Macaw Conservation in Bolivia: The Role of the Santa Cruz Municipal Zoo
IAAAM Archive
Jonathan Sleeman1, MA, VetMB, MRCVS; Marc-Alain Widdowson2, MA, MSc, VetMB, MRCVS; Otto Carlos Jordan Camacho3, DVM; Angelica Hurtado Rocha3, DVM
1Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Department of Clinical Sciences, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Fort Collins, CO, USA; 2Unidad Nacional de Vigilancia Epidemiologica y Control de Enfermedades Animales, (UNIVEP), Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia; 3Unidad Operativa, Zoo-Botanico Municipal, Fauna Sudamerica, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia


Thirty percent of the 140 parrot species in the western hemisphere are threatened with extinction. Capture for the pet trade (1.8 million parrots legally entered the international trade in a 5-yr period), habitat destruction and degradation, poaching for food, and shooting to protect crops are the main threats to New World parrots.2 Bolivia is especially rich in psittacine biodiversity. In particular, the blue throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis) is endemic to Bolivia and very rare with less than 1000 individuals remaining in the wild. The red fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenys) is similarly endangered and only found in parts of Bolivia.1

Habitat protection, changing human attitudes, economic alternatives, restoration ecology, and policy alternatives are all approaches essential to the conservation of these species.2 Besides habitat protection, the Santa Cruz Municipal Zoo, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia can play a role in all of these conservation techniques. The zoo can change human attitudes by educating the public about the local fauna, and the threats to these species in the wild. Persons educated about the consequences of poaching and illegal trapping are less likely to engage in such activities. The zoo can provide an economic alternative through the captive breeding and raising of birds for sale on the legitimate market to zoos and private individuals. This allows the local authorities to derive financial benefit from the existence of this wildlife, while removing the incentive to harvest birds from the wild. Similarly, the zoo can contribute to ecologic restoration projects by the propagation of endangered species and by providing a center for the birds prior to reintroduction to the wild. Finally, enforcement of laws against illegal collection requires the confiscation of birds found in the possession of poachers. The zoo is a sanctuary for these birds and receives large numbers on a weekly basis.

Establishment of baseline health data on these wild-caught confiscated macaws is essential to the successful management of the birds in captivity. Surveys for the prevalence of avian infectious diseases should be performed and compared to surveys of wild populations to determine if removal from the wild has altered the disease status of these birds. For example, wild-caught macaws are often housed in local villages prior to shipment and may be exposed to domestic fowl. In addition, birds from different sources may be mixed together increasing the possibility of novel pathogen exchange. Health data are particularly important if reintroduction projects are to be considered in order to prevent the introduction of novel pathogens to the wild populations. Locally confiscated birds are especially valuable for reintroduction as there is less genetic and behavioral deterioration than imported captive-bred birds.2 Health assessments of these confiscated macaws have been initiated in collaboration with the Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno, Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, following the methodology of previous similar studies.3


We thank Colorado State University, Denver Zoo, Oregon Zoo and The International Fund for Avian Research for financial and support in kind. We also thank Jaime Guzmán Carvajal, MVZ, and Vivian Herreira Patiño, MVZ of the Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno, Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.


1.  Abramson J, BL Speer, JB Thomsen. 1995. The Large Macaws-Their Care, Breeding and Conservation. Raintree Publications, Fort Bragg, California.

2.  Beissenger SR, NFR Synder. 1990. New World Parrots in Crisis-Solutions from Conservation Biology. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D. C.

3.  Karesh WB, A del Campo, WE Braselton, H Puche, RA Cook. 1997. Health evaluation of free-ranging and hand reared macaws (Ara spp.) in Peru. J. Zoo Wildl. Med. 28(4): 368-377.

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Jonathan M. Sleeman, MA, VetMB, MRCVS

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