SAN JUAN – Fifteen Puerto Rican parrots were released into the wild to strengthen the critically endangered species, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, or DRNA, said.
The release of the birds, also known as Puerto Rican amazons, in the Rio Abajo State Forest “is a crucial step in the program to restore this species,” DRNA Secretary Carmen Guerrero said.
“Each time we release birds, with the intention of increasing the number of parrots living in the wild, we advance step by step toward a not-so-distant future when the bird the Tainos (Puerto Rico’s early inhabitants) called the iguaca may be taken off the list of species in danger of extinction,” she said.
The DRNA is in the process of preparing an additional 200 Puerto Rican to be released into the wild.
The most recent census found the number or Puerto Rican parrots living free in the Rio Abajo State Forest ranges between 50 and 100, with another group in the El Yunque National Park on the island’s northeastern coast.
The program to restore the species is led by DRNA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Forest Service.
Birds being trained for life in the wild must spend at least one year in cages large enough to allow flight. They are fed with fruits they will find in the wilderness and taught to recognize their natural predators.
Two Puerto Rican parrots were born in the wild last year in the Rio Abajo, an landmark achievement for the program.
Authorities estimate that Puerto Rico was home to more than 1 million Puerto Rican parrots in the 19th century. By the 1950s, their numbers had fallen to barely 200.
In 1968, the species was included in the U.S. federal endangered species list and the restoration program began in 1973 with a first center in El Yunque for reproduction in captivity.
A second center for reproduction in captivity was established in Rio Abajo in 1993.
The first release of a batch of Puerto Rican parrots took place in 2000 in El Yunque, followed in 2006 by a release in Rio Abajo.