Conservation Case Study
Animal Biology Undergraduates U. of G

by David T. Longo

Longo’s Aviaries Inc.
Meaford, Ontario, Canada

Avian Biology Case Study
Conservation Through Aviculture

Longo’s Aviaries is an organization aiming to conserve various species of birds and large parrots with a focus on breeding rare and endangered species while in captivity. Dave Longo is the founder of Longo’s Aviaries. He is an aviculturist and conservationist who attended the University of Guelph for ornithology, herpetology, zoology and marine biology. He currently houses over 150 pairs of about 80 different parrot species. He has kept and bred birds for 30 years in total, and about 15 years for macaws. Mr. Longo is very interested in expanding the diversity of parrot species in Canada. For example, in September 2003, he travelled to Suriname to observe different bird species in the area, as well as to make some additions to his macaw breeding stock. In April 2010, Dave Longo and his team plan to convert their aviary to a public bird park. The aviary will have about 10 species of parrots dedicated for companionship, with the rest of the bird stock available to be viewed by the community.

Macaws are a type of parrot that were originally found in Mexico and most of South America. There are approximately 17 different species of macaws that are divided into two sizes: large and mini/dwarf. Wild macaws are endangered due to the destruction of the rainforest and capture for use as companion animals. The Spix’s macaw is suspected to have already gone extinct in the wild and survives only in a small population within conservation programs. Macaws often make good pets as they are highly intelligent and social animals that need high amounts of interaction. They also love to bathe, which is necessary to keep their feathers clean. Their life expectancy is over 30 years and for the large breeds, they may even be able to reach 100 years of age. They can however, be very loud and if not given the proper stimulation can become very destructive.

Macaws are an endangered parrot, and are losing a lot of their habitat due to deforestation. Trees that are ideal for parrots to nest in (those with a diameter greater than 18”) are also a target for logging companies. By breeding these animals for companion purposes as well, aviculturists such as Dave Longo are removing the need to capture wild parrots for use as pets which would cause a decrease in the wild parrot population.

Different species of macaws are breed and selected for different colourations, or qualities. For example, Scarlet macaws that have the presence of broad yellow bands on their wings is a trait that Dave Longo specifically targets and selects for. Plucking, biting or screeching are common traits that are selected against in parrots bred for the purpose of companionship.

Dave Longo has published several papers available on his website that document his travels and studies on various bird species. Some of the topics include “Breeding Etiquette”, “West Nile Virus” and “Captive Breeding of the Peculiar Red-bellied Macaws”. These papers will be very useful in providing background information on the species, along with some of the difficulties in breeding large parrots. Mr. Longo has been very perceptive and eager to answer any questions we have for him. Through discussions via e-mail we have gathered information and data on the macaw. This includes information and data on his breeding stock, possible genetic disorders or deleterious alleles, breeding management and his history in avian breeding. This information will allow us to analyze and determine the quality and functionality of the aviaries breeding program.

The focus for our case study will include Dave Longo’s ultimate goal of conserving the endangered macaw and re-introducing this species into the wild. Our purpose is to observe and discuss the aviaries breeding program, and provide some possible suggestions on releasing these birds into the wild. Comparisons to other captive breeders that have been effective in the conservation of parrot species will also be included as examples of methods of conservation that have proved to be successful.

MATERIAL AND METHODS The information for this report was obtained from various sources. Data was collected from interviews, book sources, journal articles and websites. Through email communication, Dave Longo was asked a series of questions pertaining to the operation and goals of his breeding program. Information such as his breeding stock sources, methods of breeding, selection goals, international involvement and conservation ideas were obtained in this manner.

From the book “The Large Macaws: Their Care, Breeding and Conservation” by Joanne Abramson, Brian L. Speer and Jorgen B. Thomsen, we gathered information on captive breeding and methods of reintroduction into the wild. Examples of successful conservation programs and strategies were compiled to illustrate the possibilities to be had by Longo’s Aviaries. There was also a list generated to describe the criteria that is necessary for an effective breeding operation to adopt when considering reintroduction to the wild.

A journal article from Robert (2009) provided information on reproductive success in captive raised birds as well as after release into the wild. A negative correlation between generations of captivity and successful reproduction was drawn from this source. Information on background and history of the breeder and current initiatives such as Zoo Trade International, were gathered from Longo’s Aviaries’ website.

Conservation/Captive Breeding

Conservation programs for macaws were developed many years ago when nearly all the macaw species were suffering from serious population decline. Today, many organizations, institutions, aviculturists and private communities around the world are increasing the importance of saving these species for extinction. Breeding methods are an important component to be considered to effectively preserve this species genetically and for possible re-introduction to their natural habitat. Captive breeding among other types is carried out by many aviculturists across the world including the breeder. Captive breeding was originally seen as a breeding tool, which could be used to reverse the decline of specific bird population (Abramson et al., 1995). Historically, the use of captive breeding has been successful in conservation of some rare species when utilized with other wildlife management techniques (Abramson et al., 1995). Though the use of captive breeding programs for the soul purpose for re-introduction into the wild have been discriminated against, there are a few conservation programs that succeeded saving specific bird species from extinction with the use of captive breeding. Below are examples found of different bird species once considered to be near extinction that has be salvaged through captive breeding facilitated by public and private sectors.

World Center for Birds of Prey

The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, successful released over 4300 Peregrine Falcons by collecting and fostering eggs and hatching the young’s in cities and remote areas (Abramson et al., 1995). The accomplishment of the Peregrine Falcons through captive breeding and subsequent re-introduction to the wild was a cooperative effort by many federal and state agencies, along with funding from private sectors (Abramson et al.,1995). San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo in 1988, successfully bred California Condors in captivity which increased their population to 63 individuals by 1993, from a total of 23 birds in 1983 (Abramson et al., 1995). Since then several condors has been released into the wild (Abramson et al., 1995). A process called double clutching was carried out to facilitate egg laying along with artificial incubation and hatching. The joint effort of several organizations produced a successful conservation program for Condors. This was initiated by the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and the World Center for Birds of Prey (Abramson et al., 1995).

Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust
The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust originally initiated and succeeded captive breeding the Mauritius Kestrels (Abramson et al., 1995). By 1993 the population totaled to 200 birds from six to eight birds in 1974 (Abramson et al., 1995). In December of 1992 around 43 Mauritius Kestrels were successful released to the wild (Abramson et al., 1995). Breeding of this species was facilitated by artificial incubation and hand rearing of eggs. The effort of salvaging the Mauritius Kestrel from extinction took cooperative efforts from the Jersey Wildlife Preservation trust, the World Center of Birds of Prey, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the Peregrine fund and with the support of the Mauritius government (Abramson et al., 1995).

Whooping Crane Conservation Association
The population of Whooping Cranes was salvaged in 1975 by fostering their eggs under Sandhill Cranes (Abramson et al., 1995). By 1994 the population totaled to 267 birds from 15 birds in total in 1941 (Abramson et al., 1995). Successful captive reproduction of these Whooping Cranes is currently operating at six different sites: the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the International Crane Foundation, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and San Antonio Zoo, Calgary Zoo and Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Abramson et al., 1995).

St. Lucia’s Forestry Department

The St. Lucia’s Forestry Division first initiated comprehensive conservation strategies for this species in 1978 (Abramson et al., 1995). The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust performed the first legal captive breeding efforts for the Saint Lucia Parrots (Abramson et al., 1995). In 1989, 16 chicks were successfully hatched at the Jersey Zoo (Abramson et al., 1995). By 1993 the wild population was estimated to be 300 to 350 from a total of 150 birds in 1975 (Abramson et al., 1995). The success to the Saint Lucia Parrot increased population size took cooperative efforts from Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, St Lucia Forestry Division, Jersey Zoo, RARE Center for Tropical Conservation and stringent laws that were passed to protect this parrot (Abramson et al., 1995).

St. Vincent Forestry Department
Captive breeding programs was proven successful in 1991 at the Botanic Gardens in St. Vincent where 20 chicks were successful raised (Abramson et al., 1995). In 1993, a stable population was estimated of 450 birds existed in the wild (Abramson et al., 1995). The efforts for the success of salvaging these birds formed from the St. Vincent Forestry Department funded by the RARE center and strict laws to preserve these birds (Abramson et al., 1995).

Hawaii National Park
Restoration work began on the Nene Goose over 40 years ago utilizing captive propagation both on and off the Hawaiian Islands to salvage this species (Abramson et al., 1995). By 1993, a conservative was estimated that their captive population numbered to 3500 to 4000 from only 30 birds in 1949 (Abramson et al., 1995). The successful breeding of this species in captivity took joint efforts from Hawaii National Park and Wildfowl and Wetland Trust in Britain (Black et al., 1994).

Longo’s Aviaries
We found from Mr. Dave Longo (personal communication, Nov 13, 2009) that Longo’s Aviaries is currently undergoing changes to become a bird park that focuses on helping species with struggling population sizes. Breeding of macaws are allowed to occur naturally by providing nesting sites and allowing males and females to be housed together to allow for bonding and courtship as well as for environmental enrichment. Zoo Trade International was founded by Dave Longo, and facilitates relocation of animals from qualified breeders, collectors, research facilities and zoos across the world. This ensures a constant supply of high quality breeding stock and allows outsourcing to reduce inbreeding depression. Due to costs, only one or two shipments are done per year. Re-introduction
Re-introduction of animals to the wild, with the ultimate goal of re-establishing populations, has become an area of interest in contemporary conservation (Beyond Captive Breeding, 1991). Re-introduction serves as an available tool to reverse or halt the decline of some species in the wild (Captive Breeding and Re-introduction). Breeding techniques such as captive breeding with the intention of later release into the wild remains an emotional subject for some wildlife activists and groups. The implication is that it is somewhat impossible to predict whether or not captive bred macaws will be greatly utilized for introduction into the wild (Abramson et al., 1995). The successful use of captive breeding programs for the various species listed above can give an insight to successful breeding and release of macaws. The success of re-introduction programs hinges on many factors and a myriad of details including the cooperation of all political entities and other species that interplay with the species of interest (Abramson et al., 1995). The factors that are involved to proceed with a successful re-introduction program are summarized in Figure 1. Although the concept of re-introduction remains highly controversial, there are some criteria essential for captive bred birds to ever be released back to the wild (Abramson et al., 1995). The following criteria were obtained from the book The Large Macaws by Abramson et al (1995). The criteria are:
• A thorough field study of the species selected and their native range. • Cooperation of the countries involved. Country of origin as well as the country where the captive breeding stock is located must jointly participate and encourage restoration efforts.
• Strategic planning of possible pitfalls; mortality due to disease and predation, nest site availability, food availability, compromised habitat (fire, flood, hurricanes and human development), and acclimation complications.
• A flock of a socially integrated (ideally unrelated), and preferably of assorted ages and sexes to be considered for release.
• Birds planned for release need to be thoroughly tested and determined to be free of disease.
• Prior to release the birds should be kept in large aviaries (40 feet [12 m] long or more) where their flight muscles and flying skills can be developed. Birds being raised with the goal of introduction should be allowed to fledge normally and be kept in large flights.
• Prior to release they must be acclimated to their new environment and taught to forage for the kinds of food they will find at their relocation site.
• The environment that they are to be released into must be stable. Private and public nature preserves or possibly incorporating ecotourism may be more promising.

Longo’s Aviaries plans on beginning re-introducing animals into the wild within the next few years (D. Longo, personal communication, Nov 26, 2009). Any birds released need to be prepared for the wild which includes being alert, curious, in good body condition and not being exposed to disease. It is also very important that they are not interested in human activity as we can act as a predator of these species. Food is not presented to the birds so that they will get accustomed to having to fend for themselves in the wild. Once the birds are prepared, they will be sent to the conservation group within the country where they will be housed. Here they will remain in pre-release cages in preparation for release into the wild. Release is generally done in groups. An attack from a predator on one of the macaws within the released group would act as a learning experience for the other macaws. Tracers such as microchips or GPS can be used to monitor their travels and habits after release (D. Longo, personal communication, Nov 26, 2009).

Figure 1 below shows the many different factors that are involved in the decision making process to proceed with re-introduction efforts. PRPP INTERFACE DISCUSSION
Conservation/ Captive Breeding
Breeding animals for conservation purposes has many differences from breeding for selection. In conservation, the genetics of the species are not meant to be changed or put in the direction of a specific goal. Genetic variability should therefore, be maintained and in some cases breeding can be done to produce a mean phenotype (Robinson, 2009). This can be done by mating individuals with opposite extremes or by mating average individuals to each other. It needs to be ensured that genetic stability is not being disrupted. As with any breeding program, inbreeding should be prevented. Genetic drift should also be watched for as it could result in significant differences in phenotype. This is all done with the purpose of promoting survival of a species. Successful breeding and re-introduction has been achieved in many different avian species including two parrot species, the Saint Lucia parrot and the Saint Vincent parrot.

In order to play a significant part of conservation of a species, a breeding facility with an endowment fund is important. The breeding facility acts as housing for the animals while the endowment fund ensures proper care and feeding of the animal and maintenance of the environment. This is currently in progress at Longo’s Aviaries as it is currently undergoing changes to become a bird park with intention to boost population size and genetic viability. This bird park will act as a zoo so funding for care and maintenance will be ensured. New genetic stock will also be needed to prevent inbreeding. This cooperation among different organizations was critical in the successful re-introduction of the Peregrine falcon, Mauritius kestrel, Whooping crane and the Saint Lucia parrot. By creating Zoo Trade International, Mr. Longo of Longo’s Aviaries has ensured a constant supply of macaws from credible breeding establishments. This will allow for new stock coming into Longo’s Aviaries as well as breeding stock going out to other breeding establishments to improve the species across the world. This can also lead to exchange of data and information to improve understanding and relay possible successes.

Robert (2009) found that increasing the breeding program duration resulted in a reduction in viability when the birds were released into the wild. This was due to an unintended accumulation of traits that are desirable in captivity because natural selection is being prevented. This may include reduced cautiousness, curiosity or immunity. However, this is dependent on the number of generations in captivity, not just the length of time. So given the high life expectancy of macaws, the time needed for genetic adaptation to captivity will take much longer, possibly over a hundred years. Therefore, it is less likely to hinder successful re-introduction to the wild (Robert, 2009). It is still important to prevent this and ensure that pedigrees of any new breeding stock are analyzed so that the individual’s pedigree does not go beyond 10 to 15 generations in captivity.

A larger captive population will increase success when re-introduced (Robert, 2009). A larger population in captivity will allow for greater genetic variability along with increased reproductive success. Thus when they are bred to one another there will be more genetic variation in the progeny which could potentially be re-introduced. If only a small population were used, genetic variability would be limited and this would create an effect similar to that of selection. The progeny would all be closely related to the founding population and thus variability would be low and less viable for re-introduction.

Dave Longo feels that the macaws that are currently housed at Longo’s Aviaries are not ready for release into the wild. This is due to a potential lack of understanding of wild diets and social skills as well as the possibility of introducing disease into the wild population. Their plan is to prepare the birds for release by preventing human contact and forcing the parrots to learn to forage for food. Techniques being used include hiding foods in logs, or within browse to teach the birds that food will not be served to them (D. Longo, personal communication, Nov 26, 2009).
When program duration is long, deleterious alleles can typically have significant effect on survival once re-introduced into the wild while lethal alleles have very little impact (Robert, 2009). Animals with a lethal trait will die out quickly preventing spread of that trait. Deleterious alleles will not have a significant phenotypic effect as in captivity. When they are released into the wild, this change in phenotype will result in an increased rate of extinction of the released population. After extensive research into deleterious alleles found in macaws or parrots in general, there were none to be found. However, it will be important to monitor scientific literature for any developments on this topic.
High carrying capacity of the wild population as well as the captive population will allow for optimal survival when re-introduced (Robert, 2009). Carrying capacity is the amount of individuals that can survive in an area using the natural resources available. If the carrying capacity of the wild population allows for an increase in population size by providing adequate space, food, and cover from predators, then there will be better potential for survival with a large amount of macaws being released. Similarly, having a high carrying capacity for the captive population will increase success by allowing the animal to grow properly for optimal body condition when released. However, long program length will reduce the success despite high carrying capacities. Re-introduction efforts are accompanied by direct communication and involvement with foundations, communities, and many public sectors (zoological institutions, government organizations, etc.) for successful release programs. For successful re-introduction of an endangered species to occur, the factors that caused its decline must be understood and investigated. In order for re-introduction to be beneficial to conservation long-term and to have maximum chance of success it must fulfill the factors shown in Figure 1 (Beyond Captive Breeding., 1991).

Longo’s Aviaries is an organization that we believe is exactly what a captive breeding program should encompass. Dave Longo is an extremely knowledgeable and well known aviculturist who was very eager to answer all of the questions we had about his breeding program. This has been a great learning experience for all of us, and this case study could not have been completed without Mr. Longo’s willingness and cooperation. Some recommendations that may ultimately improve the macaw species release program could include the following. Firstly, imprinting can minimize the survival of these birds in the wild due to a lack of affiliation with their own species. For example, the California Condor and Peregrine falcon captive breeding projects, chicks are fed with bird-head puppets mimicking the mother’s head to prevent imprinting (Abramson et al., 1995). By minimizing imprinting through very little human contact, this will enable the birds to better fit in with the wild macaw species once they are released (Abramson et al., 1995). Secondly, preventing the release of diseased birds into the wild would be very important for the success and future problems of these species and others in the wild. Captive bred birds are considered more susceptible to diseases due to no natural resistance (Abramson et al., 1995). Providing pre-release disease testing would be vital for their survival in the wild. Thirdly, the preservation of a suitable habitat and the prevention of the decline of the species habitat are both important. By preventing the logging industry and industrialization of their habitat, this will help to prevent the animals from becoming extinct. Before proper re-introduction procedures can precede, the necessary amount of food, water and shelter within the area they are being released in is essential for their overall success (Beyond Captive Breeding., 1991). Fourthly, avian captive breeding programs that re-introduce birds into the wild should involve large population of captive birds being released together.
This will increase reproductive success, genetic variability, and the overall success of the parrots. Lastly, in order to avoid any deleterious alleles once the birds are re-introduced into the wild the captive breeding program duration must not be too extended. If the breeding program is kept going for a long period of time this may affect survival rate.
Additionally, by increasing the breeding program duration an accumulation of traits that are commonly seen in captivity can occur. For example, an increase in curiosity towards people could lead to the death of a macaw in the wild. Along with the amount of time held in captivity, these types of traits depend on the number of generations in captivity. Birds that have pedigreed dating back 10 or 15 generations in captivity are generally unsuccessful when released.
Dave Longo plans to maybe re-introduce his macaws into the wild in several more years. His goal is to ensure the parrots are disease free, in good physical shape, trained to avoid predators including humans, and able to forage and survive for themselves in the wild.
The ideal age for the release of the macaw would be about 1-2 years of age. Mr. Longo would ideally like to eventually release the Great Green (Buffon) macaw within Costa Rica.

Through collaboration with other breeders and aviculturist organizations the introduction of bird species such as the macaw can be successful. Mr. Longo definitely has the contacts and support he needs for the effective release of the macaw.

By following these recommendations this will help the Longo’s Aviaries to enhance the survival of their macaws in the wild, ultimately achieving their goal of successful re-introduction into the wild. REFERENCES Abramson, J., Speers B.L., Thomsen J.B. (1995). The Large Macaws. California: Raintree Publications. Black, J.M., Duvall, F., Fleischer, R.C., & Rave, E. H. (1994) Genetic Analyses through DNA Fingerprinting of Captive Populations of Hawaiian Geese. Conservation Biology, 8(3): 744-751. Captive Breeding and Re-introduction-Re-introduction. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from Captive Breeding and Re-introduction: Preparing for Successful Release. Retrieved November 27, 2009, from Longo, D. (1995). Longo’s Aviaries. Retrieved October 16th, 2009 from Robert, A (2009). “Captive breeding genetics and reintroduction success.” Biological Conservation. 142: 2915-2922. Samour, J.(2004). Semen Collection, Spermatozoa Cryopreservation and Artifical Insemination in Non-domestic Birds. Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. 18(4):219–223 Silva, S. (2009). International Symposium on Breeding Birds in Captivity. Retrieved October 16th, 2009 from The Zoological Society of London. (1991). Beyond Captive Breeding: Re-introduction Endangered Mammals to the Wild. No.62. Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press.
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