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A River Separates Hope - Macaw Conservation in Honduras and Nicaragua

There is a town in Nicaragua known as Esperanza, which means “Hope” in Spanish. Right now it doesn’t feel as if there is much hope there, as we are learning that the macaws from our parrot conservation project in Honduras are ending up there, illegally captured, shot, or even eaten. Our birds are vulnerable, because Esperanza is only a short distance from our project across the Coco River that divides the Honduras Moskito region from that in Nicaragua.

Rio Coco with our Honduras territory in the upper half, and Nicaragua in the lower half

The latest incident just happened in February 2019. We had liberated a group of scarlet macaws from the Rescue and Liberation Center in Mabita, Honduras, in December and then in early February we heard stories about two of our macaws ending up in Esperanza. One had been apparently shot and eaten, and another had been surrounded by young boys trying to hurt the bird with rocks and slingshots. An adult intervened and then another man took the bird to his home. When our field director went to retrieve the macaw, the man refused to hand the bird over unless he was paid. Essentially he was holding the bird for ransom.

Bird returned home after ransom paid

I arrived at the end of February and immediately our team decided to send over one of our parrot rangers to get the bird. Traveling by motorcycle and small ferry, he haggled with the man until, for L1000 (about $50), the man released the macaw. The bird then had a long trip back across the river and on motorcycle in the dark along dirt roads until she returned to Mabita.

Rescued bird with clipped wings, meaning that the bird cannot fly free for a long time

I examined the bird the next day and, tragedy of tragedies, the bird’s wing feathers had been clipped and trauma left the macaw blind in her left eye. She was frighteningly thin, and also cold and weak. Back in her old cage, she called to her old friends, who joined her in mutual preening during the day. She was back home, where she will now have to stay until her wing feathers can grow out and we can release her again.

Cloudy eye showing injury that leads to blindness

We don’t know how many birds we lose like this to neighboring villages. That is why it is important to expand the project ever wider, including more and more people and communities, so we can protect the birds and people at the center of our efforts. We are now up to 11 participating communities stretching from the Mountains of Colon to nearly Pt. Lempira and the Atlantic ocean, and also to Nicaragua. This project has become the biggest community patrolled parrot conservation effort in the world.

Old friends at our project site come to greet the returned bird

And yet there are immeasurable losses every day.

But we must also remember that the successes and the easing of suffering goes on all around us, even if we cannot see all of it directly.

And for now, that has to be enough.

One day our rescued bird will be free, and remain free

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