We reported recently on the success of Xcaret’s scarlet macaw breeding program and the 73 birds that have been released into the wild to date and fly free in the jungle around the ancient Mayan city of Palenque in Chiapas. The Riviera Maya park has now extended its program to the tropical forests of southern Veracruz where macaws were once widespread but became extinct in the 1970s. On June 14, 27 birds were released in La Otra Opción reserve in the Los Tuxtlas region.

Under the watchful eye of a team of biologists led by Dr. Patricia Escalante Pliego from the UNAM Institute of Biology (National Autonomous University of Mexico), the macaws went through a period of acclimatization before being released. This process included learning how to identify the seeds, nuts and fruit that will form their diet, flight practice, and gradually being weaned from the care of their minders so that they could fend for themselves.

Studies conducted by experts from the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University determined that the Xcaret birds share the same genes as the subspecies that once ranged throughout southeast Mexico and that they would be able to adapt to conditions in the wild.

Xcaret’s partners in Los Tuxtlas are the La Otra Opción, a privately owned nature reserve, and the Bosque Antiguo association. With the help of university student volunteers, they visited area communities to present the project and involve local people in the conservation campaign, stressing the need to give these beautiful birds a chance to get a foothold in their new jungle home and to protect them for future generations.

A 20-hour drive from the Riviera Maya, Los Tuxtlas is an area of volcanic hills and mountains shrouded in dense jungle, with cloud forests on the highest peaks. Rich in flora and fauna, rivers and waterfalls, it also encompasses the Catemaco Lagoon and the Salto de Eyipantla waterfall. The northernmost area of rain forest in Mexico, it was chosen as one of the locations for the film Medicine Man starring Sean Connery due to its resemblance to the Amazon.

With this release and the earlier ones in Chiapas, the number of scarlet macaws in the wild in Mexico has increased by 41 percent in little over one year. The macaw-breeding program in Xcaret continues and more releases are planned in the months to come.

Photo courtesy of Experiencias Xcaret