Lecury Palm - Lear's Macaw

Carlos A Delgado flaco479 at grove.ufl.edu
Wed Feb 8 20:32:09 EST 1995

By: Jennifer L. Kennedy      
UF/IFAS Educational Media       
(904) 392-1773               
<jlke at gnv.ifas.ufl.edu> 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE        Feb. 7, 1995

Source: Alan Meerow
<awm at ftld.iafs.ufl.edu> 

FORT LAUDERDALE---Which came first: the bird or the nut?
Regardless, says University of Florida researcher Alan Meerow, by
saving one you ultimately save the other.

The nut in question comes from the licury palm, a dwindling species
in the Bahia region of Brazil. The bird is the Lear's macaw, an
endangered species that lives in seasonally dry, open forests and
depends on the nuts for survival during breeding season. 

"With only about 60-70 Lear's macaws worldwide, they are in
tremendous danger of becoming extinct," said Meerow of UF's
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "It would be a shame
to lose these creatures. Parrots and macaws have always been
considered the Einsteins of the birds."

Meerow, of UF/IFAS' Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center,
is trying to replenish the palms by transplanting trees to their
native habitat in hopes of saving the colorful Lear's macaws.

"Currently, clusters of nuts are being trucked onto farms where the
Lear's macaws are known to forage for food," Meerow said. The
palms, which are a "potentially threatened species," are raked of
their nuts by locals and trimmed continuously for fodder, reducing
their robustness and ability to reproduce, Meerow said. Goats then
eat whatever seedings spring to life, and weevils, attracted to
injured palms, destroy the rest of them.
The thick-billed Lear's macaws are one of 16 macaw species on the
endangered species list. One of the macaw species is believed to be
completely extinct, while another is suspected to have only one
bird left in the wild, Meerow said. 

In addition, the Lear's macaws face yet another danger --
smugglers. Although the Endangered Species Act and Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) forbids the sale
or trade of endangered or threatened wildlife for commercial
purposes, it is a profitable business.

"People who want a rare collection of animals are willing to pay a
lot of money for them. For example, the Lear's macaws will sell in
the tens of thousands because of their rarity," said Darryl Heard,
an assistant professor of the Wildlife and Zoological Service at
UF's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Logging, farming, oil exploration and encroaching civilization are
responsible for the destruction of most of the Lear's macaws'

According to Don Bruning, chairman and curator of birds at the
Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, only "patches" of the
Lear's macaws' habitat exists.

"As people move into the area, these patches are getting smaller
and smaller -- and the Lear's macaws' outlook is getting bleaker,"
Bruning said. "At the present time, the greatest chance these birds
have is to encourage people to plant licury palms." 

Meerow expects his project, called "Palm for a Parrot," to take
three to five years to transplant several hundred palms onto three
cooperative farms in Brazil where the macaws forage for food. 

"Palm growers have discovered that a special nursery container,
developed in the United States for the citrus industry, is
effective in growing the palms because it encourages deep root
development," Meerow said. "But the palms aren't expected to be
ready for transplantation for another year or so."

Efforts to reintroduce the palms into the Bahia region don't
guarantee the birds' survival, Bruning said, because researchers
aren't sure what other kinds of nutritional or ecological
requirements the birds have in addition to the palms.

"But the assumption is -- if the palm goes, the bird will go too,"
Bruning said.
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