By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Blue and Gold macaws were once plentiful in Trinidad. But the largest and showiest of parrots were nearly wiped out on this island nation just off Venezuela in the 1960s, because of the pet trade and destruction of land where they made homes.
Today, the highly intelligent bird is making a comeback in Trinidad, in part because of work done by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
A program to reintroduce the bird to Trinidad's protected Nariva Swamp was spearheaded by the zoo in 1999. Zoo workers helped write grant proposals to pay for the program.
They also trained local residents to document the bird's flight patterns inside the 15,000-acre wetland as well as document and inspect nesting sites and monitor the birds' food sources.
Nine wild adults have produced 12 chicks so far from the program. Last week, zoo officials helped in the release of an additional 20 macaws.
Terri Roth, vice president of animal sciences at the zoo, said the reintroduction of macaws to Trinidad is important, even though the birds are not considered an endangered species.
"This is a species Trinidad once had but lost," Roth said. "The program is a flagship for conservation in Trinidad. It's a project the locals have embraced, so the idea of just getting the community excited about conserving their wildlife is important because there is an abundance of wildlife there that needs to be protected."
Roth added that many species of parrots are endangered, and reintroduction of the Blue and gold macaw in Trinidad is being used as a model for other species of parrots around the world.
Conservation is a cornerstone of the Cincinnati Zoo's mission and its Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife.
John Dinon, director of animal conservation for the zoo, said the birds may not be endangered worldwide, but they are in Trinidad.
"The birds are important to maintain the balance of the ecosystem in Trinidad and, more practically, to raise awareness of conservation issues there," Dinon said.
Lifespan: 70 to 90 years.
Diet: Leaves, seeds, fruits, nuts, mealworms.
Habitat: Lives close to water in forests, savannahs, open country and swamps in regions up to 1,500 feet, in pairs or flocks. Nests in holes
of dead palm trees.
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