A group of ten Chester Zoo staff, including myself, have recently returned from our expedition to Ecuador, in the hope of helping to protect a rare parrot from extinction.
Our team of experienced conservationists, bird and horticultural experts, visited the Cerro Blanco forest near Guayaquil to link up with our conservation partners, the Pro Bosque Fundacion and to track and collect vital data on the Ecuador Amazon parrot.
Our visit there even made the local headlines!
Previously, the Ecuador Amazon parrot was thought to be one of four subspecies, with a total estimated population of about five million birds. Because of the healthy size of this population it hasn’t ranked in conservationists’ priorities.
I studied this particular parrot for my PhD and found sufficient evidence for the bird to be recognised as a species in its own right, a crucial step in getting some much needed protection. As you can imagine, this project is close to my heart - it’s estimated that there may be as few as 600 Ecuador Amazon parrots left in the wild but more work is needed to confirm this.
We flew out to the Cerro Blanco forest in the hope of resolving some of the many unanswered questions about the species and highlight the importance of taking steps to protect this charismatic bird and the dry coastal forests on which they depend.
In this part of Ecuador ,the bird relies on two habitat types– the dry coastal forest in the Cerro Blanco, and the mangroves of the El Salado Reserve – and makes daily flights between the two.
These habitats are under threat.
Over the past few decades, the mangroves have been cleared at an alarming rate to make way for shrimp farms. Now however they, have protected status. The dry forest patches that remain while protected, remain under threat, particularly by fire.
By surveying numbers of the birds through morning and evening counts, we were able to get a good idea of how many are left in this area
We had to be very patient to spot these shy birds while not in flight, and you can watch my reaction to one of those sightings here:
The data we collected has helped us to understand how many Ecuador amazons there are in the area. We also collected vital data on what trees the parrots prefer to nest in, how many of those trees are left, what they feed on and what else may compete for the food in that area.
Watch out for a blog post from my colleague Simon Hacking who accompanied me on this inspiring journey, as well as updates coming soon on our findings.
I’m Dr Mark Pilgrim and I Act for Wildlife
Read more of our field conservation blogs on our Act for Wildlife website