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Return to Freedom! (Retorno a la libertad!) Captive-bred Puerto Rican Parrots released in El Yunque


June 28, 2000 Contact:

Tom MacKenzie (FWS) 404/909-2243

Blanca I. Ruiz (Forest Service) 787/888-5611

Astrid Gree DNER (PR) 787/724-8774,Ext. 258

Ada Cortes (Media Liasion) 787/510-0831


For the first time in history, ten captive-bred endangered Puerto Rican parrots were released yesterday to join the last 40 parrots existing in the wild.

The release into the Caribbean National Forest of Puerto Rico is the result of a 32-year combined effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, to help bring this species back from the brink of extinction.

"This is a great step forward for recovery," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "While much work remains, this proves that if people work together we can help save endangered species, and in particular, the magnificent Puerto Rican parrot. The Service is committed to continuing cooperative management of the Puerto Rican Parrot recovery program, and has proposed to establish a National Wildlife Refuge in the karst zone of north-central Puerto Rico, which could serve as a site for establishment of a second wild population of parrots."

The Secretary of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Honorable Daniel Pagan-Rosa, today represented the Governor of Puerto Rico, who is out of the country, at the official release ceremony at the El Portal Visitor Center in El Yunque Forest. Pagan-Rosa stated that "for the first time, the coordinated effort of Commonwealth and Federal agencies have made possible the reintroduction of this Puerto Rican species into the wild."

"The Puerto Rican government is committed to increasing its efforts to release additional individuals of this species," said Pagan Rosa. "During the next fiscal year, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources will begin a land acquisition program in the karst zone, specifically the area adjacent to the Rio Abajo Forest, which in the future will become the second release site of Amazona vittata - our Puerto Rican Parrot."

Pagan-Rosa also indicated that the Department proposes to increase its efforts by hiring a technician specializing in aviculture.

"The release of the ten captive-reared Puerto Rican Parrots marks a milestone in our long journey to recovery of this species," said Hilda Diaz-Soltero, Associate Chief, U.S. Forest Service. "This journey has occurred thanks to the hard and dedicated work of so many biologists, aviculturists, veterinarians, managers, and members of the Interagency Committee and the Recovery Team. This release initiates an aggressive recovery action that could finally bolster the parrot population above precariously low levels. The methods used for this release will be utilized to establish the second population of parrots in the karst forests of north-central Puerto Rico. The release program reaffirms my confidence in the ability of our managers and scientists to protect and conserve our natural resources."

When the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico called the Puerto Rican parrot ( Amazona vittata) Iguaca, a name that resembles the sounds of their take-off squawks, the bird was abundant and wide-spread throughout Puerto Rico and Culebra. They were so common the Indians used them as pets and food. Now it is considered to be one of the most endangered birds in the world.

Largely emerald green with a red forehead, white rim around the eyes and blue feathers along the edges of the wings, the parrot is less than a foot tall, and is one of the smallest members of its genus. They mate for life, reproducing once a year, between January and July, and are cavity nesters, predominantly using Palo Colorado (Cyrilla racemiflora) trees. The availability of suitable nesting cavities may be one of the main factors currently limiting the species' recovery.

By the 1930's, the Puerto Rican Parrot population was estimated at 2,000 individuals. Between 1953 and 1956, when Don Antonio Rodríguez Vidal conducted the first scientific study of this endemic bird, the population had dropped to 200 birds. Habitat loss from deforestation, as well as hurricanes, hunting, nest robbing, and natural enemies, such as the red-tailed hawk and pearly-eyed thrasher, caused the drastic decline of the species.

In 1967, it was listed as an endangered species when only 24 individuals remained in the wild. The population of parrots reached an all-time alarming low in 1975 when only 13 birds were left in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico.

Without the intensive work carried out for the past 32 years by the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program the parrot would, in all probability, be extinct today. There are 103 captive birds in two aviaries that provide a sustainable source of parrots for release into the wild to bolster the current wild population, as well as for the eventual reestablishment of a second population elsewhere in Puerto Rico. In addition to having lead responsibility for managing the species in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages one aviary in El Yunque. Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources manages the other, the José L. Vivaldi aviary, at the Río Abajo Commonwealth Forest. Impacts of recent hurricanes such as Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998) clearly indicate the importance of augmenting the wild Puerto Rican parrot population as soon as possible.

The Fish and Wildlife Service led a pilot release study using captive-reared Hispaniolan Parrots (Amazona ventralis), a species closely related to the Puerto Rican Parrot, during 1996-98 in Parque del Este, Dominican Republic. The pilot release study demonstrated that captive-reared parrots could be successfully introduced into occupied habitat. The birds used in the pilot study were reared in the same aviaries and under similar conditions as the Puerto Rican Parrot. After the pilot study, the knowledge, expertise, and a suitable number of captive-reared Puerto Rican parrots existed for the first time in the history of the Recovery Program.

Twenty-two (22) parrots were selected from the two aviaries as optimal birds for potential release into the wild. Birds were selected based on age (1 to 4 years old) and on genetic and biological characteristics and behavior and physical condition. Of the twenty-two, only ten were found to be suitable for release this year. For both biological and climate-related reasons, releases must take place during late June and early August. Timing the release in this way enhances the chances that both breeding and non-breeding birds will freely flock together following the nesting season. This flocking is a common pattern for this very social bird and one that provides protection from predators. A second release is expected next year.

At today' s release ceremony, dignitaries from the three cooperating agencies and the Puerto Rican and U. S. governments heralded this unique accomplishment to representatives from environmental groups, special invitees, and the media. Don Antonio Rodríguez Vidal, author of the first scientific study revealing the extensive decline of the Puerto Rican Parrot, received an award acknowledging his contribution to our knowledge of the species. The successful release is also being celebrated with an opportunity for the general public to view a pair of Puerto Rican parrots at El Portal from June 20-30.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System of more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.


Release #: R00-027

2000 News Releases



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