Macaw rescue project struggles to make a mandatory move

Ara Project photo
This green macaw even has a name, Geraldine.

After more than three decades of service, the Costa Rican macaw conservation program, The Ara Project, is being sent from its Alajuela home, and is under threat to be shut down unless the group can raise enough to relocate, according to directors.

“We tried to buy it for two years, but at the price they wanted it was impossible,” said Chris Castles, co-director.  “They have given us to the end of the year to be gone.”

This is an extension from the original April deadline, he said.

The Ara Project began in the 1980s by Margot and Richard Frisius as a licensed zoological park in Rio Segundo of Alajuela for macaws confiscated by the government or abandoned by owners.

Through the implementation of a breeding program in 1992 and the creation of a non-profit organization, Amigos de las Aves, the Frisius’s efforts grew the site into the largest collection of great green macaws in captivity in the world, said the organization’s Web site.  The conservation program also received notice for a successful scarlet macaw reintroduction program.

The green bird, known by the Latin name ara ambiguus, and scarlet bird, ara macao, are in danger of extinction.

Before Ms. Frisius died in 2008, she created a trust fund called The Ara Project to ensure that the project would continue.

Shortly after her death, the Frisius’s oldest daughter came and moved her father back home and sold the breeding the site, said Castles.  This place is where all the captive birds are raised and rehabilitated until they can be released.

“One hundred percent of the birds that we breed are released,” he said.

The new owners have a desire to urbanize the four hectares of land, leaving no space for the Alajuela location to continue to exist and the 150 birds there homeless, he said.

Castles and his partner in leadership, Fernanda Hong Beirute, have acquired a land donation in Punta Islita in the Nicoya.  This area is also the location of one of the scarlet macaw release sites, which was founded in 2011.  Birds are soft-released, meaning they are allowed to get acclimated to their new environment then let out into the wild.  At this time they are still given supplementary feeding until the birds can sustain themselves through foraging.

Before the release of 11 birds into this area, macaws were a distant memory to the locals, Castles said, recalling the memory of a letter he received from a 80-year-old who wrote of how she would see the bird as a child.

“Macaws haven’t existed on that side of the Nicoya for over 70 years,” Castles said.  “Mainly it was people’s grandparents and great grandparents who last saw them.”

There are other release sites in Manzanillo, Tiskita Biological reserve, Curú Wildlife Refuge, and Palo Verde, although the latter two places have been discontinued in use.

The program has an 85 percent success rate, and now the birds are breeding and sustaining themselves, said Castles.

Although the directors have the land, they must build roads, drains and aviaries for the facility.  The estimated cost for the entire center is $250,000, but Castles said at the moment they are trying to build only the minimum.

To start, the British Embassy has committed $14,000 to education and building a house for the volunteer biologist at the new location.

They also have an online fundraiser HERE! 

“We’re hoping other embassies, businesses and people who are in position to help will get on board,” Castles said.

Although the process will be long, he still remains confident in the work to get to the new location.

“Once it is finished and is relocated, it’s going to be a paradise,” said Castles.  “It’s very peaceful, very safe and we can breed and release the birds on site.”

Where is this bird going? Directors of a program to save and reintroduce the majestic macaws hope it is going to new digs on the Nicoya peninsula from a long-established location in Alajuela. Ara Project photo

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