What should you do if you find a macaw with a broken wing in your vegetable garden?
A few years ago, the answer would have been simple. You would have reported the finding of this or any other exotic animal, from a tiger to a crocodile, to CIVS, a nationwide network of government Wildlife Conservation Centers, and they would have sent someone out to your house to pick it up. Over the years, CIVS Centers all over Mexico have rescued thousands of misplaced or mistreated creatures, nursed them back to health and — whenever possible — returned them to a suitable environment in the wild. Today, however, every CIVS Center in Mexico has been shut down, evidence, say animal lovers, of a concerted effort by the present government to weaken or eliminate the country’s environmental protection agencies.
This has left the rescue of exotic and/or endangered species in Mexico basically in the hands of the private sector. One example is the Txori Ornithological Organization, which operates an aviary in Haciendas la Herradura, located 20 kilometers northwest of Guadalajara. The Txori Aviary is an UMA, an Environmental Management Unit licensed and regulated by the government but normally receiving no funding from it. Txori was started in 1986 by engineer Candido Busteros Garcia with the aim of preserving Mexican endangered birds. Today his son Victor carries on his father’s work.
“This project is dedicated to the conservation of Psittacidae, a family of birds including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, agapornis, parakeets, etcetera,” Victor Busteros told me. “Here we focus on Mexican species in danger of extinction. We protect and rehabilitate these birds and we aim to liberate them in places where they once existed but are no longer found, or where the populations have been reduced catastrophically.”
Mexico, I learned, has 22 species of this bird family and all but one are officially considered at risk, with six species threatened and eleven in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, capturing birds has a very long history in this country, where tribute to the Aztec empire had to be paid in colorful feathers. Every year, it seems, more than 78,000 members of the parrot family are illegally captured and 77 percent of these die before ever reaching the consumer. This means that for every parakeet sold on the street, four others die during the process of collection, storage, transport and distribution.
Busteros continued: “People used to bring my father birds that were sick, mistreated or simply ‘too noisy.’ He would put them into a small aviary that we still have. He started out receiving these birds and later learned how to breed them as well. As the years passed, almost all the birds we were caring for ended up being listed as endangered by CITES. We had been told that if these birds in temporary captivity are physically and emotionally healthy, then it means you must be doing a good job. Well, that’s a perfect description of the birds we have in this rehabilitation center, so I guess it means we are successful.”
In 1995 the Busteros family saw its first baby birds hatch, resulting in the creation of the present facilities in Haciendas la Herradura with 20 habitation units, ten of which are for breeding pairs. They also have a bird hospital, incubators, hatchers, a maternity ward with closed-circuit TV, warehouse, gray-water treatment plant, solar cells, a garden and quarters for the caretakers, some of whom are volunteers.
You’ll find lots more information and pictures at Txori.org, which, by the way, has a big English button at the top. If you happen to be the owner of a bird in the parrot family, you may be particularly interested in their “Psittacidae in Captivity Essential Care Guide.” I once had a Monk Parakeet and thought I knew a bit about this subject. What a surprise I got when I read the section of their Guide on “What NOT to give your bird to eat.” Here’s what it says:
“There are foods we humans eat which are toxic to Psittacidae. It’s important to know what they are, because if you don’t, you may unknowingly make your bird sick or even cause its death by poisoning. Chocolate, avocado, parsley, wormseed leaves (epazote) and cabbage are very harmful to Psittacidae. We also advise against tomato, coriander (cilantro), watermelon, raw squash (calabaza), raw potato and any processed food, especially those which contain high concentrations of sodium. It should also be mentioned that these birds are very interested in tasting every berry, bud, flower or piece of bark that they spot. So it’s important to control what plants they have access to because some popular garden plants are extremely poisonous to them, for example azaleas and rhododendrons.” – Cándido Busteros, December 2009.
If you’d like to help out this worthy cause, you could make a money contribution or an in-kind donation. In addition, they sell everything from cups and t-shirts to bird houses and tequila at txori.org.
The most basic way to support the conservation of the parrot family in Mexico is, of course, to say NO to those people you find selling these protected birds at railway crossings or traffic bumps. There is plenty of info on this subject at pericosmexico.org, but all in Spanish. For info in English, check out parrots.org.