Jurong Bird Park helping to save rare blue macaws

The three parrot species native to Singapore are (clockwise from left)  the long-tailed parakeet, the blue-crowned hanging parrot and the critically endangered blue-rumped parrot.
The three parrot species native to Singapore are (clockwise from left) the long-tailed parakeet, the blue-crowned hanging parrot and the critically endangered blue-rumped parrot. PHOTOS: FRANCIS YAP, LEE TIAH KHEE

Two new species from Brazil part of push to raise public awareness, help in breeding programme

There are new birds at the Jurong Bird Park and they have come a long way from home.

The Brazilian natives - the Spix's macaw and the Lear's macaw - are members of the blue macaw family and facing the threat of extinction.

But the Singapore park is doing its part to help conserve these blue-feathered creatures.

Last year, the park signed a memorandum of understanding with five other conservation institutions to conserve the Spix's macaw - which is most at risk of extinction of all the existing blue macaw species - by establishing a breeding-and-release facility in Brazil.

The park has also committed funding over five years for the Spix's macaw reintroduction project at a site in Curaca, Brazil.

"The funds go towards the development of a secure facility that will comprise a veterinary hospital, a number of breeding-and-release aviaries, and will also go into supporting the running of the facility once it is built," said a spokesman.

From next Wednesday, visitors to Jurong Bird Park will get to learn more about this conservation effort when its new Parrot Paradise exhibit opens.

Visitors will get to see all three existing species of blue macaws at the exhibit specially constructed to welcome the new arrivals.

  • Singapore's native parrot species

  • From next Wednesday, visitors to Jurong Bird Park can see all three species of birds in the blue macaw family. But parrots can be found in the wild in Singapore too, and there are three native species here.

    BLUE-CROWNED HANGING PARROT

    This species is popular in the international bird trade, and is considered endangered in Singapore. It can be found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

    LONG-TAILED PARAKEET

    Commonly found in places such as Pulau Ubin and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, this parakeet travels in parties of 20 birds or more, and has a high-pitched screech. It also has a distinctive blunt head and a long pointed tail.

    BLUE-RUMPED PARROT

    This species is considered critically endangered in Singapore and can be found only in the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves.

    SOURCES: NPARKS FLORA AND FAUNA WEB

The two critically endangered Spix's macaws and four endangered Lear's macaws that will be on display arrived in Singapore earlier this month, joining the 15 hyacinth macaws already in Jurong Bird Park's collection.

With their arrival, Jurong Bird Park has become the only zoological park in the world where visitors can see all three existing species of the blue macaw family.

The glaucous macaw - the last member of the blue macaw family - is believed to be extinct.

The Lear's and hyacinth macaws have feathers in similar shades of bright blue, although their yellow eye patches are of different shapes.

The Spix's macaw, on the other hand, is cloaked in feathers of a dusty blue hue.

Jurong Bird Park received a Spix's macaw and two Lear's macaws from Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar, and the same from the Germany-based Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots.

In the wild, however, the Lear's and Spix's macaws can be found only in Brazil, while the hyacinth macaws can be found only in three countries in South America.

The Lear's and Spix's macaws are here in Singapore on a 10-year loan, and are making their debut in Jurong Bird Park as part of the golden jubilee of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Singapore.

They will be moved to Mandai when the bird park is relocated there by 2021, to join the other wildlife parks, including the Singapore Zoo.

To prepare for their arrival, the Jurong Bird Park in July sent two animal care staff to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots to learn about the care and husbandry of the blue macaws.

Refurbishment works for the new Parrot Paradise exhibit also started in August this year.

But even as the birds are welcomed in Singapore to much fanfare, their very existence is threatened in the wild, due to factors such as habitat loss and poaching.

For one thing, parrots mate for life, and produce small clutches of one to three eggs each time, said Ms Angelin Lim, assistant curator at the Jurong Bird Park and one of two trained handlers of the blue macaws.

"They also do not build nests, but make homes out of holes in the trees. That is another reason why the loss of natural habitats could affect them negatively."

The Spix's macaw, which inspired the Rio movie series, depends on specific trees to nest and roost. So when natural groves of Tabebuia caraiba were cleared in Brazil's arid north, it drove the species to the brink of extinction.

The Spix's macaw is now believed to be extinct in the wild, with about 150 of them left under human care in the world.

Lear's macaws, on the other hand, are dependent on the seed of licuri palm trees, and roost and nest in the sandstone cliffs in Bahia, Brazil. The loss of habitat affects their main source of food - the licuri palm trees.

Similarly, the hyacinth macaw is naturally found in savannah-like habitats and feeds on specific palms found only in the area.

The Lear's macaws are here in Singapore as part of a conservation breeding programme.

The two female Spix's macaws on display, however, are here as "conservation ambassadors" to highlight how poaching and the illegal pet trade could decimate a species. Eggs and chicks of the Lear's macaw, for example, are often poached and sent as pets to Europe and Asia.

"The birds are conservation ambassadors, which help to bridge conservation institutions with members of the public, who may otherwise not have much exposure to the birds or their threats," said Dr Jessica Lee, conservation and research manager at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs Jurong Bird Park.

Mr Cromwell Purchase, director and blue macaw co-ordinator from the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, said Jurong Bird Park is one of the larger wildlife parks in the world dedicated to birds.

"Having the Spix's macaws in Singapore as conservation ambassadors will help to increase public awareness of the efforts and steps being taken to bring them back from the brink of extinction."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Jurong Bird Park helping to save rare blue macaws'. Print Edition | Subscribe