Parrot Conservation Changes a Catholic Tradition
Fifteen years ago the yellow-eared parrot was presumed extinct. Its rediscovery in Colombia forced the Catholic Church to abandon an age-old tradition, and brought about one of the most amazing comebacks in the Americas.
The square itself is a leafy, magical place, as lively as a yellow-eared parrot roost at sunset. People sit outside at little wooden tables tended by owners of the storefront cafes, from which float melodies--Mexican pop or tango. Families occupy a few tables, a quintet of matrons another; clusters of high school students giggle and flirt on benches under the trees.
At a table flaking pink paint, two brothers, lean, handsome men in their 60s, nurse demitasses of tinto, the instant coffee that is the inexplicable favorite of Colombians. "Yes, we used to carry wax palms on Domingo de Ramos, but we don't anymore," the younger, Mario, confides genially. "Because the yellow-eared parrot makes his little nest in the tree and in no other. So now we use a different branch. It's not as good against storms, though."
Two blocks east lies the small house that serves ProAves as headquarters and the youth of Jardin as an informal clubhouse. The dozen gray pulpits standing about the utilitarian courtyard are artificial nest boxes, soon to be attached to wax palms in the cloudforest. Initially skeptical, the parrots now accept the boxes; close to 50 young have fledged from them.
It's Palm Sunday minus one--Saturday, that is--and Ana Velasquez, ProAves' education coordinator in Jardin, is distributing paintbrushes to kids. The churchwomen's group has invited them to carry a banner in the procession tomorrow. "La Vida es Sagrada. Reconciliate con la naturaleza," they paint. Life is sacred. Reconcile yourself with nature.
And so the day dawns. The ProAves kids are doing a brisk business in the square selling iraka. Native, common, and abundant, it has been the sanctioned frond since bamboo was ditched in 2004. People are pouring in from the countryside--on horseback, squeezed onto motorcycles, packed into coffee-cooperative jeeps. The forestry police staked out the roads before dawn, looking for wax palms coming into town. Every year there have been fewer. This morning there are none.
The great church hall has been decorated with upright iraka--fanned open to show the lovely shading from the green outer leaves to the creamy yellow innermost. "The iraka are puny," grumbles Dona Adela, still officially opposed to the change. "But pretty," she adds grudgingly. She softens. "Yes, I was very pleased at how the hall turned out."
"Sometimes people feel so daunted," Paul Salaman says. "It's so difficult to save species, they say, so expensive. Well, it turned out that the yellow-eared parrot was suffering from challenges that could be addressed. And its recovery--from the brink of extinction to more than 1,000 individuals--has been one of the most amazing in the Americas. I think there's an important message for all of us here: Take heart."