Tuesday February 19, 2019
Home Lead Story Urban Jungle ...

Urban Jungle Might Be The Answer to Helping Some Endangered Species

Red-crowned parrots, now a part of the ecosystem in Southern California, are descendants of immigrants. They are originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico, where they are now endangered.

0
//
parrots
Red-crowned parrots, now a part of the ecosystem in Southern California, are descendants of immigrants. They are originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico, where they are now endangered. Pixabay

At sunset every day, an almost deafening sound from the sky can be heard in a community just east of Los Angeles. It is the sound of parrots that have become a familiar part of life here.

“There’s poop everywhere,” said Havolynn Rose Owaleon. But she and many of the residents in this area have gotten used to the parrots.

“They’re not quiet at all, but you know, it’s something that you listen for, ’cause if I didn’t hear them on a daily basis, then I know something is really wrong,” Owaleon said.

Feathered immigrants

Red-crowned parrots, now a part of the ecosystem in Southern California, are descendants of immigrants. They are originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico, where they are now endangered.

They were poached in their native habitat, arrived in the United States and sold as pets. Some of the parrots escaped or were released and have since multiplied and thrived in an urban environment.

“They are good at making a habitat for themselves in major cities, and this is what happened in Pasadena and East L.A. So, these are birds that live pretty much exclusively off of trees that are also not native to our area,” explained Ursula Heise, who teaches at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of English and at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

As transplants to Southern California, the red-crowned parrots have become such permanent fixtures that they are on the California Bird Records Committee’s list of birds in the state.

“They’ve been naturalized as California citizens,” Heise said.

The red-eared slider turtles bask in the sun at the University of California Los Angeles Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. These turtles are not native to California.
The red-eared slider turtles bask in the sun at the University of California Los Angeles Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. These turtles are not native to California. VOA

Cold-blooded immigrants

Often seen basking under the California sun near a body of water, red-eared slider turtles also are not native to the U.S. West Coast but originally immigrated here as pets, then were released or escaped into the wild. Native to the central United States, the turtles have adapted and thrived across the United States and around the globe.

“Because this species is so commonly exploited for food and the pet industry, it’s the one that gets released the most often,” said Brad Shaffer, UCLA distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science.

Urban haven

The success of the red-eared slider turtles and red-crowned parrots in the Los Angeles area have some academics wondering whether a city can be a place to help endangered non-native animals, similar to the role of a zoo but better.

“At least it’s living in the wild. It’s making its own living. It’s having the lifestyle that turtles or that parrots should have; it’s just doing it in a different place,” Shaffer said.

This is an example of how animals, birds in this case, have used human created structures, such as this building, and made it a home. It is a building on the campus of University of California Los Angeles.
This is an example of how animals, birds in this case, have used human created structures, such as this building, and made it a home. It is a building on the campus of University of California Los Angeles. VOA

“We have put up major buildings. We’ve put up expanses of concrete. We’ve introduced a completely different vegetation, and in many cases, that’s led to a reduction of biodiversity because a lot of our created habitat is not hospitable to the native species. But the other side of that is that we’ve created new ecological niches and new kinds of habitats,” Heise said.

These artificial habitats could become new homes for birds, bugs or other creatures whose native home may be threatened.

Shaffer said any non-native species that is introduced would have to be carefully picked to minimize the risk of causing harm to the existing wildlife population in the city and beyond.

“There’s always that danger, and I think the real question is, can we minimize that danger by doing sort of the best possible ecological science to be able to identify species that will thrive in cities and won’t thrive outside of cities?” Shaffer said.

Also Read: NASA To Develop Lunar Landers, Reusable Systems For Astronauts To Land Moon

Even without human intervention, Shaffer warns that species will migrate outside of their native environment, potentially causing harm.

“I think we will have a lesser chance of that going on if we have some strong science behind it, compared to if we just sit back with our heads in the sand and wait,” Shaffer said. (VOA)

Next Story

Rescue Efforts For Wild Puerto Rican Parrot In Motion

Scientists also are now collecting new data on the number of predators at El Yunque, including el guaraguao, a red-tailed hawk that hunts Puerto Rico parrots.

0
Puerto Rican Parrot
A Puerto Rican parrot eats inside one of the flight cages in the Iguaca Aviary at El Yunque, Puerto Rico, where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service runs a parrot recovery program in collaboration with the Forest Service and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, VOA

Biologists are trying to save the last of the endangered Puerto Rican parrots after more than half the population of the bright green birds with turquoise-tipped wings disappeared when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and destroyed their habitat and food sources.

In the tropical forest of El Yunque, only two of the 56 wild birds that once lived there survived the Category 4 storm that pummeled the U.S. territory in September 2017. Meanwhile, only 4 of 31 wild birds in a forest in the western town of Maricao survived, along with 75 out of 134 wild parrots living in the Rio Abajo forest in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, scientists said.

And while several dozen new parrots have been born in captivity and in the wild since Maria, the species is still in danger, according to scientists.

 

Puerto Rican Parrots
Parrot eating a fruit. Flickr

 

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Gustavo Olivieri, parrot recovery program coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources.

Federal and local scientists will meet next month to debate how best to revive a species that numbered more than 1 million in the 1800s but dwindled to 13 birds during the 1970s after decades of forest clearing.

The U.S. and Puerto Rican governments launched a program in 1972 that eventually led to the creation of three breeding centers. Just weeks before Maria hit, scientists reported 56 wild birds at El Yunque, the highest since the program was launched.

But the population decline is now especially worrisome because the parrots that vanished from El Yunque were some of the last remaining wild ones, said Marisel Lopez, who oversees the parrot recovery program at El Yunque for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Puerto Rican Parrot
These two Puerto Rican parrots were photographed at the aviary in El Yunque National Forrest after Hurricane Maria. Flickr

“It was devastating. After so many years of having worked on this project…,” she stopped talking and sighed.

The Puerto Rican Amazon is Puerto Rico’s only remaining native parrot and is one of roughly 30 species of Amazon parrots found in the Americas. The red-foreheaded birds grow to nearly a foot in length, are known for their secrecy and usually mate for life, reproducing once a year.

More than 460 birds remain captive at the breeding centers in El Yunque and Rio Abajo forests, but scientists have not released any of them since Hurricane Maria. A third breeding center in a forest in the western rural town of Maricao has not operated since the storm. Scientists are now trying to determine the best way to prepare the parrots for release since there are such few birds in the wild they can interact with, and whether Puerto Rico’s damaged forests can sustain them.

One proposal scientists

Puerto Rican Parrot
When in flight, some of the PR Parrots show their beautiful blue primary feathers. Flickr

Scientists are tentatively planning to release 20 birds next year in Rio Abajo.

Another proposal is to release more parrots in Maricao, which was not as heavily damaged by Maria.

“Our priority now is not reproduction. … it’s to start releasing them,” Lopez said, adding that breeding centers can hold only so many parrots.

But first, scientists need to make sure the forests can offer food and safe shelter.

Jessica Ilse, a forest biologist at el Yunque for the U.S. Forest Service, said scientists are collecting data about the amount of fruit falling from trees and the number of leaves shed. She said the canopy still has not grown back since Maria and warned that invasive species have taken root since more sunlight now shines through. Ilse said that many of the large trees where parrots used to nest are now gone and noted that it took 14 months for El Yunque’s canopy to close after Hurricane Hugo hit Puerto Rico in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.

Puerto Rican Parrot
Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program. Flickr

Scientists also are now collecting new data on the number of predators at El Yunque, including el guaraguao, a red-tailed hawk that hunts Puerto Rico parrots. Without a canopy and proper camouflage, wild parrots have become an easy target.

Ilse said local and federal scientists plan to help the forest recover through planting. By the end of November, they expect to have a map detailing the most damaged areas in El Yunque and a list of tree species they can plant that are more resistant to hurricanes.

Also Read: India To Release 8 Endangered White-Backed Vultures In The Wild

“People keep asking us, ‘How long is it going to take?'” Ilse said.

But scientists don’t know, she added.

“The damage is more extensive than [hurricanes] Hugo and Georges. … It’s been a complete change to the ecosystem.” (VOA)