Life Science Great extinction: Blue macaw from the hit movie Rio joins Nature’s growing legion of lost species
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Great extinction: Blue macaw from the hit movie Rio joins Nature’s growing legion of lost species

Now extinct in the wild, latest data indicates there are only 100 blue macaws in captivity. Photo: Getty
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The blue macaw parrot, which inspired the movie Rio, is highly likely extinct in the wild, according to the results of a recently released eight-year study.

Lead author and chief scientist at BirdLife International, Dr Stuart Butchart, said the demise of the species was driven by trapping for the illegal cage-bird trade and destruction of the gallery woodland habitat on which the species depended.

In a reversal of the tale of Blu and Jewel, (the last of their kind in the Rio story), in 1990 a wild male blue macaw was discovered near the rio São Francisco area in north Bahia, Brazil, the site of the last known outpost of the species, according to data from BirdLife International.

A female in captivity was released to pair with him (in 1995) but disappeared shortly after. Believed to be the last of his kind, the male has not been seen since 2000.

The species, also known as the Spix’s Macaw (cyanopsitta spixii) is native to Brazil, and has an average lifespan of 10 years.

Little is known about the exact number in captivity, Dr Butchart said. Data from BirdLife International indicates there were about 100 blue macaws in captivity in 2013.

“Although the loss of the wild population is tragic, there’s still some hope for this species given the existence of birds in captivity and the hope to eventually release some back into the wild,” he said.

The study reclassified a further seven birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species as extinct or deemed highly likely to be extinct. Those never to be seen again are the cryptic treehunter, Alagoas foliage-gleaner and po’ouli.

blue macaw now extinct
The po’ouli made its home on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Photo: AAP

“The worrying pattern we discovered is that while most extinctions have historically been on remote oceanic islands, there’s an increasing wave of extinctions now washing over the continents – a result of wholesale habitat destruction at landscape scale,” Dr Butchart said.

About 26,500 species are at risk of extinction on the Red List. This includes 25 per cent of all mammals. The 2018 global Living Planet Index, which measures biodiversity, shows vertebrate numbers have declined overall by 60 per cent since 1970.

Animals that have become extinct this decade include the western black rhino, golden toad, Hawaiian crow, Pyrenean ibex, Liverpool pigeon, black-faced honeycreeper, Yangtze River dolphin, pinta tortoise, Caribbean monk seal, Formosan clouded leopard, eastern cougar and Japanese river otter.

Australia has the worst record globally for mammal extinctions, said Dr Martin Taylor, a conservation scientist with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Australia.

“Ten per cent of our endemic native land mammals have gone extinct. About 21 per cent are threatened. We have a pretty dire situation for mammals here.”

Australia’s rich diversity of more than 500,000 animal and plant species includes many found nowhere else in the world.

Australian species recently to go extinct include the Christmas Island pipistrelle (a type of bat) and bramble cay melomys (a rodent). The latter gained global attention as the first mammalian extinction caused by climate change.

Many species once considered common in Australia, such as koalas, platypus and the white possum, are also declining in numbers and becoming endangered, Dr Taylor said.

“Particularly with climate change happening, many animals we thought were safe, we’re starting to think aren’t.”

Dr Taylor and other scientists attribute the current loss of biodiversity primarily to habitat destruction (caused by agriculture and human infrastructure), climate change, pollution, introduced species and overexploitation such as hunting and poaching.

“It’s now well established we’re in the sixth mass extinction,” he said.

National parks have proved a sanctuary for some critically endangered species, like the northern betong.

“Like many other native animals [including the northern hairy-nosed wombat and greater bilby], the only place you find them is national parks, which speaks to the importance of national parks,” Dr Taylor said.

Environmentalists, such as Jonathan Baillie, chief scientist of the National Geographic Society and Ya-Ping Zhang, a biologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are calling for 30 per cent of the planet to be cordoned off as dedicated national park to prevent further extinctions.

Currently, only 14.9 per cent of the Earth and 3.6 per cent of the ocean is protected for nature, Mr Taylor said.

In memory of species that have been lost for eternity, 30 November is dedicated as Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

“It matters to most people,” Dr Taylor said. “Most people love nature.

“Our lives are on the line too because of what we’re doing to the planet. Every extinction is a warning sign of our own extinction.”

 

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