Is the Blue Parrot Extinct?

The Spixs macaw achieved onscreen fame in 20th Century Foxs Rio as a charming parrot named Blu who travels thousands of miles in an attempt to save his species.

In the animated film “Rio,” a Spix’s Macaw named Blu flies all the way from Minnesota to Rio de Janeiro because he’s the last living male of his species and that’s where Jewel, the last living female, lives. Blu and Jewel ultimately fall in love, have a baby and the movie ends happily with the hope that the literal lovebirds can save their species. In the real world, however, Blu would’ve been too late.

– Twenty years after the species was officially declared extinct in nature, 52 Spixs macaws (Cyanopsitta spixii) arrived in Brazils Bahia state for eventual reintroduction back into their native habitat.

The birds brought to Bahia (26 males and 26 females) are the result of a successful captive-breeding program by the Germany-based Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots e. V. (ACTP), which has partnered with the Brazilian government. The event was considered so important that the minister of the environment, Ricardo Salles, was in Petrolina, Pernambuco state, to receive the macaws alongside ACTP head Martin Guth and other Brazilian authorities.

According to Martin Guth, the reintroduction center cost $1.4 million to build; an estimated $180,000 will be spent annually to maintain operations for the project, to be coordinated by Cromwell Purchase, the ACTPs scientific and zoological director, along with ICMBio staff. According to zoologist Paul Reillo, the founder and president of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation and director of the Tropical Conservation Institute in the United States, one of the golden rules for nongovernmental organizations is absolute transparency. For six months, journalists Lisa Cox and Philip Oltermann had investigated Guths past, raising serious suspicions about his work, including possible involvement with the illegal wildlife trade and the use of the ACTP to launder money for European organized crime.

Since 2015, Guth has imported more than 200 native birds of various threatened species from Australia for the state purpose of public exhibition, with authorization from the Australian government and Germanys BfN. Other breeders and biologists in Brazil only spoke on condition of anonymity, alleging that Martin Guth is dangerous and linked to organized crime, and fearing retaliation from the Brazilian government in the form of financial cuts to their projects. One of the people interviewed said that, in recent years, some scientific breeders authorized by the government to run projects for the captive breeding of species threatened with extinction have felt pressure from Brazilian governmental agencies to send their Spixs macaws to the ACTP in Germany.

Questioned in 2018 about the dispatch of these individuals and the reason for captive breeding taking place outside Brazil, the ICMBio provided the following response in an email from its press office: Since the National Plan of Action for the Conservation of the Spixs Macaw was introduced in 2012, only two hatchings were registered in Brazil in 2014, whereas breeders in Germany and Qatar achieved reproductive rates that have enabled the growth of the population from 79 to 158 individuals. Most came originally from the collection of the Qatari royal Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani, who established the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation in Qatar, one of the Brazilian programs partners for the reintroduction of the Spixs macaw.

Those same concerns were echoed by a Brazilian biologist who was directly involved in the federal government program but chose to leave because they felt that all the decisions being made favored sending more Spixs macaws to Guth. Brazils Ministry of the Environment has remained silent amid the controversy, providing no information on future actions or any specifics of the terms of the partnership with the ACTP, including whether the rest of the macaws held in Germany will be sent to Bahia. Mongabay emailed a list of questions to the ICMBio press office on Feb. 26, seeking answers to the Brazilian governments position regarding the complaints against Guth, the costs of the project, and the current number of Spixs macaws and where they are located.

In Rio, a blue macaw (known as a Spixs Macaw) named Blu voiced by Jesse Eisenberg flies from the U.S. to Rio de Janeiro because thats where the last female macaw lives. Hijinks ensue, but Blu eventually romances Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway) and the movie ends with the Spixs Macaw population flourishing once more. Its a happy ending, but its not one the actual Spixs Macaw population got.