Today there are over 200 scarlets in their three aviaries
and another 30 great greens in another large cage. The Frisius run
Central America's most ambitious captive breeding macaw program
now a licensed zoological park in Alajuela just outside of San
José. Their non-profit program called Amigos de las Aves
is trying to achieve the unachievable. Breed scarlet macaws in captivity,
reintroduce them into the wild and have those birds successfully
breed. It has never been done.
I visited the Frisius in January 2004 and was startled
by their sacrifice and unconditional love for these birds that act
like red yellow and blue bulls in a china shop. Within seconds of
stepping into an aviary filled with 20 young male scarlets, one
was chomping at my belt buckle while a second on Richard's shoulder
was screeching for attention drowning out Richard's stories. The
pair would next fight for Richard's strokes.
The birds require immense psychological and physical
nurturing and somehow on a $30,000 annual budget the Frisius have
been able to breed the birds successfully. In 1999 they began reintroducing
them in the wild and ultimately their conservation legacy hinges
on the birds reproducing. Amigos de las Aves could serve as a blueprint
for others in
the effort to save macaws throughout the Latin world.
They have successfully been breeding the scarlets
in captivity for a decade and after rearing the first clutch by
hand,successive clutches have been reared by the birds themselves.
The Frisius are helped by Marti Everett a professional zookeeper
and young, mostly European volunteers. To finance the project some
birds have been sold, for $1,000 each, but much of the funding comes
from private donations. Government permits are necessary to release
and keep the birds but does not support the group financially.
The first scarlets bred in captivity were released
in two carefully selected sites, large fincas (farms) in Caru on
the Nicoya Peninsula and Tiskita Lodge near the Panamanian border
on the Pacific Coast. There are 36 young birds in the wild today
gaining jungle-smarts daily. They must figure out quickly how to
stay alive in the wild.
"After releasing them they stayed close by because
we were still feeding them seeds, but our workers climbed the trees
and brought them their natural food. They saw the nuts in the trees
and within a month they had transitioned to their natural food,"Richard
recounts. "Now they are going 35 kilometers to feed and we
got a call from a woman who thanked us. She had not seen scarlets
flying above her home since she was a little girl."