As of 2011, the Spix’s Macaw is considered “extremely endangered” and “Extinct in the Wild” – although not officially declared extinct yet due to the unlikely possibility of populations being found in unsurveyed areas.
Their decline and likely extinction in the wild has been attributed to the following:
- For decades, trappers captured adults and removed nestlings and eggs from their nests – mostly to supply the illegal bird trade. Without a doubt, this presented the most important threat to the already small wild population and irrefutably led to their extinction in the wild.
The first captive bird was recorded by Othmar Reiser at the beginning of the century. Others had left Brazil for the first time in the twenties and made their way to Europe or the USA. (Low 1972). At that time, nestlings were occasionally taken for the pet trade, and the impact on the existing populations at that time wasn’t as detrimental as those taken after the 1960s, when specialist trappers began to remove chicks out the nest systematically and, as nestlings became harder to come by, they captured the adults.
- Habitat loss and destruction caused by colonization and exploitation of the area also took a heavy toll on this parrot species. Spix’s Macaws heavily rely on a Caraiba woodland habitat with the Caribbean Trumpet Trees along the Rio São Francisco corridor for feeding and nesting. Their complete dependence on this habitat prevented the Spix’s Macaw from expanding into surrounding territories, which left them vulnerable to any disruptions in its habitat.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the building of the Sobradinho hydroelectric dam above Juazeiro could possibly have contributed significantly to this species’ decline.
Collar et. al. (1992) drew the connection between the clearing ofthe Caraiba woodlands in Pernambuco, and the subsequent disappearance of the macaws.
- African Bees: In 1957, the colonization of the macaw’s range by the introduced aggressive Africanized honey bees (also known as “Killer Bees” posed another serious threat to the already small surviving populations. They aggressively competed with the Spix’s Macaws for their nesting sites, and swarms of these bees invaded the macaws’ nesting cavities, driving nesting Spix’s Macaws out and killing the chicks. In some cases, they even killed the nesting females. These bees are being blamed, at least in part, for the low breeding yields and some of the adult losses.
- Hunting: Historically, indigenous people of Brazil hunted them for food, for their feathers, or simply for the pleasure of hunting. Even though hunting was not as much of a factor in recent history, several reports of shooting are on record. Indeed, one of the last remaining birds in 1985 was killed in this way. Even though this has not helped the situation, this is not believed one of the primary causes of their extinction.
In 1967, Brazil banned the export of its native wildlife.
From July 1st, 1975, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibited all international commercial trade in Spix’s Macaws between countries that had ratified the Convention.
Attempts were made in the past to reintroduce captive birds to rebuild population. However, no activity has been recorded since a female was released to hopefully pair up with the last remaining male in the wild in March 1995. After only seven weeks, she was electrocuted as she collided with a power line.
Considering the high monetary value of these parrots, and the high level of risk they would be exposed to, in an unfamiliar environment, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. Although, it would be a desirable goal, it requires a very high level of planning and carefully managed execution.
As of 2011, the numbers of registered captive Spix’s Macaws has increased to 75.
- 56 are kept at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation (AWWP), Qatar, Persian Gulf, Middle East (27 of which were bred in captivity)8 are kept at the Loro Parque Foundation (LPF), Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain (5 of which were bred in captivity)4 are kept at the São Paulo Zoo (SPZ), São Paulo, Brazil.3 are kept at the Lymington Foundation (LF) São Paulo, Brazil.4 are kept at the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP), Berlin, Germany (3 was bred in captivity – 2 hatched on 18th and 21st January, 2011)
Others have formally been kept (may still be, but unconfirmed):
- 20 in private collections in Brazil18 in private collection in northern Switzerland4 at Walsrode Birdpark (Germany)4 in private collection in the Philippines4 in private collection in Qatar1 at Naples Zoo (Italy)Others have been reported to be kept in the United States, Japan, Portugal and Yugoslavia.
It is suspected that up to 120 individuals may exist, if one includes any that are potentially maintained in private collections – the exact number of which is obviously unknown. However, what is certain is that these last surviving Spix’s Macaws are amongst the most valuable and protected birds in the world.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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Spix’s Macaws: The mystery of the last wild Spix’s Macaw
The “Lonely Little Blue Macaw* – the last known survivor in the wild
Since 2001, the South American Spix Macaw is considered by many to be extinct in the wild primarily attributed to the fact that these valuable birds were captured for the illegal bird trade. In the 20th Century, wealthy collectors paid up to $40,000 for them on the black market. Nowadays, captive birds are worth several times that amount.
Destruction of their preferred habitat also contributed to their declines.
The reviting story of this last wild “blue macaw” inspired the animated movie “Rio,” in which the main characters “Blu” (the male) and “Jewel” (the last female to have survived in the wild) are paired up to save the species from extinction. Even though these parrots are referred to as “blue macaws” throughout the movie, the ornithologist Túlio Monteiro mentions this species’ scientific name once.
The mystery of the last wild Spix’s Macaw
The last surviving Spix’s Macaw lived in a little area of woodland in a place called “the Melncia Creek” in north-eastern Brazil, where this species of parrot appeared to have been particularly attached to the tall caraiaba trees that grew along the creeks.
DNA feather testing executed by the Oxford University determined that the last survivor was indeed a male, as had been assumed. This male Spix had paired up with a female Blue-winged or Illiger’s Mini Macaw (Primolius maracana).
Paul Roth noted that the male would escort his mate each night back to her roosting site, before returning to his own.
Subsequent rescue efforts involved re-uniting the last wild male with a female of his species to avert imminent extinction of this species. One captive female believed to have been part of this male’s former flock was released in the area where the lone male was found. Soon the female and male Spix’s Macaws, as well as the female Blue-winged were seen flying together. Unfortunately, the released female Spix’s Macaw perished without yielding any young as had been hoped.
At the end of 2000, the last living survivor in the wild had disappeared — and even though the official story was that he had likely perished because of “old age” or possibly had fallen victim to predation; there are rumors of him having been captured in response to an order having been placed for him by a wealthy Middle Eastern bird collector.
Others blame his loss to mining activities that had been authorized and commenced in its native range. The resulting disturbances could have prompted him to leave the area.
The possibility of the mining activities having caused his loss was vehemently denied by Brazilian authorities, likely because they didn’t want to be linked to the loss of something that had grown to be a national treasure by authorizing the mining activities within its home range.
Since he disappeared while the mining activities and associated infrastructure changes were going on, one could also raise the question whether members of the incoming workforce either hunted or captured him. Nobody really knows …
The mystery of what happened to the last surviving macaw may never be known. He has been the focus of conservation groups for a decade; and has piqued the interest and imagination of so many people that a movie was inspired by him and an entire book was written about him, as well as countless news articles.
Whatever happened to the “lonely little blue macaw” (as he was commonly referred to) is likely to remain a mystery.
The small number of surviving birds kept in captivity are amongst the most valuable and protected birds in the world.
Please refer to the Spix Macaw species page (Overview) for information on numbers and conservation.