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Media contact: Allison Wells (607) 254-2475 amw25@cornell.edu

Endangered Parrots Score Major Victory in Long Battle for Protection

21 November, 2002, Ithaca, New York - Members attending the 12th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora voted recently to increase protection to three species of endangered parrots, thanks to efforts of Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists and the support of more than 100 nations.

The outcome of the United Nations-sponsored meeting, held November 12 in Santiago, Chile, means that commercial trade of the Yellow-naped Parrot (Amazona auropalliata), the Yellow-headed Parrot (Amazona oratrix), and the Blue-headed Macaw (Ara couloni) has been banned. Formerly, trade in these species was allowed by permits with restricted quotas. Now, because of these species' declining population numbers, the birds will receive full conservation protection.

Eduardo Iņigo-Elias, a parrot specialist and head of the Neotropical Bird Conservation Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, spent the last year and a half assisting the governments of Brazil, Costa Rica, Germany, and Mexico to develop technical documents and proposals that were presented at the CITES meeting.

"It is extremely satisfying to learn that justice has prevailed for these long-ignored species that have suffered heavy exploitation over the last 30 years," says Iņigo-Elias.

The Yellow-headed Parrot (Amazona oratrix) is found in the wild in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Its cousin the Yellow-naped Parrot (Amazona auropalliata) is found from southeastern Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica. The Blue-headed Macaw (Ara couloni) ranges from eastern Peru to extreme western Brazil, and south to northwestern Bolivia.

These parrots' flashy plumage and ability to imitate human speech make them desirable to many people as pets. For this reason, the primary threat to all three of these species has been the direct harvesting of adult birds and illegal poaching of nestlings for the pet bird trade. "Before 1992, when the ban on imports of wild-caught birds to the United States was passed with the Wild Bird Conservation Act, the U.S. was the largest importer of wild-caught parrots in the world," says Iņigo-Elias. "From 1980-99, the CITES trade databases recorded a world total of 730,756 exported and 716,597 imported parrots of the genus Amazona-and 98 percent of these were wild-caught birds." The Yellow-headed Parrot has been especially hard hit, suffering a 90 percent population decline since the 1970s, with an estimated 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

In addition to trade, all three species face habitat destruction and population fragmentation. The birds' plight is further complicated by the fact that they produce few young, which require intense parental care and take up to three years to reach sexual maturity.

Iņigo-Elias points out that protecting these species is not only a moral obligation but also makes good economic sense. An estimated 70 million people in the U.S. think of themselves as birders; tens of thousands of these travel each year to the Neotropics specifically to see species such as the Yellow-headed Parrot, Yellow-naped Parrot, and Blue-headed Macaw. These birders pour important tourist dollars into the local economies. This provides incentive for governments to protect their natural resources.

"The CITES decision is glowing proof of what can happen when nations pull together," says Iņigo-Elias. "It's good for people, and it's good for the birds."

For more information about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including its Neotropical Bird Conservation Program, call (800) 843-2473; outside the U.S. call (607) 254-2473, or write to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850.

The Cornell Lab is a membership institution interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.