The NGO “PRO-ALAS” (“PRO-WINGS”) is a necessary outgrowth of the success of a program initiated in 2011 by the Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve in Copan Ruinas, Honduras with the cooperation of the World Parrot Trust. Additional local partners included the Honduran Institute of History and Anthropology, the Institute of Forest Conservation, and the local NGO Copan Association.
The program initially focused on the release of Scarlet Macaws, the Honduran national bird and a sacred icon of the ancient Maya, into the town’s famous archaeological park. Now seven years and four releases later the impact of the macaws on visiting Hondurans and international tourists alike has been startling and has truly transformed the experience of visiting the site. As 2019 began, the Copan Valley was home to more than 60 free-flying Scarlet Macaws which have been producing chicks since the first release in 2011 (eight chicks in tree-mounted nest boxes just in the past year).
It is apparent that a sustainable release and reproduction model has been developed from the effort and PRO-ALAS is now needed to expand this potential across Honduras, and perhaps in the future to neighboring Central American countries.
The PRO-ALAS mission involves two distinct, but interconnected, areas of effort that will result in a higher level of protection for threatened populations of tropical parrots and other avian species in Central America.
The “hands-on” component of our work involves the direct interaction with the birds and is best described as “The 4 R’s”:
PRO-ALAS will establish accords and work closely with Honduran wildlife and legal authorities to receive birds that are confiscated and move them to an appropriate care facility, normally Macaw Mountain, for evaluation and treatment as necessary.
In addition, donated captive birds will also be received and put on a track for eventual liberation should that be possible. Donation events will be coordinated in various sectors of the country to encourage the return of parrots and macaws from captivity to better living conditions and perhaps to freedom. Large numbers of these birds are currently mascots in every city in Honduras.
PRO-ALAS will continue the work of rehabilitating the confiscated and donated birds initiated by Macaw Mountain.
In fact, the two will work together to expand this element as Macaw Mountain. has a well-trained team and complete infrastructure and PRO-ALAS will focus on assembling releasable groups and the logistics necessary to return them to the wild. The incoming quarantine, veterinary care, selection for release or breeding groups, and flight training will be continued at Macaw Mountain and expanded as needed. PRO-ALAS will assume responsibility for governmental coordination and permitting involved in the rescue, selection, and coordination of release sites, and will develop funding to support the effort.
In order to restore a depleted avian population or to successfully return a species to an area it once inhabited, it is necessary to have a continuing and reliable source of those birds.
Currently PRO-ALAS utilizes a nest box program to maximize the number of parent-raised chicks in free-flying groups since natural nesting cavities are often in short supply. This effort in 2018 produced 20 healthy Scarlet Macaws in the three groups managed by Macaw Mountain. PRO-ALAS will develop a breeding center to allow incubation, hatching, and hand-feeding of additional chicks to increase and accelerate the release possibilities. Initial training in these techniques has already begun to acquire the necessary expertise ahead of any breeding facility construction.
PRO-ALAS will arrange and oversee all aspects of the release and reintroduction process from conceptual initiation, through government permitting, to local site selection and coordination, including community support and participation, to the eventual post-liberation monitoring.
This is not a simple process and requires a well-trained, multi-functional team that can handle everything from bird care, to the logistics, to public relations, to the critical environmental educational aspects, and in multiple locations.
The second major thrust of the PRO-ALAS mission is a continuing educational effort aimed at generating the cooperation necessary to protect the free-flying populations and preserve their critical and equally threatened habitat.
Our program uses the actual birds themselves to “make the sale” and the experience in Copan has been both very positive and extremely encouraging. Initially the locals were quite pessimistic about the effort saying the macaws would be killed, stolen, or trafficked but none of that occurred and the birds are now a major source of local pride. It is important to note that the Copan releases were into a populated valley, not into a protected forest reserve.
A nine-lesson curriculum with information on the Scarlet Macaw’s life history and its importance in the ancient Mayan culture was presented in the local schools, including those in the surrounding mountain villages. Classroom visits with macaws from the Bird Park provided the personal interaction to “seal the deal”. Follow-up trips to Macaw Mountain by school groups reinforced the classroom experience and the local cooperation throughout the valley has been exceptional.
The “outreach releases” that PRO-ALAS must accomplish around the country will not have the Copan advantage of a local feel with easily formed alliances. To disseminate the crucial information about the birds and in favor of their conservation we must cooperate closely with the Honduran government to have it included in the national school curriculum. This approach will be cost effective, will ensure the basic information will be widely distributed, and will help pre-sell the macaw release concept in areas that will eventually receive the birds.
Promotional signage and materials, macaw related fiestas and events, and local and national TV and radio spots will all be important elements in winning popular support for the return of the macaws. Several government entities such as ICF, Marca Pais, and the Department. of Tourism have information and marketing arms that can work with us to popularize the programs.
Beyond the educational efforts to make the actual liberations possible and the birds safe long-term, PRO-ALAS will make an important contribution to conservation awareness nationwide. The impact of the Scarlet Macaws in Copan has been undeniable and the rapid popularization of their image throughout the country has been stunning.
The potential of this iconic species as a symbol for environmental protection is enormous, especially in a country where it is also the national bird. To protect the old growth forest where the macaws can thrive, is to also protect the huge diversity of flora and fauna that shares that forest. PRO-ALAS will make the first argument for protection with the spectacular Scarlet Macaws but will rehabilitate and release a range of less dramatic avian species adding to the message. The liberated macaws will be a powerful living tool in the Honduran conservation effort.
An additional important element of the educational focus of PRO-ALAS will be the protection of the Honduran Mosquitia. This unique area, which includes the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, is a true national treasure, although one now under constant threat of agricultural encroachment, deforestation, and animal trafficking. The area still has functioning wild populations of both Scarlet and Great Green Macaws as well as other important jungle dwellers such as tapir, peccaries, jaguars, giant anteaters, and three species of monkeys.
Whether we receive macaws from private donations or government confiscations, these birds carry the DNA imprint of this ancestral group in the Mosquitia which must survive. PRO-ALAS will coordinate its educational efforts with whatever government, environmental, or private groups are working seriously to protect the Mosquitia and end the threats that are diminishing it daily.
A little bit of history
Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve opened in late 2001 as a care facility for donated and confiscated birds, hoping to support them with receipts from tourist visits. After an expectedly slow beginning visits accelerated, as did bird donations, and the number in the inventory climbed from an initial 90 to current average levels of 250-300 birds. As the park developed, the mission began to change from simply caring for unwanted birds of over 30 species, to incorporating a strong environmental education component, to the present additional focus on “rescue and release”.
The rescue element has grown significantly in the last seven years with the macaw liberations as the park’s reputation has grown, resulting in more donations, and our coordination with Honduran wildlife authorities has greatly increased. Almost all avian confiscations are now being passed to Macaw Mountain for evaluation, rehabilitation and, if physically possible, incorporation into a future release group.
The reality for Scarlet Macaws is that only 30-40 percent of incoming birds are able to fly, 10-20 percent can be paired for breeding, and the rest become part of the long-term care group. The expansion of our relationship with ICF (wildlife) had also meant a significant increase in the number of other species received such as a variety of Amazon parrots, parakeets, toucans, and raptors. These increases have put greater financial and operational pressure on Macaw Mountain which has included them in the growing liberation program.
The evolution of Macaw Mountain’s role in Honduras and the positive response to the Scarlet Macaw releases has created a demand for similar efforts in other parts of the country. With the costs primarily supported by the park’s tourism receipts it has run against a financial and operational barrier. PRO-ALAS is the mechanism that can utilize the developed model to expand the success in Copan to other suitable areas of the country and assemble the funding to make it possible.
PRO-ALAS will utilize the existing facilities and expertise of Macaw Mountain, without having to recreate them, and focus on the outreach possibilities of releasing and re-introducing species to distant areas they once inhabited. As an NGO, PRO-ALAS will be better able to cooperate with conservation and zoological organizations outside of Honduras and provide a highly credible partner for them to interact and team with. PRO-ALAS will make it possible for the successful macaw release program developed in the Copan Valley to go nationwide within Honduras and to later make a positive impact regionally.
PRO-ALAS will use the initial 6 months of 2019 to establish a solid presence in Honduras developing operational agreements with ICF, Macaw Mountain, MiAmbiente, and the “Fiscales de Ambiente” to facilitate efficient rescue and care of the birds. The cooperative alliance will make future rescue and release efforts more timely and cost effective.
PRO-ALAS will work to quickly establish name recognition and a reputation for seriousness within the Honduran media, social media, and on the internet. Direct contact will be made with conservation and bird-related entities both regionally and further abroad. The release programs developed at Macaw Mountain and their track record of establishing healthy, reproducing populations of Scarlet Macaws will provide a solid base for PRO-ALAS’s efforts and credibility, and should justify significant support. PRO-ALAS was created to continue the repopulation successes of Macaw Mountain, duplicate them well outside of Copan, and amplify their impact as a tool for environmental education regionally.