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Part of the Biodiversity Crisis Curriculum Collection.
The St. Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolor) lives in rain forests on the small island of St. Lucia, in the Caribbean Sea. In the mid-1970s, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (based in Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom) found only 100 parrots left in the wild. The major causes of the population decline were the destruction of its forest habitat, capture for the pet trade, and hunting.
In 1978, the St. Lucian Department of Forestry started an island-wide public awareness project to protect the parrot. This included education programs in schools and outreach to adults on conservation issues. These activities involved the participation of local businesses and citizen groups, which ensured support throughout the island’s communities. In 1979, the parrot was officially designated as the national bird, and the government established a parrot reserve and banned hunting.
In the early 1990s, the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, based in Philadelphia, provided an additional boost to outreach efforts with its Promoting Protection Through Pride campaign. It also supported a traveling learning center called the Jacquot Express, after the French name for the St. Lucia parrot.
Since 1975, Jersey Trust has been doing population surveys for this species. In 1992, this work was expanded to include field research on foraging (food seeking) ecology, breeding and nesting cycles, and chick development conducted by its sister organization, Wildlife Preservation Trust International (WPTI), and by the Department of Forestry. With the knowledge gained from this research, reserve managers will better understand what environmental factors affect the survival of chicks and fledglings (offspring that have just grown their flight feathers). WPTI also supports the university-level instruction and field training of St. Lucian forestry personnel, which will give them the management skills to continue parrot conservation after international funding is withdrawn.
This protection and education project has had a dramatic effect: A 1996 census by WPTI and Forestry counted between 350 and 500 parrots. The recovery of this highly endangered parrot is a remarkable conservation success story, which shows how public support and the efforts of committed conservationists can contribute to the effective protection of biodiversity.
However, the St. Lucian parrot still faces serious threats. There is growing pressure to cut more forest to establish banana plantations and to allow hunting of other species in the parrot reserve. These threats emphasize the need for strong and strictly enforced laws if we are to protect wildlife populations in their natural habitat.
This is an excerpt from THE BIODIVERSITY CRISIS: LOSING WHAT COUNTS, edited by Michael J. Novacek, a publication of the New Press. © 2000 American Museum of Natural History. To order the book, call 1-800-233-4830.