Macaws are members of the parrot family which has 340 species. 17 different species of Macaw are found in the rainforests of South America.  Many of them are endangered.

Macaws and Humans

In 1492, when Christopher Colombus landed in the New World, there were probably at least seven more macaw species, all living in the West Indies. When the Europeans arrived they began shooting them and catching them for pets. The macaw population declined rapidly and within a few hundred years all the West Indian macaws were extinct. The last one to disappear was the beautiful Cuban macaw, in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Voyages to South America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought new species of parrots to Europe for trade, including the colourful macaws, and since then they have been in demand as pets. Sadly, the pet trade has had a serious effect on the wild population of all parrots, particularly macaws because of their slow reproduction rates.

Habitat destruction. 17 different species of Macaw are found in the rainforests of South America. Many  of them are endangered. The threatened rainforests of South America are being cut down at an alarming rate to make way for agriculture. This is a serious threat to the future survival of all macaws.

On the brink of extinction is the Spix's macaw. In the late 1980s, it was assumed that the beautiful cobalt blue Spix's macaw had become extinct in the wild but an expedition in 1990, to north-east Brazil, reported that one lone male had been spotted! The destruction of the caraiba tree woodland, mainly the result of overgrazing by goats, sheep and cattle, together with the capture of these birds for the pet trade, have reduced the Spix's macaw to this sorry plight.

The last known wild Spix's macaw was seen in 2000, and is now believed to be extinct in the wild though thorough surveys of existing populations in remote areas is yet to verify this.  The Brazilian government has set up a breeding programme with captive birds and hopes to reintroduce this critically endangered parrot and try to make the public aware of the importance of saving the species and its habitat. There are believed to be 90 or so captive Spix's macaws scattered around the world, mostly privately owned. It is hoped that these owners can be persuaded to co-operate in the captive-breeding programme to try and ensure that the species does not become completely extinct.

The future for all parrots depends on the protection of undisturbed rainforests and the end of the capturing of them for the pet trade. Many parrots for sale in pet shops will have been taken from the wild. Never buy a bird unless you can be sure that it is a captive-bred one from a reputable breeder. This will be a happier, healthier and friendlier pet and will help reduce the effect of the pet trade on wild parrot populations.

World Parrot Trust

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