By RAMON NOEGEL
Founder and Director
Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary
“The best way to know life is to love many things.” Van Gogh
The amazons covered in this paper are only those species and subspecies we have in our collection, and, for the most part, those we have researched in their island habitats, Our program began in 1965, and therefore pioneered the captive breeding of Caribbean amazons as a means of conservation. At that time, there were no existing pairs being worked with in captivity with the idea of conservation as a goal. Few zoos or aviculturists seemed to be aware of the serious plight facing these parrots. It was my privilege to grow up having Cuban Amazons as pets. Various neighbors also kept several of the island species which I enjoyed viewing. It would indeed be a tragic loss if these beautiful and unique parrots vanish from the earth. They must be saved for posterity.
In the past two decades, we have witnessed the continual decline in populations of West Indian parrots. Attempts by those of us who have lived and worked in the islands to stem this downward trend have been negligible. The eventual destruction of the separate species and subspecies within their native habitats may be attributed to four major causes: human population explosion coupled with poverty; habitat destruction; natural disasters and political uncertainty. The islands’ human populations, for the most part, are comprised of “Third World” peoples. They are emerging from centuries of oppression and will not tolerate anything standing in the way of their economic progress. Natural resources, such as their forests, mineral deposits, wildlife, climate and beaches, are going to be utilized. The laws now protecting the parrots will ultimately be set aside as growth and development advance. Even today enforcement of these laws is often ignored.
On restricted island land masses, the inhabitants must resort to clearing the parrot’s habitat for their homes, farms, and livestock. As tourism and industry encourages development along the coastline, local residents are forced inland. People so acquainted with extreme poverty, and who have had little or no instruction in conservation, will not place the parrot’s welfare above their own necessity to survive. To those of us who have spent considerable time in the West Indies researching not only the parrots but the mood of the people, it is increasingly evident that the immediate solution to saving many of the amazon species is through captive breeding programs. We can no longer permit our selves to indulge in romantic dreams of large flocks of parrots flying free in their native habitats. Such wishful thinking must be replaced by more practical methods. Therefore, captive breeding sanctuaries remain the only alternative to their eventual extinction.
Life Fellowship has proven that these and other rare amazons, if given proper accommodations and diet, adjust well to a captive program. They seem perfectly willing to breed year after year and their offspring respond by breeding even more prolifically than their wild caught parents. Unfortunately, Life Fellowship is still the only organization to successfully breed any of the Caribbean Amazons on a regular basis. Life Fellowship has achieved seven first (World) captive breedings of rare and endangered amazons. Two species and two subspecies have been second generation captive bred and this season (1983) should see third generation captive bred being accomplished.
Our approach calls for establishing other captive breeding sanctuaries. Since 1976, offspring from our facility have been placed with aviculturists and institutions that have proven their expertise in avian husbandry. However, in this endeavor the small may succeed where the great have failed, i.e., the aviculturist may achieve what the great institutions have not. It has been Life Fellowship’s precarious position to be the only organization to date faced with a large surplus of captive bred endangered West Indian amazons, and likewise to have the singular existing experience in placing such offspring on breeding loan with aviculturists and institutions. It is my sad duty to point out that the institutions have had high mortality rates and have failed to breed from the offspring we placed with them. The aviculturists, however, have lost only one single bird entrusted to them, and on one occasion have bred from our captive reared young. From these limited findings, we have to conclude aviculturists no doubt stand a better chance for successful captive breeding programs. If so, today’s aviculturists will become tomorrow’s conservationists where many species of birds are concerned. In their hands may reside the hope of long term conservation by captive breeding. Over the past decade aviculture has matured into a science. It is a study of man’s love for the responsibility to avian life.
In order for aviculturists to maintain a captive breeding program with endangered amazons, the current restrictions must be lifted to permit the captive raised offspring to be sold. This will offset the expense incurred in a captive program and provide incentive to continue breeding large numbers of these beautiful and much sought-after amazons. I fully recognize this calls for bold new thinking. In the past conservationists have frowned on the idea of marketing these birds. But if it takes placing a monetary value on them to encourage continued captive propagation, then we must consider this alternative. Many zoos that have been successful in breeding various endangered animals have had to curtail their breeding simply because there has not been enough demand by other zoos for their captive bred offspring.
Too long we have left the aviculturists out of conservation. We must take bold and imaginative measures to incorporate and utilize their vast expertise and resources in saving these birds. By abolishing the present fear of having endangered species confiscated, the aviculturist can feel free to join the captive breeding endeavors and thus aid in keeping the stud book up to date on the various existing blood lines.
If through captive breeding we can forestall the extinction of the species, perhaps the time will come when men will learn to live and prosper together. When man is able to contact all forms of life pleasantly, with consideration, with the heart of a helper, and the mind of a student, he grows. When man evolves to his rightful heritage, other life forms will receive appropriate consideration and natural habitats may still be found where captive bred specimens can be set free and have no fear of being driven from the face of the earth. We should consider such reintroduction feasible only when man is prepared to face his responsibility toward other forms of life.
CUBA AND THE ISLE OF PINES (A. L leucocephala and A. L palmarum)
Largest of the Antilles, Cuba and the Isle of Pines are prime examples of the parrot’s habitat destruction. Bota (1957) lists only two provinces with sustaining viable populations of leucocephala; the extreme western tip of Pinar Del Rio and the opposite end of the island in Oriente Province. Ina letter (1980) Adelina Munoz, Director of the Captive Breeding Program for the Institute of Zoology, Cuba, advised me there were no longer any parrots to be found in Pinar Del Rio and none sighted in recent years on the Isle of Pines. Palmarum is therefore possible extinct in its native habitat.
This subspecies was first (World) captive bred at life Fellowship in 1975. Ourfive original specimens were cage pets, three of which were past thirty years of age when we received them. To date (1982) we have hatched and reared twenty-one young. Twelve of these are second generation captive bred. Maturity is reached in four to six years. This small flock of twenty-six specimens may represent the last hope for this brilliantly colored subspecies. They appear to be captive bred nowhere else.
The Isle of Pines has been deforested to make way for citrus groves and twenty-five schools catering to students from “Third World” countries. The nominate species is being regularly bred by us and in east European countries. Life Fellowship has the only captive breeding colony in the United States apart from one of our captive bred pairs on loan to an aviculurist.
In twenty years we have witnessed seventy-five percent of the remaining virgin forest of Cuba being destroyed. If this is the case on the largest Caribbean island, what may we expect from smaller islands, many of them looking to Cuba for their example. The Cuban Amazon is protected by law but these laws are not enforced. Young may still be purchased by visitors in market places in Havana.
GRAND CAYMAN (A. /. caymanesis) AND CAYMAN BRAG (A. /. hesterna)
Caymanensis is making its last stand in the central and eastern portion of Grand Cayman. Development is literally driving it from the islands. In 1971 when we first started our research with this parrot, it numbered approximately 400. Today its estimate is perhaps half that number of less. On small islands, sightings may easily be duplicated in different areas. It was first (World) captive bred at Life Fellowship in 1974. We have reared to maturity forty-five specimens. Eleven of these are second generation captive reared.
Hesterna inhabits the smallest land mass of any amazon. The Brac consists of approximately twenty-five square kilometers. Members of our staff and I have lived on this island for three months each in order to cover an entire year of seasonal observation. In 1974, we estimated there to be 150 specimens. In 1981 the estimate was below 45.
BONAIRE (A. barbadensis rothschildsi)
Though often not included, this subspecies from the Netherland Antilles deserves attention and should be classed as a West Indian Amazon. It is due to Rosemary Low’s research and captive breeding program with this little known parrot that many have of late become interested in obtaining specimens for breeding. Such was our case. We received our first specimens of this and the nominate species in 1979. Though we hatched three chicks in 1981, it was not until 1982 that we succeeded in a first (World) captive breeding of three of the species and one of the subspecies. The four were reared to maturity.
REASONS FOR SUCCESS
Since we innovated the suspended aviaries in 1969, we have achieved an increase in breeding success. This is partly due to the fact that his type aviary keeps the birds from acquiring parasites contacted on the ground and from the security and psychological well-being experienced by the birds that soon learn they are protected from entry into their confined world. Such security is exhibited by the fact that even wild caught birds soon tame down in the knowledge they are not going to be molested. We seldom remove a bird from its aviary more than once a year unless some emergency demands it. Today our styled aviaries are being used with success by many leading aviculturists and zoos. All have reported increased breeding results and less parasite problems.
Diet is, of course, very important and we are constantly upgrading our nutrition program which regularly includes protein in the form of cheddar cheese, eggs and dog food. A good knowledge of vitamins and minerals and the use of living foods such as sprouts, greens, and fruits, in addition to an assortment of seeds, have played an important part in keeping the birds healthy and in breeding condition.
However, one of the primary reasons for continued breeding success is privacy. We simply do not allow visitors into our breeding area. The birds readily accept those they are familiar with but become noticeable irritated and upset when a stranger enters. Another necessary ingredient is humidity. Our aviaries are located in the remnants of an old Florida rain forest which supplies the required humidity and gives the birds the necessary natural environment conducive to breeding.
Conservation by captive breeding is the only sure immediate solution to eventual extinction of endangered psittacines. We at Life Fellowship have proven a successful program of captive breeding can be implemented. There is no reason, short of closed mindedness, why these threatened birds cannot be saved if all concerned are willing to work together for the common goal of preservation.
Berry, Robert J. 1976. Precarious Perch for a Parrot, Animal Kingdom Oct./Nov., pp. 25-30. Bota, Silvia. 1957. Se Extinguen Nuestras Cotorras, Romances November, pp. 18-25.
Carraway, Patricia. 1979. The Bahaman Parrot, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 85, pp. 18-23.
English, T.M. Savage, 1916. Notes on Some of the Birds of Grand Cayman, West Indies, Ibis, pp. 17-18.
Forshaw, J.M. 1973. Parrots Of The World, Landsdowne Press, Sidney, p. 534.
Low, Rosemary. 1980. Parrots Their Care And Breeding. Blandford Press Ltd., Poole, Dorset, pp. 473-475.
Klaus,B., Wedde, U. 1981. Amazonen, Horst Muller, Verlag, Walsrode, West Germany, pp. 120-126.
Noegel, Ramon P.1974. Breeding of the Cayman Island Amazon, Avicultural Bulletin, October, pp. 17-28.
1976. The Cayman Brax Amazon, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 82, pp. 202-209.
1977. Captive Breeding of Amazons (leucocephala), Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 83, pp. 126-130.
1978. The Captive Breeding of the Isle of Pines Amazon, Aviculture Bulletin, Oct., pp. 3-10.
1979. Amazon Husbandry, The A.F.A. Watchbird, Vol. VI, No. 4, pp. 10-21.
1979. The Isle of Pines Amazon, Avicultural Magazine, Vol. 85, pp. 85-88.
1979. First Catpive Breeding of the Jamaican Blackbilled Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XIII, pp. 265-267.
1979. The Vanishing Yellow-Napes, American Cage Bird Magazine November, pp. 29-32.
1981. World First Captive Breeding of the Cayman Brac Amazon, Aviculture Bulletin, September, p. 7.
1981. Dominican Amazons, Bird World, Aug./Sept., p. 37.
1982. Rare and Endangered Amazons, The A.F.A. Watchbird, Vol. IX, No. 2, pp. 20-23.
1982. We are Hand Rearing a St. Vincent Chick, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 9, 272
1982. First Captive Breeding of the Tucuman Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 8, pp. 233-235.
Paradise, Paul R. 1979. Amazon Parrots, p. 51.
Pasquier, Paul R. 1979. 1981. Conservation of New World Parrots, Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 73-79.
Parkes, Kenneth C. 1963. Notes on some Birds from Cuba and the Isle of Pines, Annals Of Carnegie Museum, Vol. 36, pp. 129-132.
Silva, T. 1982. Comments on the H ispaniolan Amazon, The Parrot Society, Vol. XVI, No. 8, pp. 236-237.
Snyder, N., King, W., Kepler, B. 1981. Biology and Conservation of the Bahama Parrot, Living Birds, pp. 91-113.
Smith, G. A. 1981. Amazon Paarrots, The Parrot Society, Vol. XV, No. 12, pp. 333-337.