Geraldine and The Jaguar Rescue Centre

On my first day at Manzanillo as the new site manager it was straight into the action. It was meant to be spent getting to know the site, meeting the team but it wasn’t too be. Sam (The Ara Project Director) and I were up early to watch the birds as they came in for their morning feed to get an idea of how they behave and introduce me to their routine. As we sat and looked over the site from our tourist lookout birds were flying all around us, coming in in pairs and small groups calling to each other as they flew. The release is set in an area of amazing forest, huge Mountain Almond trees dot the sky line, calls of howler monkey resonate down the valley whilst Toucans are joined by Great-green Macaws as they fly between trees. Emily and Enrique have made it possible for the Ara Project to release the majestic Great-greens here. They’re dedicated work in the last six years has put the project in a good position; we can now build on this work to complete our mission of creating a self-sustaining population of Great-greens in the area.

Great-green Macaws relaxing in the sun at Manzanillo

Great-green Macaws relaxing in the sun at Manzanillo

The colours of the Great-green Macaw in flight is gorgeous, their leave green upper body feather turn turquoise towards their tail and to the end of their wings. They have a splash of red on the tail and a tuft of red across the top of their impressive beak. Compared to the more well-known Scarlet Macaws they are more understated but these stockier birds and in my opinion even more beautiful. As we sat and watched the morning activities unfolding I noticed a bird still sleeping in the top of a tree, by this time it was 3 hours after sunrise and it should have been up and about foraging with the others. But instead it was sat with its head under its wing, fluffed up; not looking like a happy parrot. As we watched it woke up but seemed reluctant to fly, either it was blind or lacking the strength to try and fly. Eventually after a few small glides she made it down to a tree near the feeders. She still seemed reluctant to fly and was climbing as until she was forced to make the short hop to the feeders. On closer inspection she didn’t seem blind but was continuously closing her eyes as if she was really tired.

We needed to catch her so we could access her and see if she needed any medical treatment. That is easier said than done, especially with thirty other inquisitive and intelligent spectators taking a keen interest in what we were doing. They know what the net looks like and the towels we use to catch the birds so if we used them then they would raise the alarm and the sick bird would most likely take to the air or at least climb out of reach.

For our first attempt we decided to try and lower the feeder she was on until it was within our reach then grab her. Slowly I started to lower the rope with Sam waiting to pounce from below. She seemed oblivious to the movement of the platform, another indication that she wasn’t 100%. She was feeding with her eyes closed so I increased the speed of the decent. As she came down through the understorey she suddenly realised that something had changed, she looked around as if to question why the world was getting taller. Hunger got the better of her and she tucked back into the sunflower seeds. As Sam’s head came level with the platform she again realised that something was amiss, a human face shouldn’t be appearing next to her, I dropped the platform quickly so Sam could grab her before she made a break, but as he reached out she leaped from the platform and glided down the hill to another tree. We made two more unsuccessful attempts before, becoming wise to our intentions she flew off and perched in a tree way out of our reach. Unfortunately she wasn’t looking any better for the bit of food she managed to eat; she was fluffed up and kept closing her eyes. We needed to catch her.

We retreated to let her recover and to re-evaluate our strategy. It was obvious she was hungry so we decided to wait until the afternoon feeding time and then use a bowl of their favourite food, sunflower seeds to tempt her to come close. Our only static feeding platform has long perches attached to it going to the aviary, using this Sam slowly tempted her in. Once she had realised it was sunflowers seeds there was really only one outcome, she was going to go for them. As soon as her head was down, with lightening quick reactions Sam grabbed behind the head and quickly descended the ladder. She was obviously not too keen on her situation and made her feeling known with some characteristic macaw screams. Within a minute of her being caught she was in the bird box and allowed to regain some composure.

Even with a cautionary look it was easy to see she needed the attention of a vet. There were no obvious problems with her body, no broken bones or cuts that could have become infected. Her eyes, which we previously thought might be an issue, were okay but she still kept closing them as if falling asleep. Luckily Tirza, our Community and Education Officer, who knows everyone in the local area, had the number of Encar at the Jaguar Rescue Centre. The Jaguar Foundation is a refuge and rehabilitation centre that is based in Punta Uva just down the road from our release site here in Manzanillo. They have a resident vet and a very knowledgeable staff as they treat the animals that come into them, mostly injured or orphaned.

Geraldine before you recovered to full health sitting on the vets table

Geraldine before you recovered to full health sitting on the vets table

Our patient, who we found out is called “Geraldine” was alert but as every 30 seconds or so she would start to close her eyes, sometimes she would fight it but others she would fall asleep momentarily. It seemed as if she was so tired she couldn’t fight the urge to sleep. In all animals this is not a good sign, a healthy wild bird should be wide awake and constantly aware of what is going on. Even when handling her it was obvious she wasn’t well. Normally Great green Macaws are powerful birds, who like most wild animals do not react well to being handled but Geraldine did not put up too much of a fight. It was an honour none the less to hold such a magnificent bird.

After an initial check-up and a consultation with another vet in San Jose a course of action was decided on. As there was no external injuries and no lumps and bumps obvious on closer inspection. To be 100% sure there was nothing internally wrong with Geraldine it was decided she would have an X-Ray, this would shows us if there was anything blocking her intestinal tract, infection of her air sacks or complications with her reproductive system like egg binding. As getting an X-ray, even from an unhealthy bird was going to be tough Geraldine was sedated for her own good and ours. The X-Ray didn’t show up anything untoward, so we took Geraldine back to the field station for some peace and quiet.

I now had some company in the field station, although I’m sure both us would have preferred company of our own species. After recovering from her sedation Geraldine ate and drank well. For the next 10 days she had to have her antibiotic injection, but after 5 days she was looking much better and was getting bored in her intensive care unit that I moved her to a larger aviary. For the first night she didn’t look like she was that impressed but with some visits from the rest of group the following day and some of her favourite mountain almonds she perked up a lot. Over the 10 days that she needed her injections Encar or one of the Jaguar Rescue Centre team came up to the field station. This was extremely good of them as they asked for no money for the care and medication, and took time out of their day to help us.  The Ara Project is extremely grateful for their help, if you want to see more about the great work they do check out their website: www.jaguarrescue.com

To my relief Geraldine, who has now been in captivity for 12 days and is acting like a healthy bird again. Tomorrow she moves into our bigger flight aviary so we can make sure she is still capable of flying then all things going well she will be release at the end of the week.

About the Author
Staff and volunteers at The Ara Project come from all over the world and all walks of life! Some of us have years of experience working with parrots and in conservation and for some of us, this work is brand new! But we all have one thing in common which is that we're dedicated to helping these beautiful birds roam free once again in Costa Rica.