Echo Parakeet – The World’s Rarest Parrot
In 1986 only 8—12 echo parakeets (Psittacula echo) survived, on Mauritius, and most of them were males. It was recommended that the last few birds be secured for a captive-breeding project and in July and August, 1984 Don Merton of the New Zealand Wildlife Service visited the island to organize the work.
Unfortunately, after two weeks’ hard work camping in the forest, he was unable to capture any Echo parakeet bird. Then, in August 1985, an apparently young Echo Parakeet bird was seen and raised hopes for breeding success in 1986. It was then felt that the best hope for the species was to provide it with every opportunity for successful reproduction in the wild and to harvest eggs or young for the captive-breeding project.
In April 1986 a pair of Echo Parakeet was seen on the Macchebée Ridge and the Forestry Service began to provide the birds with additional food and suitable nestboxes and to control nest predators and competitors such as black rats (Rattus rattus) and common mynahs (Acridotheres tristis).
If these measures are successful the echo parakeet has a good chance of surviving in a country which has seen the decline of many species and the extinction of others such as the now-famous dodo (Raphus cucullatus).
Other Endangered Parrots
Another critically endangered member of the large and diverse parrot family is the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) of the Greater Antilles. Island species of parrot are particularly vulnerable to human activities, especially as they have mostly small populations and relatively slow breeding rates. And because they have evolved in isolation they tend to be less able to cope with habitat destruction, introduced competitors, disease and predators.
Steps taken to save Echo Parakeet and other parrot families
Through a combination of such factors, there were only 13 Puerto Rican parrots left in the wild in 1975 and it looked as though the species was doomed to extinction, but an emergency conservation program involving strict control of hunting and trapping saved the day.
In addition, the number of nest-sites was artificially increased and there was cross-fostering of eggs and nestlings between the Puerto Rican parrot and the closely related but non-endangered Hispaniolan parrot (Amazona ventralis). It was also necessary to reduce attacks by the pearly-eyed thrasher (Margarops fuscatus), a recent immigrant, on nest-sites, eggs and young.
Success was immediate and by October 1982 the wild population had more than doubled, with a further 15 birds carefully maintained in captivity. By June 1986 the wild population had risen to 20 plus a further 20 in captivity. This clearly shows what can be achieved when man applies all his knowledge and resources. It is a tragedy that such techniques were not available earlier this century to save other species, such as the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), then the most northerly representative of the family, from extinction. This bird was once very common throughout most of eastern USA but was shot unmercifully as an agricultural pest and its habitat decimated by forest swamp clearance.