Saving Mexico’s Parrots and Mangroves

Defenders’ Mexico Program Director Juan Carlos Cantu scored a major year-end victory for the parrots and mangroves of Mexico. After four long years of raising public awareness and applying pressure behind the scenes, he helped secure protections for four different species of coastal mangrove trees and seven different species of imperiled parrots.

A lilac-crowned chick, fitted with a transmitter.

Disappearing parrots

Habitat loss in Mexico is negatively affecting parrots that thrive in tropical and mountain forests, but there is also a more sinister culprit for the decline of many species. A large number of parrots are sold each year as part of an illegal pet trade both within Mexico and internationally. According to a comprehensive report published by Defenders in 2007, an estimated 65,000 to 78,500 parrots are trapped illegally each year. That’s why Mexico’s 22 species of parrots and macaws are in serious trouble.

Though Mexican authorities have monitored the situation for years, enforcement is difficult and often given very low priority. PROFEPA, the Mexican environmental law enforcement authority, seizes about 1,300 parrots each year—just two percent of the total implicated in illegal trade. Furthermore, a shocking 77 percent of all captured parrots are believed to die during the process of confinement and transportation.  That means 50,000 to 60,000 parrots die needlessly each year, most of them species that are already threatened or endangered.

In 2008, a ban on trapping and trade of parrots was enacted which has helped to decrease illegal trade. With the passage of the latest protections, 11 parrot species will now be classified as endangered, six will be classified as vulnerable, four warrant “special protection” and only one species remains unclassified. These added protections will ensure that the species are included in the government conservation programs for priority species based on natural protected areas. It will also help forestall initiatives in Congress by bird trapper unions and pet industry to revoke the 2008 ban.

An estimated 65,000 to 78,500 parrots are trapped illegally each year. More than 75 percent die in transit.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that parrots are safe. Defenders is facilitating the ongoing work of PROFEPA by creating materials to help inspectors identify parrot species. Much of the illegal parrot trade consists of baby parrots that are taken directly from their nests, so proper identification is critical. This year we will publish a parrot identification guide for environmental authorities which will be the first bird guide that includes chicks.

We will also continue our outreach campaign to ensure that all Mexicans are aware of the new laws regarding conservation status and the ban on parrot trading.

Threatened mangroves

Coastal mangrove forests buffer ocean waves with strong root networks that extend above and below the tide.

Coastal mangrove forests buffer ocean waves with strong root networks that extend above and below the tide.

Mangrove forests exist in the tropical zones up and down the coasts of Mexico where they perform critical ecosystem services. During serious storms and tsunamis, mangroves provide a buffer to dampen the energy of surging storm waters and crashing waves. Their elaborate root networks hold strong in even the wildest tempests, dissipating the force of storms and reducing their impacts on inland infrastructure. Mangroves also hold sand, silt and soil in place, preventing them from being swept out to sea where sediment can suffocate coral reefs.

Like all forests, mangroves help remove carbon dioxide from the air on a global scale and provide refuge and food for myriad birds, fish, insects and other wildlife in coastal regions. It has been estimated that up to 70% of the tropical commercial fishery species depend directly or indirectly on mangroves. As the global climate changes, mangroves will also play an increasingly important role in mitigating the impacts of sea level rise with their unique ability to survive in the transition zone between land and water.

But even ignoring climate change, coastal mangroves are under constant threat from development. These zones occupy prime real estate for beachfront vacation resorts as well as important fishing areas such as shrimp farms. Removing mangrove forests, however, leaves coastal areas more vulnerable to storm damage and may reduce the viability of native fisheries. Reports from Mexico estimate that 1 to 2.5 percent of mangroves are being lost annually, and experts predict that nearly half of the country’s mangroves will be lost by 2025 if no action is taken.

Nearly half of Mexico’s mangroves will be lost by 2025 if no action is taken.

The upgraded “threatened” status of Mexico’s four key mangrove tree species will help keep development pressures at bay and preserve the critical function of coastal ecosystems. This increased protection will close down legal loopholes in wildlife laws that have been used in the past by tourism developers, urban developers, the oil industry and aquaculture industry to circumvent the ban on the use of mangroves.

Great work, Juan Carlos. Viva los manglares y los pericos!