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Dear Parrots magazine,

Reply to Eb Cravens

The Loro Parque Foundation (LPF) appreciates the thoughtful letter from Eb Cravens, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to discuss the important issues raised by a fellow breeder of such experience. Our reply hinges on four aspects, the first being that the Spix’s Macaw is an exception to the rule almost across the board, including rules that could be said to govern natural parrot-keeping. Another two aspects are that we provide more details of the situation with the pair of Spix’s Macaws in question, and we comment about perspectives of natural parrot-keeping. The fourth aspect is simply to mention that the news was translated to English from the original, and it is clear to us that in the process, a couple of nuances were lost, for which we apologise.

More than any other species of parrot, for the Spix’s Macaw, we are in a race against time. It is extinct in the wild and can only be recovered to the wild state by captive breeding and reintroduction. The officially managed captive population is no more than 77 individuals, heavily skewed towards females. The need to establish and maintain viable pairs with a scarcity of males is one of several challenges. Furthermore, genetic analysis shows that the Spix’s Macaw population has less than half of the genetic variability found in a more common macaw species, such as, for example, the Blue and Yellow Macaw. This means that we must be extra careful about our pairings, but at the same time knowing that it is crucial to increase the population size as rapidly as possible so as to reduce the risks associated with such a small population. Thus, currently we (Spix’s Macaw holders) need to produce as many chicks as possible, but we can see how Eb could perceive this as a departure from natural parrot-keeping, to the extent of compromising the quality of parents and offspring. But as Eb knows better than most breeders, the details usually paint a different picture, as the Spix’s Macaw breeding in question shows.

We agree very much with Eb’s comments about the care required to bring-on young males, but the male of this pair is a parent-reared mature, proven breeder, with the accompanying exemplary behaviour that you would expect. As with the majority of species in the LPF collection, the Spix’s Macaws are given a simultaneous choice in the breeding aviary of several nest-boxes with different designs, none of them with the pitch-darkness implied by Eb. In fact, leading up to the first egg-laying, the behaviour of the pair was not so clear, and the female (hand-reared by the LPF) laid in a horizontal nest-box and did not settle-down on the eggs, being in and out of the box frequently. She repeated the laying and un-settled behaviour a second time in the same horizontal box. Then she moved to a vertical nest-box, where she deposited the third clutch, the infertility of the eggs being confirmed at 10 days, although she sat until day 20. That we did not expect a fourth clutch is an understatement and, as in nature, the cavities (boxes) were not closed in the aviary, but the female did indeed lay another infertile clutch and sat for 25 days. Finally, she did the extraordinary and produce a fifth clutch which, with early confirmation of infertility was removed and substituted with two fertile Blue-headed Macaw eggs in late stage of incubation. On the one hand, this unparalleled sequence had us surprised, but on the other hand, we were hopeful that the male would ‘get into his stride’, given that he is a proven breeder, and given the dire situation of this species as previously mentioned.

As regards the decision to give the Blue-headed Macaw eggs for the Spix’s Macaw pair to hatch and rear, we concur with a lot of other breeders who consider that such a technique forms part of natural parrot-keeping, in the sense that it completes for the pair an otherwise frustrated breeding cycle. Furthermore, it can encourage success in the following breeding season, which is so vital for the Spix’s Macaw. In this context, the perfect breeding behaviour mentioned for the female was intended only to refer to how she hatched and reared the Blue-headed Macaw chicks. Presently we are evaluating what to do for the next breeding season.

The LPF most definitely does not have the policy and practice to encourage the production of several clutches per season from our breeding pairs of parrots, a situation which we agree would depart from any definition of natural parrot-keeping. The situation of the Purple-naped Lories also mentioned by Eb is an interesting example related to this matter, especially the element of the ‘spacing’ of breeding opportunities for older birds. Far from breeding every year, this pair of Purple-naped Lories had experienced a gap of many years in breeding, and we could be forgiven for considering that breeding senescence had occurred. Thus the production of an infertile clutch was really something of note, eclipsed by the second clutch and hatching of a single chick. This chick was not removed to stimulate an additional clutch (the pair did not lay again in the season), but because of concern for its physical development. As regards its behavioural development, we again would agree that the chick would have been at far greater advantage if left with its parents, for the reasons that Eb puts forward. As the best possible substitute, the chick was socialised from pre-weaning through to independence with other Lorius chicks, and subsequently with the Purple-naped Lory adults.

The parrot collection of the LPF has several objectives related to conservation and responsible aviculture and, although a portion of the annual production is sold, we do not run a commercial collection where maximising production in terms of absolute numbers would be the key objective. To be sure, it is a very large collection, but we endeavour to incorporate as many aspects of natural parrot-keeping as possible, not only from our own knowledge, but also from information harvested from many breeders, not all of whom agree about particular methods. By its very nature, the monthly LPF news has to be brief, and details are sacrificed as a result, but for us it is a pleasure to debate the merits of what we do and apply what can learn from such exchanges, and we thank Eb for making his knowledgeable comments.

Dr. Matthias Reinschmidt, Dr. David Waugh, Loro Parque, Tenerife




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