Native parrots of Luzon, Philippines

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Searching for native parrots in Luzon, the main northern island of the Philippines, is definitely no picnic. The person who can most attest to this is Dr. Carmela Española, a feisty Philippine field researcher from the University of the Philippines who has been leading a project over the last three years to accumulate information vital for the conservation of these parrots. This project, in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, has been funded by the Loro Parque Fundación and includes other forest birds important for the dispersal of fruit, notably pigeons and hornbills. Carmela’s results predict a long-term collapse of fruit-eating bird communities across Luzon if appropriate safe-guards are not put in place. As a speaker at the VIII. International Parrot Convention in September 2014, Carmela will give a presentation about the worrying situation.

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Good news for the Philippine Cockatoo

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In April we told you about the dangers that the Philippine Cockatoo was facing. Today we write this to share the good news: the local government is against the construction of the power plant that would put this critically endangered animal under heavy risk.

In a major development to protect the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) from potential catastrophe, on June 11th the legislature of the Municipality of Narra officially declared its opposition (Resolution 2013-1935) to the construction of a coal-fired power-plant within its district of Panacan. The DMCI Power Corporation has declared its intention to construct the power-plant only one kilometre away from the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary, which holds 25% of the world’s population of approximately 1,000 birds of this endemic Philippine species.

Since the end of the 1990’s, the Rasa population has increased ten-fold due to the conservation programme run by the Philippine-based Katala Foundation and local communities, with support from the Loro Parque Fundación of Spain, Chester Zoo, UK, CEPA (Conservation des Espèces et des Populations Animales) and Asociación Beauval de Conservation et Recherche, France and ZGAP (Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations), Germany.

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The Narra Municipality Resolution recognises the negative direct and indirect effects of a coal-fired power plant on the survival of the Philippine Cockatoo, and cites other potential problems including harm to health. It concludes that the measures the government has already invested in environmental protection in the region far outweigh the purported economic benefits and opportunities related to a coal-fired power plant.

Furthermore, the Resolution castigates the DMCI Power Corporation for its negligence in observing the procedures required for such a development. Specifically, the DMCI representatives have not been able to extensively discuss, present of even provide copy of the Initial Environment Examination Report, nor concrete mitigating measures for environmental and health impacts. The Resolution notes that the Local Government Code of 1991 tasks the Municipality of Narra to enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology.

Conserva­tion Programme – Philippine Cockatoo

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Formerly found throughout the Philippine archipelago, the endemic Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) is close to extinction due to large-scale habitat loss and intense poaching activities. There are estimated to be a maximum of 1,245 individuals, but could well be less than 1,000, with the largest remaining populations today found on Palawan and adjacent smaller islands. a

The long-term goal of the Philippine Cockatoo Conserva­tion Programme (PCCP) is the down-listing of the species from ‘Critically Endangered’, and the main strategy of the programme is to conserve in-situ its remaining viable subpopulations. This is through technical conservation measures, like nest protection, and through active participation and understanding of the local population, especially local decision-makers. Warden schemes remain the single-most important tool to assure the short-term survival and recovery of the species, whereas lobbying, conservation education, habitat restoration and reintroduction, as well as provision of alternative livelihood options are important for the long-term improvement of the conditions for cockatoo conservation in the Philippines.

For 14 years the Loro Parque Fundación has been supporting the Philippine NGO, the Katala Foundation, with a total of US$1.365.168 to run the PCCP. It has done this in partnership with Chester Zoo, the Zoological Society for the Preservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), Conservation des Espèces et des Populations Animales (CEPA) and Association Beauval Conservation & Recherche.

Due to the success of this project, the overall population may now be slowly increasing. Between 1999 and 2003, the activities of the PCCP focused on the small offshore island of Rasa and the nearby mainland community of Narra in eastern Palawan. A community-based wardening scheme on Rasa Island, which has the densest cockatoo population known to remain, ensures that no nests are poached. The project has initiated a slow withdrawal to transfer responsibility to a local conservation group. The other important locations in Palawan where the PCCP has been working for some years are the island of Dumaran, the Culasian Managed Resource Protected Area in the district of Rizal, and the islands of Pandanan, at the southern tip of Palawan in the district of Balabac.

Helping the Blue-throated Macaw

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Conservation Project of May

The beautiful Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis) is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN. Continuously since 1995 the LPF has maintained a partnership with the Bolivian NGO, Armonía, to save this macaw, found only in the department of Beni in north­ern Bolivia. Even though individuals of the Blue-throated Macaw had been coming into captivity through trade in the 1979s and 1980s, the geographical location of the species in the wild was only scientifically described in 1992.

The species in the wild was immediately diagnosed as very threatened, with a tiny population and restricted range, and with habitat destruction and disturbance, potential illegal pet trade and hunting for feathers as the main threats. The species presents a conserva­tion challenge, because it is very sparsely distributed over a large territory of lowland, grassy plains which are seasonally flooded each year. Interspersed in these plains are ‘palm islands’, slightly raised areas on which forest can grow, dominated by the Motacú palm (Attalea phalerata), which is important for feeding and nesting of the macaw.

Each year the project has undertaken surveys to locate this species over the vast plains of “Llanos de Moxos”, extending westwards the known distribution of the species from the population east of the Rio Mamore. As recently as the year 2000, the lowest estimate of the wild population was of only 36 birds, but as a result of our project, by 2013 it had increased to 350, possibly more. In 2007, at a poorly accessible site of ten cattle ranches west of Santa Ana, the project team found the highest density of Blue-throated Macaws ever recorded. Two ranches (each about 3,000 ha) shared a roost of 70 Blue-throated Macaws, with other ranches holding flocks of 12-17 individuals. This discovery led Armonía to acquire to 5,500 ha land which is now the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. It is currently in the process of expansion to 11,000 ha. The protection of the species in the reserve can be secured, and the project can undertake aspects of research and conservation that were not possible on other private lands.

Ara glaucogularis Project Summary File_Jan2013

Helping an endangered migratory bird: the Swift Parrot

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International Migratory Bird Day 2013 occurs on the weekend of 11th and 12th of May, and to contribute to this important event the Loro Parque Fundación is supporting a project to help the world’s most migratory psittacine, the Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor).

An adult Swift parrot on average weighs 75g, a little more than two typical-sized letters. Nevertheless, some individuals travel up to 5,000 kilometres between their breeding sites in Tasmania and their wintering grounds in mainland south-east Australia. Unfortunately the Swift Parrot is now an endangered species, with a total population of 1,500-4,000 individuals. Like so many other parrot species, the main threat to the Swift Parrot is habitat loss, fragmentation and alteration, which is taking place both within breeding and wintering habitats.

swift parrot juvenile_Dejan Stojanovic_blog

Dejan Stojanovic photograph.

To obtain essential information for the effective conservation of this endangered species, the project is researching its breeding biology and migratory behaviour. The project has several objectives, including to document the parrot’s biology and ecology in relation to land management practices, especially forestry. It is being carried out by Prof. Robert Heinsohn of the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and his team-members, Dr Debra Saunders and Dejan Stojanovic. In addition to the project being financially supported by the Loro Parque Fundación and the Australian Research Council, contributions to the project in various forms are coming from Sydney and Charles Sturt Universities, CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, Bush Heritage Australia, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Waters and Environment, the Royal Zoological Society of South Australia, Inc, and the Forest Practices Authority.

swift parrot at nest entrance_Dejan Stojanovic_blog

Dejan Stojanovic photograph.

The researchers have found that all Swift Parrot nests are located in tree-cavities with very specific characteristics, and that they are very vulnerable to an arboreal mammal that was introduced to Tasmania. A later important phase of the project will be to track the parrots remotely over long distances to discover how they locate food sources and other resources. The tracking will use highly innovative technology, never before used in this way.

Conserva­tion Programme – Philippine Cockatoo

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Formerly found throughout the Philippine archipelago, the endemic Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) is close to extinction due to large-scale habitat loss and intense poaching activities. There are estimated to be a maximum of 1,245 individuals, but could well be less than 1,000, with the largest remaining populations today found on Palawan and adjacent smaller islands. a

The long-term goal of the Philippine Cockatoo Conserva­tion Programme (PCCP) is the down-listing of the species from ‘Critically Endangered’, and the main strategy of the programme is to conserve in-situ its remaining viable subpopulations. This is through technical conservation measures, like nest protection, and through active participation and understanding of the local population, especially local decision-makers. Warden schemes remain the single-most important tool to assure the short-term survival and recovery of the species, whereas lobbying, conservation education, habitat restoration and reintroduction, as well as provision of alternative livelihood options are important for the long-term improvement of the conditions for cockatoo conservation in the Philippines.

For 14 years the Loro Parque Fundación has been supporting the Philippine NGO, the Katala Foundation, with a total of US$1.365.168 to run the PCCP. It has done this in partnership with Chester Zoo, the Zoological Society for the Preservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), Conservation des Espèces et des Populations Animales (CEPA) and Association Beauval Conservation & Recherche.

Due to the success of this project, the overall population may now be slowly increasing. Between 1999 and 2003, the activities of the PCCP focused on the small offshore island of Rasa and the nearby mainland community of Narra in eastern Palawan. A community-based wardening scheme on Rasa Island, which has the densest cockatoo population known to remain, ensures that no nests are poached. The project has initiated a slow withdrawal to transfer responsibility to a local conservation group. The other important locations in Palawan where the PCCP has been working for some years are the island of Dumaran, the Culasian Managed Resource Protected Area in the district of Rizal, and the islands of Pandanan, at the southern tip of Palawan in the district of Balabac.

Developing a new Insemination Technique

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A research collaboration between the Loro Parque Fundación of Tenerife, Spain and the University of Giessen in Germany is using a new technique to help the recovery of the Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), a species that is almost certainly extinct in the wild since the year 2000. The species still exists in captivity, although there are less than 80 individuals within the recovery programme overseen by the Brazilian Government, and reproduction within this population is slow.

The main objective of the project is to increase the number of young birds being recruited to the population, by the use of sperm collection and artificial insemination (AI). Although successful in humans, many other mammals, and some other types of birds, sperm collection and AI in parrots have had very limited success. However, the use of this new technique shows very promising results, and hopefully will lead to an improved breeding success in this incredibly rare macaw.

The initial phase of the project started in 2009/2010, during which time the technique was successful for the first time in collecting sperm from this species, in the Spix’s Macaw Breeding Centre of the Loro Parque Fundación in Tenerife. There are nine macaws on loan from the Brazilian Government, which gave its permission for this technique to be tested. As yet no successful AI has taken place, but the technique will also be used elsewhere, especially at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation centre in Qatar, which has more Spix’s Macaws to include in the trials.

During the same period, and using the new technique, there was successful semen collection and AI performed in over 100 species of large species in the Loro Parque Fundación’s collection of parrots, the world’s largest and most diverse. It is a significant step for species conservation efforts, and this pioneering first phase now acts as an excellent foundation for establishing a method for cryopreservation (frozen storage) so as to establish a parrot sperm bank.