Macaws are native to the rainforests of Central and South America. However, the majority of these colourful species are now endangered in the wild due to habitat loss caused by mass deforestation. This has left many populations struggling to survive. The campaign launched by the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP) will therefore advocate for the protection of the macaws this year. It will work in partnership with the Zoo Sponsors Association (GdZ), the German Zoo Society (DTG) and the Zoological Gardens Association (VdZ). The campaign funds will be used to implement better protective measures for red-fronted macaws in Bolivia and for the military and great green macaws in Ecuador. The funds raised throughout the year will help increase the scope of conservation efforts.
"When we hear the name ‘macaw’, it immediately conjures up an image of a charismatic colourful bird. It is therefore all the more alarming to know that some species are on the verge of extinction," says zoo director, Rasem Baban. "In light of the ever-increasing habitat loss and dwindling populations, zoos must campaign tirelessly for the endangered species. Many macaw species are now so small in number that a single environmental event could wipe out an entire population. We therefore welcome this year's vote and, in addition to all our other conservation projects, will place a special focus on raising awareness and protecting these intelligent birds.“
Declining populations and acute housing shortage
The wild populations of many macaw species have declined significantly in recent years. The biggest threat to these beautiful birds is habitat loss due to increasing human encroachment. Of the 19 known species, more than half are either at-risk, critically endangered or already extinct. “As Zoo Animal of the Year 2023, the macaws will now be in the spotlight for a year. We want to work with our campaign partners and the zoo community to lobby for these special parrots and to support in-situ conservation projects," says Dr Sven Hammer, deputy chairman of ZGAP.
One of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in the population of many macaw species is deforestation to make way for agricultural land. Their forest homes are often cleared to create new cattle pastures, and the trees, which are essential to the macaws’ survival, for nesting and foraging, are used for logging. More and more macaws are suffering from an "acute housing shortage“. Other threats include illegal trapping for the pet trade. Macaws have long been sought after as exotic birds due to their striking plumage and intelligent nature.
Zoos play an important role in species conservation
Zoos not only care for and breed endangered animal species, but also give their visitors interesting insights into biological and ecological relationships. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) conservation breeding programme for the macaws will be revised in 2023. The new breeding programme will aim to boost breeding efforts in zoos for the most endangered macaw species in order to promote the development of stable reserve populations.
Choosing the right partner
Macaws are typically monogamous, having only one mate for their entire lives. As a result, they can be quite picky when it comes to choosing a partner. This makes breeding these intelligent birds a challenge, even for leading zoos and experienced breeders. A great deal of effort is put into setting up an aviary to enable the birds to have a free choice of partner. The Aralandia at Wuppertal Zoo, for example, features a large free-flight facility, where up to 40 young macaws of different species live in pairs that are monitored and documented with modern technology. The birds arrived at Hellabrunn from other European zoos, with whom the zoo in Munich works closely.
The Zoo Animal of the Year campaign
The Zoo Animal of the Year conservation campaign was launched in 2016 with the aim of advocating for highly endangered species whose endangerment has not yet received sufficient public attention. In 2022, this title was bestowed on the warty pig. Since last year, a support network has been campaigning to protect the species through various international efforts in the Philippines and in Indonesia as well as at partner zoos in German-speaking countries. The campaign was able to raise €150,000 for the warty pig, which was invested in local conservation projects. These activities will continue beyond 2022.