People

ARA Project Team

We rely on a small and dedicated staff to run our day-to-day operations and ensure that all the birds receive the highest possible care. Throughout the year staff are joined by dozens of volunteers from around the world who learn about the birds in their care, and how they are doing in the wild. Learn more about our wonderful staff below:


Board of Directors

The Ara Project is a Costa Rican licensed, government-supervised, conservation organization operated by the non-profit organization Asociación El Proyecto Ara. The Board of Directors, which administer the association, is composed of the following members:



  • Sam Williams, Ph.D. - Director

    Sam Williams started keeping parakeets and parrots as a boy growing up in Yorkshire, England. At 16, Sam was already breeding Amazon parrots, his aviaries consuming nearly half his family’s garden. At that same young age, Sam’s love of parrots led him to the fortunate opportunity to spend two months working with the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and the wild Echo Parakeets, where he learned a great deal from Carl Jones and the other conservationists and was able to work with wild Echo parakeets.

    Two years later, in an ambitious fundraising effort, Sam managed to raise (GBP) £2,500 for the Echo Parakeets by riding his bicycle from the bottom of England to the top of Scotland. Soon after, Sam returned to Mauritius for a full breeding season, returning again four years later as part of his degree in ecology, obtained at Stirling, Scotland.

    Sam’s career later led him to Brazil, where he spent six months observing Lear’s Macaws. Following that, he received support from the World Parrot Trust to research the Yellow-shouldered Amazons on Bonaire. In 2005 Sam and his colleague Rowan Martin each conducted research projects on Bonaire, to benefit the conservation of these fantastic birds. On completing his doctorate studies Sam launched Echo, an organisation benefiting the Yellow-shouldered Amazon. Echo’s efforts in conservation, outreach, habitat restoration and research have helped the birds’ population rise from 365 birds to over 1000!

    Sam is delighted to join the Ara project and is looking forward to developing the organisation’s strategy. With his diverse experience from parrot keeping and wild parrot management through to fundraising and operations Sam is confident he can move The Ara Project forward and help Costa Rica’s incredible parrots.

    For more reading see: The Great-Green Macaw Recovery Plan Leadership (300kb PDF)

  • Tirza Morales - Education Officer

    Tirza joined The Ara Project in 2015. She was born and raised in Talamanca and has been promoting local rural tourism and environmental education. She is an avid admirer of macaws and is deeply committed to The Ara Project’s conservation work. Her outreach is directed towards the local communities within the Great Green macaws’ habitat. This photo shows Tirza distributing flyers and project coloring books at the local farmers market with her 6 years old daughter. Tirza leads workshops for a wide spectrum of priority audiences, from teachers and children at local schools to the Ministry of the Environment rangers and Tourism Police, sharing information about our efforts and teaching the importance of treating the birds with respect and love. This outreach encourages the local residents to actively support and monitor the wellbeing of the reintroduced macaws and their fledging chicks. Tirza is actively involved in many community initiatives, recycling, Blue flag program, school parents group, art crafts and sustainable lifestyle. Her native language is Spanish, she also converses in English, Bribri and Mekatelyu (local Creole).

  • Sarah Williams - General Manager

    Sarah is a physical therapist from the Netherlands with a huge interest in conserving nature and dedicated to make the world a better place. With her educational background she loves to work with people and she speaks 6 languages. Sarah has been involved in Conservation since 2011. Before coming to Costa Rica in 2016 she set up merchandise and was leading the Communications and Education programs for Echo, a non-profit working with Yellow Shouldered Amazon parrots. Her educational background and hands-on experience make her very suitable for the role as the General Manager at The Ara Project. Sarah lives on-site at the Punta Islita Breeding and Release Center.

  • Tom Lewis - Punta Islita Site Manger

    Tom has been involved since 2015, starting as the site manager in Manzanillo and currently at the Breeding and Release centre in Punta Islita. Before joining the Ara Project team Tom gained experience on a number of different species recovery projects. After completing his degree he travelled to the island of Mauritius to join the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Working and living in remote areas studying endangered species up close inspired him to follow his passion and help conserve endangered species. After working on a number of species recovery projects in UK and abroad he completed an MSc in Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation.

  • Duaro Mayorga Hernández - Manzanillo Site Manager

    Duaro is a certified naturalist guide, native Bribri raised at the local Kekoldi indigenous territory in Talamanca. From a young age Duaro worked on his family’s agro-forestry farm and was especially dedicated to their project to breed and care for the endangered Green Iguanas, reproducing to repopulate the region, as hunting and consumption had severely diminished the species. He has worked as a local ecotourism guide for 10 years and also assisted visiting biologists for 6 seasons at the Kekoldi Hawk Observation center, counting, netting and attaching ID bracelets during the bi-annual migrations North and South. Duaro was the youngest member elected to the governing board of the Kekoldi Development Association, completing his 2-year administration term in 2015 when he joined The Ara Project. He is an avid mountain biker, trail blazer, Nature lover and photographer. He speaks Bribri, Spanish and English.

  • Maricela Pizarro-Porter - Administrative Assistant

    After graduating from Biology at the University of Costa Rica in 2010, Maricela made a point of collaborating with educational and conservation non-profits. She became a Teaching Assistant at The School for Field Studies and the Council in International Educational Exchange study abroad programs, where she had the opportunity to teach about the tropical forests, human impact and conservation, while traveling Costa Rica. In 2014, Maricela joined The Ara Project. She began collaborating with the Volunteer Program and bookkeeping. Currently, she contributes with the development and maintenance of the sites, providing the necessary assistance with logistics and supplies. Maricela will further support the project writing grants.

  • Fabio Castrillo - Parrot keeper / groundsman

    Fabio was born and grew up in the south of Costa Rica, very close to the border with Panama. As a young adult he worked on his family’s coffee farm before moving to the Guanacaste region around 12 years ago. For ten years he worked for the Hotel Punta Islita where he was engaged in a variety of tasks including carpentry, maintenance, gardening, construction and forestry. Fabio’s love of wildlife and the environment lead him to his job at The Ara Project 2 years ago. Since that time, his varied skills, experiences and knowledge of the local environment mean that he has become an invaluable team member. Therefore The Ara Project is as committed to helping him grow as he is committed to helping the macaws. Current plans include supporting Fabio to learn English and teaching him to drive a car. Fabio enjoys his work at The Ara Project as he’s passionate about helping endangered species, loves meeting and working with volunteers from all over the world and enjoys the opportunities to gain new skills.

  • Volunteers

    The Ara Project is very lucky to regularly have energetic and dedicated people from all over the world, and from all walks of life, donate their time to working with our macaws. Volunteers stay for a minimum of a month but many spend a lot longer with us. They are an absolutely vital part of the organisation and work very hard! Regular tasks for our volunteers include the day-to-day care and maintenance of our birds and their environments. However, we also have people who work within their speciality such as visiting vets, biologists, builders, landscape gardeners and graphic designers. Volunteers live onsite and enjoy the experience of not only working up close with our magnificent macaws and contributing to their survival but also, the cultural exchange of living in rural Costa Rica amongst people from all over the world.

  • President: Suzy Beirute

    Biologist by training and with a strong business background, Mrs. Beirute has been a friend of the Frisius family for more than a decade now. A huge supporter of the ARA Project since its inception, she is currently part of the board of directors that ensures its continuity and sustainability.

  • Vice-president: Enrique Pucci

    Management consultant, specializing in industrial and construction projects. Long time promoter of sustainable development initiatives in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Landowner and supporter of the reintroduction site for the Great Green Macaw.

  • Treasurer: Steve Milpacher

    Operations Director of the World Parrot Trust, Mr. Milpacher is a dedicated conservationist who has kept and bred parrots for over 30 years, and has traveled extensively in Central America and the Caribbean to study parrots in the wild. He completed undergrad studies in biological sciences and received a certificate in Endangered Species Management from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (UK). He is a speaker at international conferences and has published articles in parrot-related magazines and journals. In his spare time, Steve is an enthusiastic wildlife photographer whose pictures have been published in magazines, books and calendars.

  • Secretary: Emily Yozell

    Emily Yozell is a U.S. trained attorney who has been living and working in Central America based in Costa Rica for over 25 years. She has focused on human rights investigations and litigation in Latin America, including the right to a healthy environment. She co-founded the first public interest environmental litigation project in Central America, Justicia para la Naturaleza, in 1994. Emily resides in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica where she has established conservation easements and other mechanisms to protect valuable eco-systems and local land rights.

  • Wendy Solís Hernández

    Costa Rican biologist, with a Masters in Sustainable Development with an emphasis in Conservation of Biological Resources from the University of Costa Rica. Her masters dissertation was “Gene flow across a fragmented landscape in the hummingbird pollinated timber species Symphonia globulifera (Clusiaceae) and its implications for sustainable development”.

    Wendy was in charge of the Biology Department’s Genetics Laboratory at UCR where she performed standardized DNA extractions, quantifications, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), prepared samples to be read at Capillary electrophoresis with marker-500 LIZ standard in an automatic sequencer ABI 310 (Applied Biosystems Incorporated), interpreting and analysing results.

  • Luis Fernando Arias

    Fernando is an Agricultural Engineer with broad experience. He successfully developed and directed the Center for Food Technology at the University of Costa Rica; he is a landowner and supporter of the Manzanillo release site for the Great Green Macaw reintroduction activities of The Ara Project. He is an active member of the Costa Rican Institute for Biodiversity Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) and has been active nationally in numerous sustainable development initiatives.

  • James Gilardi, Ph. D.

    Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust, Dr. Gilardi is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioral and physiological ecology with special focus on tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates. Following undergraduate studies at the University of Washington and UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behavior, foraging ecology, and soil eating in South-eastern Peru. He has studied wild parrots for more than 25 years and is active in WPT’s fieldwork, conserving parrots around the world.

  • Cristiana Senni

    Joining the World Parrot Trust in 1997, Cristiana volunteered as a translator for PsittaScene, WPT’s quarterly magazine. Over time Cristiana became the Trust’s representative in Italy, and in 2000, became a WPT Trustee.

    Cristiana’s work with the Trust has focused on researching the issues related to the wild-caught trade, along with representing the WPT at bird-trade related meetings with the EU Commission, DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and CITES. Her latest role at the Trust is as the Social Media Coordinator / Bird Trade Specialist where she uses her talents to manage WPT’s social networks – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – as well she helps to facilitate all aspects of WPT’s efforts to end the international trade in wild-caught birds.


Advisors/Honarary


  • Frederico Hong

    Pharmacist and businessman by training. Mr. Hong has been a huge supporter of the organization since the beginning and is a passionate conservationist. He brings great financial and business expertise to the table, a dynamic leader that is very goal oriented while staying focused on the welfare of the birds and the conservation of both species of macaws.

  • André Saidenberg

    André is a Brazilian veterinarian with a special interest in medicine for birds and other wild animals. He completed his Masters degree in Veterinary Epidemiology in Microbiology in captive and free-living psittacines in 2008, his PhD working with confiscated birds undergoing the release process back into the wild in 2013 and currently postdoctoral surveys of the health of free-ranging Lear’s Macaws. He has been a volunteer of the WPT since 2007 translating PsittaScene to Portuguese and helping WPT to form partnerships in Brazil with conservationists and scientific groups.

  • Fernanda Hong

    Fernanda Hong Beirute became acquainted with the Frisius family when she volunteered on summer vacations at Amigos de las Aves, while she was still in high school. The relationship grew and when she graduated from Biology at the University of Costa Rica in 2009, the Frisius family invited her and her family to continue the legacy of Amigos de las Aves.

    She is an avid biologist, having collaborated with several conservation initiatives (focused mainly on bats) and has continuously volunteered in various national parks and projects.