Friday, 8 February 2013

Why I Love Macaws (and you Should too)

Scarlet Macaws in the wild.

John Berger’s timeless article entitled Why Look at Animals brought forth to the scientific community an extremely important paradigm for how humans understand non-human animals. This paradigm was explained by Berger as a dichotomy of perceptions; on one side, the physical animal is represented. Its flesh, natural habits and ecosystem are embodied in the reality that plays out in front of us and is something that can be studied, analysed and predicted. The other side of this dichotomy represents the symbolic characteristics of an animal; be it the spiritual and mythical manifestations of an animal or its use in folklore. When comparing non-human animals to humans, Berger (1977) states that ‘Animals are born, are sentient and are moral. In these things they resemble man. In their superficial anatomy – less in their deep anatomy – in their habits, in their time, in their physical capacities, they differ from man. They are both like and unlike’ (Berger, pg.6).

I have a thing for Macaws because Macaws are freakin’ awesome, no exceptions. Since the inception of the Spanish Conquest and European Exploration into South America, macaws have been revered to the Western world as some of the most beautiful and stunning species of parrots on earth. Often referred to as ‘rainbows with wings’, spotting the macaw’s trademark patches of brightly coloured feathers and large beak is not very challenging, especially if one ventures into the thick of the Amazon in early spring during their mating season.

But what really blows my mind is that not only do wild macaws generally mate for life, most macaws will also be observed in the wild alongside their mating partner and this close relationship will usually last their entire lifetime as macaws are incredibly social creatures that bond together for extensive periods. Macaw researchers have also observed mortality rates in macaws and have noticed an interesting trend between partners after either male or female has deceased: usually within two to five months after one partner has died the other partner will also die, and scientists believe this phenomenon is linked to macaw depression in post-mortem. This act of complete dedication can be reflected on traditional monogamous values in North America; the profound relationship shared between macaw mates can be perceived as an ideological aspiration, deep-rooted in Western notions of commitment and devotion.  

Hyacinthe Macaw 'couple' in flight,
Unfortunately, because ecological degradation is now the leading cause of species loss in the Amazon, the slowly declining rates of macaw populations in Central America are currently low enough to deem this animal at risk. Scientists fear that the fragmentation of macaw habitat will eventually isolate certain populations and consequently weaken the number of species beyond feasible restoration.

But the case for Macaws is now being fought on a multi-front level as Macaw poaching and chick selling has become uncontrollable between Western and Central American economies. Because poachers can make large amounts of money from the sales of living macaws, a great deal of pressure has been put on locals to generate revenue by capturing and promoting these animals as domestic pets.

Limited mobility, lack of companions or mates and low stimulation are all factors that contribute macaw depression during domestication. It is our concepts of entitlement that have prevented us from realizing that these animals should not be kept as pets.

A development in education initiatives to raise awareness on the effects of macaw domestication in North America while ensuring that the illegal pet trade can be greatly reduced via strict monitoring programs is imperative to ending the abuse of this incredible animal. Secondly, successful conservation strategies in Equilateral South American communities should be used to model the future of macaw protection in their natural habitat. Adopting a principal of local ownership and knowledge-based leading will be essential to reaching this goal.

The macaw represents a plethora of values and connections to the human world and developing strategic conservation authorities is crucial to the survival of this amazing creature. Full macaw conservation will not be achieved within the next few years as programs dedicated to this mission must have a far reach and be made permanently sustainable. The case for macaws might be a tough one, but the preservation of this species is important to both the human and non-human worlds.

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