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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Two Rare Macaws Get Federal Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - Two macaws found in Central and South American now have federal Endangered Species Act protection in an attempt to curb poaching and illegal trade. The great green macaw and the military macaw are now listed as endangered species under the ESA due to habitat loss and fragmentation, small population size, and poaching. Both species are at risk of extinction throughout their ranges.

These two species are similar in appearance, but the great green macaw, at 30 to 35 inches long, is larger than the military macaw, which grows to about 28 inches. The fruit eating great green macaw, found primarily in Central America and northern South America, has a smaller population size at an estimated 3,000 birds compared to the military macaw's estimated population of 13,000 individuals. The seed-eating military macaw is mainly found in Mexico and South America.

The Friends of Animals, as represented by the Environmental Law Clinic, University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008 that requested listing for 14 species of parrots. The agency found that 12 of the 14 species warranted a status review to determine if listing was appropriate.

A court-approved settlement agreement in 2010 between the agency and the Friends of Animals, WildEarth Guardians and the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic, mandated that the Service provide overdue 12-month listing decisions for the 12 remaining parrot species in the Friends of Animals' original petition. An extension was granted for the date mandated for the last four species, so three proposed rules for the great green macaw with the military macaw, the hyacinth macaw and the scarlet macaw were not published until July 2012.

Habitat loss due to conversion of forests to agriculture reduces and fragments the range for these birds. "Conversion of habitat to soy plantations is now considered to be one of the principal causes of Amazon deforestation," the agency said. The added stress of pet trade poaching on small, isolated populations remains a concern.

In poorer countries, poaching for the pet trade is a problem for species in the parrot family, such as these beautiful macaws. "In 2006, four military macaws were advertised for sale with an average sale price of $850. Although the scope of the illegal trade in the military macaw is unknown, poaching can be a lucrative and relatively risk-free source of income," the agency noted in the 2012 proposed rule.

"ESA protection is key for foreign species taken from their homes for the pet trade," Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a response to the proposed rule. "Demand for these attractive, intelligent, and vocal birds in countries including the U.S. has driven extensive poaching in their home ranges. ESA protection is a further deterrent to trade and supports conservation efforts in these birds' home countries."

Although many individuals, governments and non-governmental organizations have worked to conserve these birds, their populations continue to decline. Because these species both occur outside the borders of the United States, the effects of listing under the ESA pertain mainly to the issues involved with illegal trade of the birds. Once the new regulation becomes effective, permits will be required to import or export these birds in to or out of the U.S., to harm or kill the birds, or for interstate or foreign commerce.

"By regulating these activities, the ESA ensures that U.S. citizens and individuals subject to the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of these species," the agency said.

The final rule is effective Nov. 2.

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