Chester Zoo reclassifies South American parrot as its own species

A SOUTH AMERICAN parrot has been reclassified in its own right, which could help save the bird from extinction in the wild.

Before now, the Ecuador Amazon parrot was considered to be part of a group and not seen as a conservation priority.

It is estimated that only 600 of the birds remain in the wild and have to live in either mangroves or dry forests in order to survive.

The Ecuador Amazon parrot. Photo: BBC news

The Ecuador Amazon parrot. Photo: BBC News

The reclassification was based on years of work by a researcher at Chester Zoo.

Mark Pilgrim, the zoo’s director general who carried out the research said: “ I am very proud that we have actually identified that this bird is very important and can now get some protection.”

Before Mark’s research, the Ecuador Amazon parrot was considered to be one of four subspecies with the Amazona autunmnalis group, which has an estimated population of about five million birds and a range extending from Central America to Brazil.

However, due to the size of the population and large range, it did not rank among conservationists priorities.

Dr Pilgrim said: I have discovered is that it has been hidden within another group and that it actually needs to be pulled out of that group because it is really important.”

While the other three members of the A. autunmnalis group only require one widely available habitat, lowland forests, Dr Pilgrim observed that the Ecuador Amazon parrot unusually relied on two threatened habitats.

“It requires mangroves to roost at night and dry forest, which it flies to every day to feed,” he said.
“Both of those habitats only occur on the western coast of Ecuador and both of those habitats are really threatened.” Mark added.

Dr Pilgrim has been a bird keeper at Chester Zoo for 25 years, where he was had an interest in parrots and a pair of Ecuador Amazon parrots at the zoo who were his perfect subjects when embarking on a PhD.

He measured hundreds of skeletons and skins from all around Europe.

Dr Pilgrim then went to a breeding centre in Tenerife where he monitored the birds’ courtship behavior to see if the courtship was different between the three species.

The outcome from his research was that the birds had enough differences from the other subspecies to warrant the Ecuador Amazon to be separated from the taxonomic group.

The announcement of the reclassification is expected in Spring 2014, when it will no longer be known as Amazona autunmnalis lilacina and will be listed as A.lilacina.

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