Loud screeching accompanies a streak of bright metallic blue as a startled parrot soars out of a forest canopy in Brazil to circle in the air above, its long tail feathers streaming as it flies. This is a rare sight because the parrot is a Lear’s macaw, one of Brazil’s endangered bird species. Only about 1,250 of these parrots are believed to still exist in the wild in Brazil, and they inhabit just two colonies in a small area in the eastern state of Bahia. If their numbers are allowed to decline even further, the species could soon be extinct. The loss of this magnificent bird, admired for its beauty and ability to mimic vocalizations, would be another blow to the planet’s fragile ecosystems in which all species of animals and plants are interconnected in a delicate balance of life. Preservation of the Lear’s macaw here is perhaps symbolic of the importance of conservation to maintain the health of the planet.
Biodiversity is the term used to describe the enormously rich variety of life on Earth. Of the estimated 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence, scientists have identified and described only around 1.2 million—the rest remain a mystery. What we do know, now more than ever, is that the loss of a species, identified or not, can have a huge impact on every other species with which it interacts—directly and indirectly. Consider the food chain: primary predators eat other animals known as secondary consumers, which in turn eat even smaller animals or plants that are sustained by an often invisible world of insects and bacteria. The loss of a single insect species can mean starvation for other species, creating a crisis throughout the whole food chain. All of the Earth’s species work together to survive and maintain their ecosystems, which is why we cannot afford to lose even one.
But extinctions are happening at as much as 10,000 times the natural rate, and we could be losing up to 100,000 species every year, many as a direct result of human activity—from land development and construction to consumption and climate change. The need to reduce our impact is especially important in biodiversity hotspots such as those found in Brazil, where exceptionally rich arrays of species are found, some endemic to a single small area, putting them at greater risk. It is crucial to weigh any human activity against the environmental risks caused by that activity so that ecological impacts are limited or avoided altogether. It is also important to proactively mitigate potential damage, as well as repair and restore the natural balance that humans have upset. Renewable energy company Enel Green Power is doing exactly that by initiating conservation efforts to preserve the Lear’s macaw.
The caatinga, or white forest, that surrounds Enel Green Power’s renewable energy Delfina wind farm in Bahia, Brazil, is an important natural habitat for the dwindling population of Lear’s macaws. When it was discovered that only two of the parrots remained in the area, Enel’s Environmental Division set out to safeguard these birds―and increase their numbers―through an initiative employing innovative technology. Working closely with local environmental institutions, the team first tested and deployed new technology that used GPS tracking devices and beacons to document the behavior and habits of four Lear’s macaws in the wild. This data provided crucial information about the parrots’ habits, territory, flight routes, and feeding, resting, and breeding sites. Six captive-bred Lear’s macaws were then transported from Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands to Bahia, where with careful monitoring and support, they adjusted to life in the wild, learning to feed, hone their flying skills, and recognize predators. In January 2019, all six Lear’s macaws were released into the forest around Delfina.
The reintroduction of these magnificent birds shows what can be achieved when sustainability and the environment are prioritized. Notoriously messy eaters, these Lear’s macaws will play an invaluable role in the caatinga ecosystem, discarding seeds while eating as well as dispersing them in their droppings throughout the forest. By dispersing seeds, the birds help regenerate forest growth—further encouraging biodiversity. Within our complex and fragile ecosystems, every species has value and contributes to the survival of others. This is what makes the conservation of every single species so vital, and why it is so important to ensure that the Lear’s macaw remains a permanent resident in the forests of Bahia.