Around the World with DNA
 

We Want Future Generations to Inherit the Parrot

Mike Russello
St. Vincent parrot
St. Vincent parrot
St. Vincent parrot

 

I’m Mike Russello and I’m a graduate student. I also work at the American Museum of Natural History. I study a bird named the St. Vincent parrot. It's named the St. Vincent parrot because it makes its home on the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies.

Many people want to keep these rare, colorful birds as pets. One bird can sell for $10,000! So, sometimes people try to smuggle them to countries around the world. The forest where they live is also being destroyed. This illegal trade and habitat destruction have made the St. Vincent parrot an endangered species. Scientists now think that there are only about 500 individuals on the island.

We want to conserve this precious animal. To do this, we need to protect the forest. We also need to help the St. Vincent parrot population increase. So, we breed them. But it’s not that easy. Male and female parrots look exactly the same. In the past, the most common way scientists discovered whether a parrot was male or female was through surgery. But now we can study DNA from a bird’s feathers to see whether it is male or female. DNA analysis can also tell us which birds are the best matches. We want to breed the birds so that there’s variation in the gene pool. The greater the genetic differences within a species, the greater the chances that it will survive - today and in the future.