Victor Fasano meets up with the cast of the animated movie “Rio”!
June 1, 2012

Victor Fasano travelled to Qatar, a tiny peninsula in the Middle East, to come eye to eye with the full cast of the animated movie “RIO”.
In Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, owned by a member of the Qatari royal family, H.E. Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani lives the largest flock of Spix’s macaws in the world. The Spix’s macaw is a beautiful medium-sized blue macaw which inhabited the semi-arid “Caatinga” biome in north-east Brazil. The last known wild bird has not been seen since 2000 and the species is now presumed to be extinct in the wild. Habitat destruction and eventually poaching lead to the demise of this charismatic species.
The animated film “Rio” with Blue and Jewel as the big stars made the species world famous and has increased the conservation attention for this bird. Currently, they are working on a sequel which, no doubt, will bring even more attention to the conservation story of the Spix’s macaw.
The Spix’s macaw captive breeding program coordinated by ICMBio in Brazil, counts 80 parrots of which 60 are living at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Al Shahaniya, an oasis in the middle of the harsh Qatari desert, some 40km outside the nation’s dynamic capital city Doha. Of these 60 macaws 33 were bred at Al Wabra since breeding began in 2004. Sheikh Saoud sent representatives to Brazil last week, to offer their experience in breeding Spix’s macaws and to add to the effort that is being developed under the reviewed official Action Plan for the species in Brazil.
This year, 5 chicks have hatched and are currently being hand-raised. Also, for the first time ever, systematic artificial insemination was performed in these parrots by a specialist team from Giessen University in Germany and Parrot Reproduction Consulting who developed the technique for the University. In conjunction with veterinary and bird department staff at Al Wabra, the specialist team aimed to increase the chances of breeding success with this very challenging species. The exciting prospect of in-vitro fertilization was also trialed and will be developed further in the future.
Increasing the numbers of Spix’s macaws is still the number one priority because a reintroduction program in Brazil can only be successful if enough captive birds are bred for release and Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar is playing an important role to achieve that target.
On top of all the efforts in Qatar to save this parrot, Sheikh Saoud also bought 2380 ha of historically important land in the region of the Caatinga known as Curaçá. The farm was formerly used as the field-base for the species recovery efforts in the 1990’s and still boasts the tree nesting-hollow used by the last known wild pair back in the 1980’s. There are actually many trees with nesting holes suitable for Spix’s macaws on his land, some of which are currently occupied by bats, bees, falcons and Illiger’s macaws but there is big hope that once again they will be used by Spix’s macaws.
Al Wabra Staff, including young Brazilian biologist, Monalyssa Camandaroba-Watson, is already present in Brazil preparing the land for reintroductions. Overgrazing of livestock, deforestation particularly of the nesting tree of the Spix and damaged creek systems are the biggest challenges for habitat restoration in the area.
Al Wabra also has plans to set up a breeding facility for Spix’s macaws in Brazil where birds from the preservation in Qatar can be sent to continue breeding near the release site. Hopefully their offspring will be ready to be released in the Caatinga to give them back to Brazil and the Brazilian people as this is the biggest wish of H.E. Sheikh Saoud.
Victor says:” It is empowering to see that more than 10000 km from Brazil, people care about the recovery of the Spix’s macaw, the most endangered parrot in the world. It’s a responsibility which Al Wabra takes very seriously as they leave nothing to chance to save this species. The Spix’s macaw is a flagship species for Brazil and I, as a Brazilian, am particularly proud to see this commitment as without the efforts of Al Wabra the species would have been extinct a long time ago while now I feel there is real hope to see them fly again in the Caatinga. They have my full support for the program and I will continue to follow their conservation efforts closely”


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