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Information iconLooking out at Aviary gate towards the facility entrance. Photo by USFWS.

A tale of two photos

Storms deliver different hits to Puerto Rico

To appreciate how one hurricane gave Puerto Rico only a glancing blow, while the next delivered a hit that left the island prone, you need only look at the two photos.

A decimated forrest largely devoid of any green leaves.
Puerto Rican parrot aviary at Rio Grande after Hurricane Irma. Photo by USFWS.
Several fallen trees.
Puerto Rican parrot aviary at Rio Grande after Hurricane Maria. Photo by USFWS.

The photos depict the same place, the road leading into Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest. It takes visitors into the heart of the habitat of the Puerto Rican parrot, a creature as beautiful as it is imperiled.

The first image, with green trees leaning over a roadway? Taken just days after Hurricane Irma bounced along the edge of the U.S. territory before aiming at Florida.

The second? Taken after Hurricane Maria assaulted Puerto Rico, knocking out power, fouling water supplies, and — yes – toppling trees. The forest’s canopy has been virtually destroyed.

For the parrot, Maria was another blow against a species with a tenuous grasp on survival. The parrot is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Now, with Maria a recent and painful memory, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), along with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, are assessing how the birds fared in the category 4 storm.

The preliminary verdict: Most of the birds in three aviaries survived, despite extensive damages to the facilities.

Fallen trees lay atop a parrot breeding cage.
Puerto Rican parrot breeding cage #34 Photo by USFWS.

The status of the birds in the wild isn’t as clear. Service workers cannot yet venture into forests to make counts. Too many trees block their way.

Taking stock of of the aviary birds was no simple task. The aviaries are located in El Yunque, Maricao and Rio Abajo, each facility built in the birds’ jungle habitat. It took workers nearly a week to work through tree-littered roadways to reach them.

When they reached the facilities, biologists worked quickly. They took parrots from Maricao – particularly hard-hit during the storm – to El Yunque. It, and Rio Abajo, are in better condition. Each is operating with electrical generators.

The birds are in flight cages where they can, again, literally stretch their wings.

Service and Puerto Rican officials, meantime, are making a list of repairs the aviaries need. The inventory so far includes replacing breeding cages, security and observation cameras, and perimeter fences. It’s likely to grow.

And, as the two photos attest, road repairs may be on that list, too.

Download images from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Contact

Mark Davis, Public Affairs Specialist
mark_r_davis@fws.gov, (404) 679-7291

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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