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January 14, 2010

Parrot Rescue

Humane Society International

  • Baby red-lored Amazon parrots arrive at ARCAS. Fernando Martinez/ARCAS

  • A red-lored Amazon parrot gets a health check-up. Fernando Martinez/ARCAS

  • A red-lored Amazon parrot gets a health check-up as it grows older. Fernando Martinez/ARCAS

  • Red-lored Amazon parrots enjoy a meal. Fernando Martinez/ARCAS

A nestful of beautiful red-lored Amazon (Amazona autumnalis) parrots were resting quietly in the Guatemalan forest when loud voices were heard from below. The tranquility of the forest was broken by a group of poachers, coming to snatch the parrots from their nest to be sold into the illegal pet trade.

Due to high demand for parrots as pets, wild populations of the Red-lored parrot have decreased substantially and the species is now considered threatened. These magnificent parrots are often snatched from their parents, drugged and shoved brutally into cardboard boxes, before being smuggled through Central America, destined for the illegal pet market in the United States. Many of the hatchlings are suffocated or trampled to death as the smugglers jam more and more hatchlings into the small box before loading it onto the back of a truck and taking the birds north.

Rescue and rehabilitation

Happily, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Guatemalan Environmental Police these particular parrot smugglers were intercepted, and the rescued parrot chicks were given a second chance at life at the ARCAS Wildlife Rescue Center in Petén, Guatemala. HSI has been working closely with ARCAS since 2003 to build animal care facilities and enclosures to rehabilitate and return these threatened species back to the forests. Unfortunately, many of the parrot chicks did not survive the abusive practices of the smugglers. Those who did had very few feathers and were severely dehydrated when they arrived at the rescue center.

Once they were in the loving arms of the center staff, the parrots were examined by veterinarians and then moved to the neonatal section of the quarantine zone. The chicks were cared for hourly and hand-fed to nurse them back to health. Once the chicks regained their strength and began to develop feathers, they were moved to rehabilitation enclosures and marked with identification rings to permit post-release monitoring. During this phase of rehabilitation, the parrots learned how to feed themselves and began to develop wing and muscle strength. 

Adaptation and release

Eventually, it was time for the birds to say farewell to their daily caretakers, and they transitioned into pre-release enclosures, isolated from humans, so they could learn not to approach people and thereby increase their chances for survival in the wild. In these bird flight enclosures, the parrots fed from native trees and formed social groups of 10 to 12 birds. After many months of adapting to the natural environment and building bonds with other parrots, the rescue center staff decided that the parrots, once condemned to a life in captivity, were now ready to be returned to the wild.

The wildlife rescue center staff worked closely with the government and local universities to select an appropriate release site which would help reinforce existing populations of red-lored parrots. The site was selected, and on a gloriously sunny day in November 2009, the once weak and injured parrots, now almost completely unrecognizable with their brilliant feathers and strong sturdy bodies, were loaded onto a rescue center vehicle. Destination: the forests of Petén, Guatemala. The crates were unloaded and the hinged doors swung open, revealing a sudden flash of vibrant colors and feathers. The birds flew in a magnificent flock to nearby fruit trees and began to call to one another and take in all the splendor of the forest. The parrots once condemned to a life of isolation and captivity were now free to live the way nature intended. The birds will be closely monitored by rescue center staff to document their long-term success at breeding and adapting to their new surroundings. The red-lored parrots are now thriving in the forests of Petén.