Over 30 years ago Margot and Richard Frisius were inspired to settle in Rio Segundo de Alajuela, Costa Rica after travelling the world over many years. There they established a conservation center for parrots, Amigos de las Aves, to help stop the alarming decline of these magnificent birds in Costa Rica.
Over time, confiscated macaws were donated to the center by MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy) and from other private donors who had unwanted pets. Many of the birds were in poor condition and heavily imprinted on humans. Although these birds were unsuitable to release to the wild, they were rehabilitated and given the opportunity to reproduce, with the hope that their offspring could return to the wild and fly free.
Macaw numbers worldwide have been plummeting for many years and Costa Rica is no different. Formerly present over 85% of the country (Forbes 2005) there are now two main isolated populations of Scarlet Macaws remaining in Costa Rica, the largest occurring in the Osa Conservation Area (ACOSA) with an estimated population of 800-1200 individuals and between 400-450 individuals in the Central Pacific Conservation Area (ACOPAC) (Dear 2010). Numbers of Great Green Macaws have recovered slightly in recent years because of intensive conservation efforts, although there were still only an estimated 290 individuals left in 2009 (Chassot et al) There are believed to be only 25 to 35 breeding pairs left in the country, with worldwide numbers less than 1000 individuals. Both are CITES Appendix 1 species.
The project continued for many years and the collection of birds grew. Sadly, Margo Frisius passed away in 2008 at age 87, leaving Richard, in his 90s, alone to run the project. Around that time he decided it was time for someone else to continue the work, prompting the beginning of the Ara Project. When Richard passed away in 2010 the birds were placed in the care of the Beruite family and other collaborators, who had an ongoing association with the birds and could ensure the birds’ long-term well-being.
A History of Releasing Parrots to the Wild
Starting in the late 1990s the release of captive-raised macaws was initiated by the project’s collaborators, and several releases were carried out over the course of the following decade. The first releases of Scarlet Macaw started in Northern Costa Rica, in Palo Verde region, and at the Curu Wildlife Refuge on the southern end of Nicoya Peninsula. Many of the released birds survived and active nesting was documented in July of 2004. Although administrative challenges and high rates of poaching in the area ended Ara’s involvement, as of 2006, the population consisted of 11 macaws, including 9 adults and 2 juveniles fledged in 2004, 5 years after release.
Subsequent releases were undertaken on several occasions in the Osa Conservation Area, and where community outreach was given high priority. There, dozens of released Scarlet Macaws have continued to thrive and the population has begun to grow. Most recently releases have been initiated in the Punta Islita area, where a growing population of the birds has also been established.
Reintroduction efforts for the Great Green Macaw was initiated on the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica in 2011, and continues to date with several dozen birds now living successfully in the wild.
To protect the long-term viability of the project and augment the professionalism of the work being completed, the Ara Project was legally established as an official non-governmental association, Asociación El Proyecto Ara, in February 2012. The aim of the newly formed organization remains the same as original founders’ goals — to ensure the long-term future of wild parrots in Costa Rica, through restoring macaws to their historic range in Costa Rica, contributing to the scientific community, encouraging the protection of tropical forests, and educating the public to assure the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations for many years to come.