Flight of fancy: How Heather trains macaws for rainforest

Heather Scott with parrots Alfie and Luna at The Tropical Butterfly World. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Heather Scott with parrots Alfie and Luna at The Tropical Butterfly World. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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THEIR stunning plumage cuts a striking sight even in their natural habitat.

But the majesty of some of the world’s most beautiful parrots is being undermined by a salvo of threats.

As Heather Scott knows only too well, having temporarily traded the chill of South Yorkshire for the tropical forest of Costa Rica.

The head bird trainer at Sheffield’s Tropical Butterfly House is spending six weeks volunteering for charity, the Ara Project, at its breeding centre in Punta Islita, helping to save endangered macaws.

Speaking before her trip she said: “I am very lucky that the Tropical Butterfly House team share my passion for conservation and are allowing me to take this time away from my role at the park. It’s through being here and working with parrots that I’ve developed such a fondness for them and it’s an indescribable privilege to be able to go and get stuck in and help the Ara Project with the amazing work they are doing. I am incredibly grateful to the individuals and companies who have kindly donated to help fund the trip and make it possible.”

Having arrived on Monday Heather has been acclimatizing to her new environment which is also home to tarantulas and tailless whip scorpions.

Before leaving the UK she and her team raised £1,500 for the charity. Two miniature macaws based at the Tropical Butterfly House also played a part. Ché and Esteban are three-year-old Hahn’s Macaw brothers trained to gently take coins from members of the audience who wish to make a donation during animal shows at the park. Alfie, a Green-Winged Macaw also ‘plays dead’ during displays to ensure the message hits home about the potential loss of a parrot species.

Andrew Reeve, Tropical Butterfly House curator, said: “We use macaws in demonstrations and in those demonstrations we raise a lot of money to help conservation projects. One of the projects we are supporting is the Ara Project in Costa Rica.

“There are 17 species left of the macaw family, all found in South America. Due to rainforest destruction and the illegal pet trade a lot of those species are becoming very rare now. One of those species, Spix’s Macaw, is extinct in the wild and it is only found in captivity now. There are only a couple of thousand of the Great Green Macaws, which Heather is working with, left in the wild. She is also working with Scarlet Macaws while out there. She will be monitoring their sites, putting nest boxes out. One of the problems when rainforests get logged is that it is the big trees that get logged which provide nests and food for the macaws.

“They are providing artificial nest sites and monitoring them to protect them from predators and the illegal taking of them.”

Heather will also be giving advise on how to train the macaws, which may arrive at the Ara Project as rescue animals, but which have to be trained in order to be re-released back into the wild.

The Ara project was founded in 1982 and is dedicated to ensuring the future of Great Green Macaws and Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica.

The latest research by the charity estimates there are only around 4,000 Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica, and less than 1,000 Great Green Macaws, with perhaps as few as 35 breeding pairs remaining.