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Of the nine parrot species in Belize, the scarlet macaw is not only the most colourful but also the most endangered. The bright red, blue and yellow feathered bird is a spectacular sight of the neo-tropics and an emblematic species for Belize.
In the Chiquibul Forest this bird has been thriving over the years and despite the construction of a dam, which threatened to extirpate the breeding population over a decade ago, this parrot has survived the flooded habitat and is slowly recovering. With no more than 125 pairs of scarlet macaws left in Belize the need to institute medium and long-term interventions to protect this species is critical, not only from poachers but from any future unregulated tourism activity.
Currently their main breeding habitat in the Chalillo dam is not a tourism hot spot, however the industry has identified it as a ‘must see’ destination. Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) cannot possibly stop this development, but instead plan to have an assertive presence to conduct biological monitoring; protect nesting sites and chicks at risk of being poached in the wild, upgrade facilities for in-situ hand rearing of chicks and regulate the flow of visitors in the area.
With ATCF funding, the FCD is seeking to construct a field base, upgrade their research headquarters, equip the field teams, promote citizen science participation and train field technicians around the Chalillo Lake area.
The field base will be located at a strategic anchor point for FCD rangers, researchers, volunteers and other visitors. Upgrade of the research headquarters will occur at Las Cuevas Research Station which will support a presence of staff involved in hand rearing of scarlet macaws. Equipment would include headlamps, GPs, binoculars, cameras and field uniforms. Field personnel will be trained on rules and regulations, visitor satisfaction and wildlife care. In addition, funds will be used to develop guidelines and materials for volunteers in support of the citizen science program.
The specific anticipated outputs of the project are:
The overall result will be measured by the number macaws that make it successfully to the wild.
Apart from the FCD field staff, the Forest Department is the key authority and the primary partner in permitting us to conduct biomonitoring and any in-situ conservation efforts. Personnel from the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic are also important partners primarily in providing the necessary health checks on macaws being monitored.
Volunteers including Cayo Tour Guide Association members and students from the University of Belize will also play an important role in helping support the biomonitoring. The Belize Electric Company Limited on the other hand will play a key role in proving counterpart funds as well as facilitating our mobilization into the Chalillo Lake.
This project follows the guidelines presented on the document titled, “Bi-national Collaboration to Eradicate Wildlife Trafficking in Belize and Guatemala: A Strategy for the Chiquibul Forest.” The Strategy notes that, “Poaching is the major threat to the survival of the species in Belize, reaching its peak in 2011, where almost 88.9% of all monitored nests were lost due to poaching. With the observed poaching rate, conservation and management strategies were employed managing to greatly reduce poaching.
With intensive protection efforts initiated in 2012 by FCD and Scarlet Six Biomonitoring Team, poaching ranged between 27 and 33.3% of monitored nests from 2012 - 2014, losing 30 to 38% of chicks hatched per the season, while 0% of monitored Scarlet Macaw chicks have been poached from 2015 to 2018 due to continuous bio-monitoring efforts. However, it is believed that other nesting sites are still undiscovered especially on upland areas and riparian flats of the Ceibo Chico and Ceibo Grande Rivers in southern Chiquibul.”