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Spix's Macaw: The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird Hardcover – Nov 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (Nov. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074347550X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743475501
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.8 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,473,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Tony Juniper is the executive director of Friends of the Earth. The coauthor of Parrots, which was named a Reference Book of the Year by the UK Library Association, he lives in Cambridge, England, and campaigns worldwide on environmental issues. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book

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The blue parrot came to rest on a bare sun-bleached branch that stuck out from the bushy crown of a craggy old caraiba tree. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Amazing book, shows how we as a species can be alarmingly selfish, particularly in relation to other animals that we view as 'desirable objects'.
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Amazon.com: 8 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
History of Spix's Macaw's Plight, Complete with Political Agenda. 16 Aug. 2005
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Tony Juniper was a member of the 1990 expedition to Brazil that located the last Spix Macaw surviving in the wild, In "Spix's Macaw: The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird", he tells the story of the species' history, its demise in the late 20th century, and efforts to preserve the Spix through captive breeding. The Spix's Macaw was always a rare bird, found only in the caraiba gallery woodlands of eastern Brazil. Named after Johann Baptist Ritter von Spix, a Bavarian naturalist who happened upon the bird in 1819 during a 4-year expedition to observe and catalog Brazil's fauna, the Spix Macaw was not observed in the wild again until 1903. But by then, captured Spix's Macaws were being exported to zoos and pet owners on several continents.

In exploring the scant history of its namesake, "Spix's Macaw" touches on the history of parrot-keeping and trading as well as the other blue Brazilian parrots: the Hyacinth, Glaucous, and Lear's macaws. The second half of the book addresses the efforts, politics, and progress in preserving the Spix's Macaw with the intention of restoring the species to the wild, including detailed accounts of how we got from having about 25 known living Spix's Macaws worldwide in the late 1980s to having over 60 by the year 2000. If that sounds promising, it is in the sense that it proves the birds can be bred with relative ease. But it's not if you consider the politics and posturing involved, which become obscenely obvious if you read this book.

Tony Juniper is a fluid writer who knows a lot about his subject and clearly cares about it, so "Spix's Macaw" is very readable. Unfortunately, the book's last two chapters are dedicated to demonizing the private owners of Spix's macaws, including those responsible for the breeding successes of the 1990s, and flogging the agenda of restoring the birds to Brazil and to their original habitat. Anyone who thinks that these initiatives are unreasonable or unproductive is apparently selfish, immoral, and actually criminal in the estimation of Tony Juniper. Juniper believes that forcibly removing the birds from their owners and handing them over to the entity that has had the least success in breeding them is the way to save the species. Brazil has had upwards of 35 years to organize breeding and conservation programs and has, instead, vacillated between indifference and incompetence. I wouldn't give Brazil a budgie. The international Recovery Committee didn't do much better, failing to ever produce a studbook and irresponsibly releasing a female Spix who was a known breeder back into her natural habitat -where she promptly died- while there were only 60 Spix's Macaws in existence! Only the death of the last wild Spix prevented them from releasing 4 more birds. Thank god for timely demises.

"Spix's Macaw" contains a lot of interesting information on the efforts to save this bird. Readers can decide for themselves if these efforts and Tony Juniper's agenda are misguided. But I was struck by the indifference to the birds themselves. For Brazil, which insists that all the world's Spix's Macaws -including those born elsewhere- are its "sovereign property", the macaws represent some sort of nationalism. Returning them to "the wild" is a battle cry for fanatic conservationists, who transform the birds plight into socio-political dogma. Private owners keep the birds for their own reasons. But no party in this book gives any indication of having an iota of respect for the creatures. The birds are eclipsed by every manner of agenda. Increasing the birds' numbers should be the primary goal, but it falls victim to Brazil's sweeping claims and self-righteous accusations. A pipe dream of reintroducing the Spix to its natural environment takes precedence over breeding. No one seems to know if the gallery forests could even support a flock of significant size, and, in any case, that habitat won't be there for long. It would indeed be ironic if a century from now parrot-lovers are thanking the private collectors and black marketeers of the 20th century for saving the Spix's Macaw from the fate that met its extinct cousin, the Glaucous macaw: Habitat Destruction. What the Spix's Macaw needs most is for the humans it depends on to swallow a heavy dose of realism.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Parrot-owning one-upmanship will kill this species 21 Dec. 2010
By Craig Rowland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Many people collect coins, stamps or paintings. Only the very rich can acquire Holy Grail examples such as the 1911 Canadian silver dollar, the British Guiana 1¢ magenta or Portrait of Dr. Gachet. For those of us who have birds as pets, our finches or budgies are among millions of avian companions around the world. Yet the crème de la crème of the bird world is a species numbered at only one hundred specimens. The Spix's macaw is a large blue parrot that has become extinct in the wild because of the selfish, status-crazy zeal of bird collectors, who will pay over one hundred thousand dollars for this rarest of all birds.

Spix's Macaw tells the tragic tale of how this bird has been ripped from its natural habitat by trappers, eager to escape a lifetime of poverty by catching one such bird. The macaws are then sent through a suffocating obstacle course of international smuggling, only to end up in many cases dead or dying. While possession of the Spix's macaw by private owners has long been illegal, there is an underground network of elite bird collectors who know just who has one and when one is up for sale.

Now that the Spix's macaw is extinct in the wild, all hope for the species' survival rests with bringing these private owners together and establishing a breeding program with the expertise of ornithologists and scientists. Unfortunately all such attempts have failed as negotiations crumble into childish stubbornness as no collector wants to relinquish his bird first. Time is running out for the Spix's macaw.

Tony Juniper's Spix's Macaw will break your heart as you read about the imminent extinction of an entire species, and enrage you as you realize that those who illegally possess these birds do not care enough to save it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Tony Juniper, Spix's Macaw: The Race to Save the World's Rar 25 May 2005
By Samuel P. Menefee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In almost every way, this book is a wonderful read. It is ostensibly about Spix's Macaw, a bird fluttering on the edge of extinction (although no specific evidence is offered that it is "the World's Rarest Bird" (see p. [iii])). At the same time, the book deals with parrots in general, considers avian extinctions where relevant, and makes us think deeply about mankind's relationship with Nature.

The section on "parrots in history" is particularly good, although it is here that Juniper pulls the one major bona fide boner of his work. The Emperor Heliogabulus did not rule from 222 to 205 B. C. (see p. 37), but rather from 218 to 222 A. D. It is interesting to note that the bird shown in the portrait of William Brooke, Baron Cobham, appears to be an unknown variety of parrot (see p. 40) and to find that several Caribbean macaws have vanished since the early days of exploration (at pp. 119-20). Juniper doesn't miss a beat in pointing out that many of the parrots allegedly carried by pirates may have been worth more than the loot they stole (see p. 121)! We are shown the place of parrots in Christian theology- one supposedly learned to recite The Lord's Prayer (at p. 44) and are informed that parrot tongues were occasionally eaten to cure speech impediments (at id.). It is therefore strange to find no mention of the role of the "parrot spy" for plantation masters in Black American folklore (see Richard M. Dorson, American Negro Folktales 120-23 (1968)) and not to have Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch mentioned until page 236.

Juniper is excellent in painting a portrait of the life of a Spix's Macaw, as well as providing information on parrot "hand-eye coordination" (see pp. 42-43), "dialects" (at pp. 44-45), and bonding with specific individuals (at p. 50; I remember one Brazilian friend telling me of a family parrot who loved him, but who was finally given away because of his hostile attitude towards the boy's mother). What make's Juniper's book special, however, is the information and vignettes it contains: Tony Silva, the renowned breeder, whose bird-smuggling activities brought him a prison term (at pp. 77-80), the wildlife market at Duque de Caxias (at p. 89), the raid on a Paraguayan wildlife dealer's house (at pp. 139-41), and the tragicomic dance between Brazilian authorities and breeders to save Spix's Macaw (see pp. 160 ff.). At the same time, Juniper does not (and perhaps legally cannot) name names to accompany all the rumors of foreign bird ownership (see pp. 153-54) and fails to comment on what seems to be an obvious parallel between the world's first endangered species studbook (for the European Bison- started in 1932- see p. 159) and the political events which led to World War II and the Holocaust. Those who wish to read more in the area will be hindered by the fact that the volume has no bibliography.

What Spix's Macaw does do, however, is to bring home the poignancy of this dwindling species and to make us view its travails in a larger context. Despite minor faults, this book is a wonderful addition to any environmental bookshelf, and no one who reads the volume will put it down unmoved.

Samuel Pyeatt Menefee
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very reasonable logic and a good read for the parrot owner 6 Mar. 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Personally, I see a lot of the behavior of many of the environmentalist groups to be simply ridiculous and I think that's an important point for me to make in offering a review of this book. I'm not necessarily sympathetic to many of the ideas and policies of Greenpeace, PETA, Earth First or the like. I do keep a captive-bred blue and gold macaw and in casual hobby reading, I became aware of the conservation efforts being made to save the Spix's macaw some time ago.
There are two strong features about this book that really stand out in my mind and make it worthy of a five star rating. Most importantly, it's a very reasonable, logical account of the problems leading to the bird's extinction in the wild which I believe can be appreciated by almost anyone. While a story like this one can't be dealt with completely devoid of emotion, the book isn't a ridiculous, simple-minded, political work designed to preach to the converted. I feel the author remained as neutral as practically possible in his assessment of the situation and that he offers a book that could easily be stomached by people who simply don't care one bit.
The second thing that really brought this book home for me is that I believe it's a good selection for anybody who keeps parrots - macaws in particular. I've read so much garbage about parrot psychology in CPW, all the parrots as pets books and the like that I figured I just wasn't going to completely get it. This book offers many very interesting insights into the ways parrots may think as well as into their social interactions in and out of their flocks.
If you're loosely considering reading this one and you, like me, are not sold on the environmental "cause", please check this one out - it's well worth the short time it'll take to read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
So This Pirate Walks into a Bar.... 17 Feb. 2004
By Mary Esterhammer-Fic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a really good case study about the survival (or demise) of a particular species. It should be of particular interest to hard-core parrot fanciers, as well as to anyone concerned about the captive animal trade or vanishing habitat.
The author covers a lot of ground, but I think the book could have gone into greater depth with some of the issues he brings up. For one thing, he talks about rare birds that are in private collections, and how various government bodies are pretty much powerless to do anything about individuals who may or may not know what they're doing with their breeding projects. Sometimes groups that are desperately trying to save the bird (and more broadly, other fauna) end up working at cross-purposes. Still, I felt that this was underplayed. What SHOULD a private citizen do if he/she comes across a suspected illegal bird? When there are only a few viable breeding pairs left, each individual bird becomes so much more important to the survival strategy. On the other hand, what happens to such a bird if it's confiscated by an agency that then turns it over to someone who has no idea what they're doing? An intelligent bird like a macaw could easily be permanently traumatized by that.
The fact is, our War on Drugs has leeched away any of the resources that might otherwise be spent on going after animal smugglers. But that's another story.
Mr. Juniper also includes some interesting parrot lore...another strand of the book I thought was a little light.
Because we're so familiar with "pet" birds, I don't think there is much awareness about the plight of wild parrots. In that sense, this book is definitely worth a read.
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