near Shahaniya to the west of Doha, has announced the successful hatching of three critically endangered Spix’s Macaws Cyanopsitta spixii.
Owned and founded by Sheikh Saoud bin Mohamed bin Ali al-Thani on an estate formerly owned by his family, the reserve at Al Wabra is a state-of-the art breeding and research centre for some of the world’s most endangered species of birds and mammals. It has achieved pioneering success in the captive propagation and research of a number of threatened species, among them the Spix’s Macaw, the Lear’s Macaw, the Somali Wildass and Birds of Paradise, of which it has the largest breeding collection in the world.
The handsome blue Spix’s Macaws are the most critically endangered parrots in the world. The species was feared to be extinct in the wild in its native Brazil in the early 1980s, until it was rediscovered in 1985, when just five birds, including two pairs, were located in the north of Bahia State.
There have been no sightings in the wild since a male bird was recorded in October 2000. Currently there are about 120 individual Spix’s Macaws in captivity worldwide, of which around 50 are managed at AWWP, where the captive breeding programme is guiding the Spix’s Macaw a step closer to re-locating to its natural habitat in Brazil.
The extinction in the wild of this beautiful bird was due in part to widespread illegal trapping for the exotic pet trade, and also by the introduction in Brazil of the aggressive Africanised bee, which competes for nest sites, stinging and killing breeding females incubating eggs.
What makes this year’s breeding success so important is that it came from AWWP’s genetically most important pairing, including the most important female in the international studbook managed population.
The first two chicks hatched in February and March in AWWP’s new bird nursery, which has three rooms exclusively for Spix’s Macaws; one for incubation, another for hand-rearing and a room for fledglings, including a 10m-long flight aviary.
The Spix’s Macaws at Al Wabra were initially acquired from private collections in the Philippines and Switzerland. To begin with the ambitious breeding programme, designed to save the species from extinction, met with problems. Some of the birds were diseased and had to be treated. Every year a vet comes from Germany and conducts a thorough check on the birds.
There were also inbreeding problems because all the birds in captivity are likely to have descended from a few individuals. Eggs were sometimes misshapen or failed to hatch, and there were behavioural abnormalities. But the programme has gone ahead despite the pitfalls, and during the last three years 16 healthy chicks, in addition to the latest arrivals, have been successfully hand-reared. The future of the Spix’s Macaw now seems assured.
AWWP has gained international recognition for its efforts in conservation and is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). In addition to the captive breeding efforts in Qatar, AWWP has also initiated a number of in-situ conservation projects in other countries for protecting species in their natural habitat.
“The goal of the captive breeding programme,” says Ryan Watson, keeper of birds at AWWP, “is to establish a genetically and demographically sustainable population from which selected individuals can be re-established in their place of wild origin; the semi-arid region of Northern Bahia State, Brazil.”
Efforts to provide suitable habitat for the birds have already started, two key properties having been bought from parties involved in Spix’s Macaw conservation. These include the acquisition late last year of the 2,200 hectare Concordia Farm by HE Sheikh Saoud bin Mohamed bin Ali al-Thani. The last recorded sighting of the bird in the wild in 2000 was amongst the Caraibeira trees lining a creek which flows through the property.
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