The Lears Macaw has a highly restricted natural range and is considered at risk of extinction. It was previously listed as Critically Endangered by Birdlife International (CITES I), based on a drastic historical decline in its population due to the following:
- Trapping for the Rare Bird Trade
- In 1992 – 1995, about 20 birds were caught and sold to smugglers from the Toca Velha / Serra Branca region.
- In 1996, at least 19 of these parrots were captured.
- Habitat Destruction / Conversion:
- Their natural habitat that includes their major food source, the Licurí palm-stands, had been vastly reduced by grazing lifestock as they trample young plams (up to 8 years), and often don’t recover from those injuries.
- Continued human encroachment further reduces available habitat.
- Natural disasters, such as a wild fire, could devastate the remaining habitat.
- Locals have historically hunted them for their meat and feathers.
- These parrots are known feed on maize crops when palm nuts are scarce and have been shot by farmers because of it.
However, in 2009, this species has been downgraded to “Endangered” based on the yearly population count at the Toca Velha and Serra Branca roosting sites, which estimated the population at that time to be close to 1000 individuals.
The reasons for this apparent recovery are likely to be intensive conservation actions, as well as the possibility of improved survey methods.
Trade of this species is illegal in Brazil, and only few of them occur outside of that country. Most of those that exist outside of Brazil are in cooperative breeding programs with Brazilian wildlife authorities.
This species is also listed on the Endangered Species list in the United States, which prohibits transfers within states without permits.
Wild Population Numbers:
1987: 70 birds
1994: 140 birds
2000: 150 birds
2001: 246 birds
2003: 455 birds
2004: 400 – 500 birds
2006: 630 birds
July 2007: 751 birds – as reported by the American Bird Conservancy and Fundação Biodiversitas
2008: 960 birds
There are only 43 Lear’s Macaws registered in the studbook as maintained in captivity. Most of them were confiscated by the authorities from illegal traders and are kept in zoological institutes in Brazil.
Most captive specimen are, however, old and breeding successes are rare, except for a few exceptions …
- Florida, USA:
- In June 1982, a female from Bush Gardens, Tampa, Florida and a male from Parrot Jungle in Miami produced 2 young in Bush Gardens. One chick was taken to Bush Gardens and successfully raised by Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Scherr — the owners of Parrot Jungle. The other young was reared by the parents, but did not survive.1983: Two young hached but did not survive. Two more chicks hatched on the 27th and 29th of June and were also successfully handraised by Mr. and Mrs. Scherr.
- In June 2007, Loro Parque Fundación in Tenerife issued a press release about their first sensational breeding success in Europe of Lear’s Macaw. A Lear’s Macaw chick was hatched underneath an experienced pair of Green-winged Macaws. The chick weighed only 20 grams (0.7 oz) and was successfully raised by its foster parents and was named “Edward.” This egg was produced by one of the two pairs that the Brazilian wildlife conservation authority IBAMA delivered to the Loro Parque Fundación in November 2006, as part of an international breeding program for the Lear’s Macaw.
- Middle East:
- In 2010, two female Lear’s Macaw chicks were hatched at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar (scroll up for image). Adult Lear’s Macaws were previously legally transferred to them from the São Paulo Zoo to help in the establishment of a genetic reserve for the Lear’s Macaw in captivity.
However, over last couple of decades its numbers increased due to major conservation efforts (including the protection of its favorite feeding tree) that have been successfully implemented.
Current conservation projects are managed under the authority of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Renewable Resources). They are advised by the Committee For The Conservation And Management Of The Lear’s Macaw. Qualified Brazilian and international organizations and individuals are invited to participate in this program as determined by the IBAMA.
- The illegal trapping for the rare-bird trade present the most significant immediate conservation concern for their survival
- Improved protection of the breeding sites (surveillance / guarding) and the infiltration of trading networks resulted in the arrests of poachers, smugglers and collectors.
- Protection of the licurí palm trees (Syagrus coronata): These parrots are completely dependant on the availability of the licurí palm trees, as their fruit make up most of their diet.
- A conservation program to protect this palm tree has been established to grow, plant and fence 50,000 licurí palm seedlings.
- Increasing the number of Lear’s Macaws while making most of the limited genetic diversity afforded by the small surviving population: Protecting these birds in the wild from further reduction of their numbers and making most of the captive population by means of cooperative breeding programs will be vital in the long-term survival of this species.
- Preventing the hunting / persecution in the wild: Historically, farmers considered these parrots as agricultural pests as they fed on their crops. In order to stop the practice of shooting or poisoning these parrots. In 2007, Parrots International and the Lymington Foundation signed management agreements with key landowners have been signed in 2007 – part of this agreement included a corn replacement scheme for the farmers.
- An extensive program to educate the locals of the value of these parrots has also prompted a change in attitude towards these rare birds. The local population that previously hunted them for pleasure or material gain now regards these birds with pride and respect.