A flash of red and blue wings overhead and the sounds of raucous squawks in the distance, scarlet macaws have returned to the jungles of northern Chiapas and southern Veracruz thanks to the success of the Xcaret macaw breeding and release program. To date, 226 macaws born in the Riviera Maya park have been released into the wild after a period of adaptation, almost doubling the wild macaw population in Mexico. Releases will continue and the goal is to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

In 2013, when the Xcaret release project began, the wild scarlet macaw population had dwindled to 250 in Mexico, the last remaining flocks confined to the Lacandon rain forest in Chiapas.

The first birds bred in Xcaret were introduced to the wild in the Los Aluxes reserve near the ancient Mayan city of Palenque and since then there have been six releases with a survival rate of over 90 percent. A colony of 81 macaws now inhabits the forest surrounding Palenque and 20 more birds will soon be joining it.

The scarlet macaw had disappeared from the forest-covered mountains of Los Tuxtlas region in southern Veracruz 40 years ago but thanks to the Xcaret program there are now 146 birds flying free again. The most recent releases took place in Nanciyaga and Benito Juarez reserves near Catemaco Lake, both receiving a flock of 13 macaws.

Xcaret is partnering with a team of biologists led by Dr. Patricia Escalante Pliego of the UNAM Institute of Biology (National Autonomous University of Mexico), CONANP, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Defenders of Wildlife, Bosque Antiguo and other NGOs in Chiapas and southern Veracruz.

Area communities have been involved to make local people partners in this conservation initiative. These beautiful birds need a chance to get a foothold in their new jungle home and hopefully they will begin to breed.