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Saving the blue parrots of South America

Mario Cohn-Haft remembers the sinking feeling he had when he realised the parrot he had come to see would probably not appear before him, ever again.

马里奥·科恩-哈夫特(Mario Cohn-Haft)还记得,当他意识到他带队来看的这种鹦鹉很可能不会出现时,他内心是无比的失落。

He had taken a bird-watching tour to the area where the very last wild Spix’s macaw, a beautiful blue parrot native to the forests of Brazil, was known to show itself. But that tour was the first he had led that couldn’t spot it.

他带了一个赏鸟团来到最后一只野生斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉(Spix's macaw)出沒的林地,希望看到这只鹦鹉,但这是他带队观鸟以来第一次鹦鹉未能出现。斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉是一种原产于巴西森林的美丽蓝色鹦鹉。

“I was one of the first people to experience it being extinct in the wild,” says Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research.

科恩-哈夫特,这位亚马逊国家研究院(National Institute of Amazonian Research)的鸟类学家说:“我是第一批亲历野生鸟类如何灭绝的人之一。”

That was 20 years ago. No verified wild specimens have been seen since. The Spix’s macaw was first described in 1638 and is named after the German naturalist, Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix, who collected a specimen in 1819. It’s small for a macaw, but has distinctive blue feathers, often fading to pale grey around the head. South America has many exotically coloured parrots, but the sophisticated blue plumage sets the Spix’s apart from many other species on the continent.

那是20年前的事了。自那以后,再也没有人可证明他看见过野生的斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉。斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉于1638年首次被发现,并以1819年采集到这种鹦鹉标本的德国著名博物学家斯皮克斯(Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix)的名字命名。斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉体型很小,但却有着独特的蓝色羽毛,头部周围的羽毛通常会褪成浅灰色。南美洲有许多色彩奇特的鹦鹉,但特异的蓝色羽毛使斯皮克斯鹦鹉有别于南美大陆上的许多其他同类物种。

For years, Spix’s macaws were restricted to a small area of habitat in north-eastern Brazil. Deforestation in the 20th Century contributed to their decline.



The species was immortalised in the 2011 animated film Rio – the characters Blu and Jewel being the last wild pair of breeding Spix’s macaws in the world. Fans of the film are often dejected to learn that the species is now considered extinct in the wild.


But today there is hope. Spix’s macaws still exist. A small number of breeding pairs are currently living in captivity. Conservationists are in the middle of a project to rear healthy birds and prepare them for release into the wild. The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP) is leading current efforts. A memorandum was signed between the ACTP and Brazil’s government in June this year to ensure the next phase of the project.


Cromwell Purchase, Scientific and Zoological Director at the ACTP, explains that the group plans to send 50 Spix’s macaws to rehabilitation facilities in Brazil, which are currently under construction. If all goes well, the birds will be shipped from Germany in the spring of 2020. The conservation team will first practice a technique for releasing the birds on a small flock of Illiger’s macaws – a green parrot with blue-tinged wings. Then, in 2021, the Spix’s will be released with a small group of the Illiger’s, which will hopefully help them to integrate into the forest of Caatinga, in north-eastern Brazil.

ACTP的科学和动物学主任克伦威尔·珀切斯(Cromwell Purchase)解释说,该组织计划将50只斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉送往巴西正在兴建的鸟类康复中心。如果一切顺利,这批鹦鹉将于2020年春天从德国运到巴西。保育小组将首先放生一小群伊利杰金刚鹦鹉(一种翅膀带点淡蓝的绿色鹦鹉),以试验放生技术。然后在2021年,再将斯皮克斯鹦鹉与一小群伊利杰金鹦鹉一起放归大自然,希望帮助斯皮克斯鹦鹉能融入巴西东北部的卡廷加(Caatinga)森林,让野生的斯皮克斯金刚鹦鹉起死回生。

“Over the first few weeks the aviary will be open in the morning and closed at dark, birds will be allowed to return at will to get food,” explains Purchase.


The real test will be whether the birds take to their native surroundings and, crucially, whether they successfully breed and rear chicks in the wild. The macaws will face natural challenges as well as the threat of poaching.


But Brazil wants the plan to work. There has been an initiative to reintroduce Spix’s macaws to the wild since 2012, says Camile Lugarini at the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. She and her colleagues are working closely with the ACTP.

但巴西希望计划能够成功。契科‧门德斯生物多样化保育研究所(Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation.)的卡米尔‧卢噶日尼(Camile Lugarini)说,早在2012年已有将斯皮克斯鹦鹉放归大自然的倡议。卡米尔及其同事与ACTP密切合作推动这个计划。

“There is no way to bring Spix´s back without the cooperation of the international holders,” she says. South America has dozens of parrot species. Many are thriving in the wild – but blue parrots are rare. One of the most stunning parrots in the world is the Hyacinth macaw, which is in fact the world’s largest by length. It can grow up to 1 metre from head to tail with a wingspan of 1.5 metres.

她说:“如果饲养斯皮克斯的国际人士不能合作,斯皮克斯是不可能回到自然原乡。”南美洲有几十种鹦鹉。有许多种至今仍在自然中生存繁殖,但蓝鹦鹉却非常罕见。世界上最令人惊艳的鹦鹉之一是风信子金刚鹦鹉(Hyacinth macaw),如按长度这也是世界上最大的鹦鹉,从头部到翼尾长达1公尺,翼展可达1.5公尺。

It is a brilliant, rich shade of blue, with a flash of yellow around its eyes and at the base of its large beak. Its wild population fell to just 2,500-3,000 by the end of the 1990s, according to the WWF. Neiva Guedes is one of the key people responsible for helping the Hyacinth macaw to recover. She set up the Hyacinth Macaw Project in 1990 and helped to design nest boxes that made it easier for the birds to breed. Today, there are thought to be up to 5,000 of the birds in the wild.

风信子金刚鹦鹉全身是一片有光泽的亮丽蓝色,而眼圈和鸟喙底端为闪亮的黄色。根据世界自然基金会(WWF)的数据,到20世纪90年代末,在自然中野生的风信子金刚鹦鹉的数量已下降到了2500到3000只。内瓦·古德斯(Neiva Guedes)是帮助风信子金刚鹦鹉在自然界恢复的关键人物之一。她在1990年发起风信子金刚鹦鹉计划,帮助设计了让风信子金刚鹦鹉便于筑巢繁殖的鸟巢箱。今天,据估计有多达5000只风信子金刚鹦鹉生活在自然环境中。

Locals who once killed Hyacinths in order to collect their feathers have been taught to protect them. Some even make money from sheltering them on their ranches as tourist attractions, says Don Brightsmith, a conservationist and expert in parrots at Texas A&M University.

当地人曾经为了采集风信子金刚鹦鹉的美丽羽毛而杀害这种鹦鹉,现在他们受教育要给予保护。保育人士、美国德州农工大学(Texas A&M University)的鹦鹉专家唐·布莱特史密斯(Don Brightsmith)说,现在有些当地住民甚至把风信子金刚养在自己的牧场吸引遊客以赚钱。

“We’ve turned the corner now to where species like that one have really come back,” he says. Knowledge of how to do reintroduce parrots successfully in South America has only really come about in the past 30 years, he adds: “We know how to reintroduce parrots, there are now multiple publications and case studies that show, yeah, we can get birds out into the wild and have them survive.”


It means that there is a better chance today that the Spix’s macaw reintroduction project will go well. Brightsmith notes one crucial point – the birds must be shown to rear chicks independently and successfully. Otherwise any reintroduced population will quickly collapse.


Happily, Purchase says this is something he and his colleagues are working on: “It is a long process, we have a few pairs that can now parent-rear successfully. But we still need to hand rear a few.” Those macaws are some of the last survivors of their kind. But there’s a glimmer of hope that they will return to their true home in Brazil. Should they flourish, the blue flash of a Spix’s wings might one day be seen again by locals and, perhaps, fascinated groups of bird-watchers who have travelled to stroll beneath the canopy – and glimpse this brilliant blue macaw in the forest where it belongs.

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