In the dry forests of Macanao, in the far west of Margarita Island, the Yellow-shouldered parrot (Amazona barbadensis) is clinging onto survival.
There are less than 10,000 Yellow-shouldered parrots left in the wild, with Margarita being the population’s stronghold.
The parrots’ fate on the island is in the hands of a group of Venezuelan conservationists working for Asociación Civil Provita. They face a great struggle; wildlife poachers descend on the nesting-sites every breeding season to sell the Yellow-shouldered chicks to the illegal pet trade, while the parrots’ habitat is being destroyed by sand mining to supply the construction industry.
Sand mining companies are a strong force on the island; for years, the local fishing community of El Horcón fought to save their land from destruction by mining companies who wanted to take it over. When the pressure became too much they turned to Provita for help. In 2009, with the support from UK-based charity the World Land Trust, Provita was able to turn their land into a protected area.
The Chacaracual Community Conservation Area now protects 1,809 acres of the Yellow-shouldered parrots’ habitat: this is providing an important lifeline for the species, as well as protecting this land for the people of El Horcón.
Provita is now working tirelessly to create a green movement within Macanao, helping create social and environmental change within extremely poor communities, where illiteracy is high and environmental education non-existent.
Provita provides support for El Horcón, such as giving them the skills and equipment to grow their own produce in their back gardens, while showing them how they can sustainably use local species, such as the fruits, seeds and sap that can be taken from the reserve. They have also created hiking, bird watching and trekking routes through the reserve and are running workshops to train local people as tourist guides.
By providing alternative income and showing how natural resources can be used sustainably, it’s hoped that local people will turn away from poaching the endangered parrots and instead see them as vital to their livelihood – and eventually a treasure in their own right.
This is starting to show signs of great success; the Yellow-shouldered parrot is becoming so important to the islanders’ culture that every year they throw a festival in its honour. The celebration is beautiful symbol of a changing mind-set, hopefully sparking a brighter future for the island’s people and parrots.