Costa Rica // The Zona Norte //

The great green macaw: back from the brink?

The Sarapiquí region harbours the country’s last flocks of great green macaw (lapa verde), the largest parrot in Central America. Globally endangered, it is estimated that less than 200 birds remain in Costa Rica, with fewer than 30 breeding pairs, but the fact that they survive here at all – in what constitutes just ten percent of their original home range – is only due to some sterling conservation work. Continued deforestation across the Zona Norte has caused a dramatic decrease in the population of the great green macaws, whose unfortunate fate is to rely on the almendro tree (a popular tropical hardwood) for their existence, nesting in its boughs and feeding on the large nuts it produces.

The almendro is now, belatedly, protected, but the first major step in the fight to save this beautiful bird was the creation of the San Juan–La Selva Biological Corridor (http://www.selvaverde.com/lang/en/biologicalcorridor.php), which ecologically links the Reserva Biológica Indio-Maíz in Nicaragua with the Cordillera Central – great green macaws require a wide area for breeding and foraging, and the corridor acts as a vital migratory pathway. Its conservational focus is the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Maquenque, a multi-use wildlife refuge encompassing more than 500 square kilometres of wetlands, lagoons and lowland Atlantic forest that was established in 2005, after ten years of hard lobbying.

Mixto Maquenque plays a vital role in sustaining Costa Rica’s great green macaw population, though the bird’s future depends as much on the continuity of the corridor, which can only really be achieved through the creation of private eco-reserves that provide a financial incentive for conserving their habitat. The first of these initiatives, the Costa Rican Bird Route – which includes Reserva Biológica Tirimbina, Selva Verde Lodge and Estación Biológica La Selva – was set up to improve bird tourism in the region, thus delivering greater economic opportunities to local communities. The development of the Bird Route has resulted in another fifteen square kilometres of forest being newly protected as official private reserves.