Eye in the Sky Tracks Macaws on the Wing

Released: 2-Aug-2007 2:25 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Wildlife Conservation Society
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Newswise — Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have succeeded in placing satellite collars on wild parrots for the first time ever, allowing the scientists to track the birds across the wild landscape of Guatemala with earth-orbiting spacecraft.

In conjunction with the Loro Parque Foundation, Texas A&M University, Amigos de los Aves-USA, North Star Science and Technology, and the US Agency for International Development, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society's Guatemala Program recently succeeded in fitting two adult scarlet macaws with satellite tracking (Platform Terminal Transmitter, PTT) collars in an effort to learn more about the habitat use and migration patterns of the birds. Two macaws were captured in the La Corona region of the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatamala, and released on the 27th of June and the 4th of July, respectively.

"We know where these birds nest, but we have no idea where they go and how they use the surrounding landscape for the rest of the year," said WCS-affiliated researcher Dr. Robin Bjork. "The collars will enable us to track these wide-ranging birds and help inform management strategies to protect the species in Guatemala."

The researchers are already receiving data from the collars, with positions obtained by satellite and sent to the field station computers. The collars are expected to last for 9 months, which should generate the data needed to illuminate the mysterious nonbreeding season habitat use, and habitat requirements of the scarlet macaw in Guatemala.

WCS researchers are hopeful that they will be able to capture the collared birds during the 2008 nesting season to remove the collars. If recapture is not possible, the collars have "rustable" nuts that increase likelihood the devices will decay and eventually fall off.

The scarlet macaw is a denizen of the humid, riparian forests of Latin America, ranging from Mexico down to the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon. The primary threats to the species are habitat destruction and the pet trade. The scarlet macaw is currently listed on Appendix I of CITIES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species). In Guatemala, some 300 individuals persist in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, a stronghold for the population.

The Wildlife Conservation Society recently announced that it will invest $3 million over the next five years to the Maya Biosphere Reserve, important for not only scarlet macaws but other wildlife as well as important archeological sites. The funding is aimed at creating a conservation network called the "Mesa Multisectorial Para el Area Natural y Cultural de El Mirador-Rio Azul," which will span more than 3,800 square miles—an area larger than Yellowstone National Park—as well as provide funding for El Mirador-Rio Azul National Park.


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