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SPIX’S MACAW by Tony Juniper


The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird

by Tony Juniper

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7434-7550-X
Publisher: Atria

Colorful, disturbing story of a bird on the brink.

In 1817, in the thorny and draughty woodlands of Brazil, a natural-historian in the employ of the King of Bavaria was on a collecting mission. Dr. Johan Baptist Ritter von Spix shot a magnificent long-tailed blue parrot, not realizing that “he had just taken the very first specimen of a bird that would one day symbolize how human greed and ignorance were wiping countless life forms from the record of creation.” From there, Friends of the Earth executive director Juniper keeps the story of the bird’s fate bubbling along smartly, describing how Spix’s Macaw (and the other three blue parrots: Hyacinth, Glaucous, and Lear’s) became an object of desire for Victorian aviculturists and maintained its allure right up to today, when a shadowy bird-collecting elite has helped drive it nearly to extinction. Being a member of the conservation community, Juniper brings significant passion to the topic of the rare-bird trade, which can be traced back to the fourth century b.c. Alexander the Great brought back parakeets from Afghanistan, Henry the VIII enjoyed an African Grey, prostitutes in ancient India “carried a parrot on their wrists in order to advertise their profession.” The plight of Spix’s Macaw sparked a remarkable effort to breed the birds in both wild and captive environments, but the results have been tentative at best, and squabbles between owners of captive birds and the organizations seeking to see the endangered creature survive in the wild have thrown a wrench in the works, prompting a forceful condemnation from the author. A meager population exists, though Juniper is far from sanguine about their future, given the grotesque effects of the illegal international market, whose lust for the rarest and choicest birds makes them the most likely to be driven extinct.

Vital storytelling gives this cautionary tale a chance for wide readership.