HOTSPOT- Mesoamerica

Reintroduction of the Scarlet Macaw to Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico


PROJECT OBJECTIVES:  The reintroduction of the scarlet macaw [Ara macao cyanoptera] to a region from which it has been locally extirpated since the 1970s.

January 2013

Arriving in Mexico, I was shocked by many sights. I was shocked when my taxi was stopped by soldiers, assault rifles longer than their torsos, at various checkpoints on my hour and a half long ride from airport to Palenque. I was shocked be immersed in the frenetic traffic, where it is standard to drive down the center of a two-lane road and pass the car in front of you (no matter how fast it is going, or how many curves lie in the road ahead). I was shocked to see a night brimming with stars, spilling from the crest to the tail-feathers of the heavens.

But it is funny how quickly our minds can digest a place totally foreign to us. Within very little time, our minds can make this new place our point of reference—our home. This rapid adaption is exactly what we hope our 20 macaws, born and bred on the breezy Yucatán coastline, are undergoing  at this moment in the still and torrid air of Aluxes Ecopark, alongside Palenque National Park.


Protected by a large flight cage, they are learning about their natural foods, and their artificial nest boxes. They are learning about the climate, about the other members of the flock, and about their natural predators. They are also learning to associate a shrill whistling with the arrival of food to feeding platforms, a mechanism that should hopefully keep them close to home upon their release.


These 20 represent the first in a total of 60 birds to be released in Palenque in 2013, and a total of 180 macaws to be released 2013-2016. Alongside the macaws for release, other macaws are being trained in controlled flight. At the moment, we are training seven. These birds will serve as a magnet: as macaws are social birds, having a flock of semi-free macaws calling, flying around, and always sleeping in Aluxes Ecopark will help increase the probability that the totally wild birds will stay in the area.



For my full album of photos from the scarlet macaw reintroduction project, as well as associated volunteer activities around Aluxes Ecopark, click here.


For my photos of rest-day travels around Mexico, click here.


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© Copyright Emma Steigerwald | Vanderbilt Traveling Fellow