This is the story of an unlikely love affair between a prince and a parrot! The prince is a Qatari oil sheik by the name of Saoud Bin Muhammed Bin Ali Al-Thani. The parrot is the Spix's macaw, (Cyanopsitta spixii) named for the German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix, who discovered the parrot in 1817.
The world's rarest parrot has not been seen in the wild in this century. Less than 100 individuals survive around the world in private aviaries and collections. Endemic to northern Brazil, the Spix's macaw was last spotted in the wilds of Brazil in the year 2000.
The prince is an oil sheik from the hot dusty sands of Qatar, and thanks to his love for this parrot, has single-handedly insured the survival of this species and possibly its reintroduction into the wild.
Beginning in 1999, Sheik Saoud Bin Muhammed Bin Ali Al-Thani turned a private hobby farm inherited from his father into a world class research facility, the 1.6 square mile Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation Center. To view a photo gallery of the center, click here.
The sheik had an eye for beauty, and the wealth to satisfy his collecting instinct. Prior to 2001, when Qatar signed on to the CITES accords, he scoured the world collecting unique specimens for his father's private menagerie. Then he discovered the Spix's macaw.
At the time there were probably forty individual parrots surviving in private hands and small collections around the world, the largest being Loro Parque. which currently has eight Spix's macaws in its conservation breeding program. The sheik purchased every Spix's macaw he could get his hands on from collectors around the world, including black market sources, and brought them to his Qatari compound. Hiring world-renowned biologists and veterinarians to oversea a conservation breeding program, the sheik has successfully hatched twenty-four Spix's macaws at Al Wabra, which now supports (at last count) fifty-five of the macaws, a whopping seventy-five percent of the surviving population of Spix's macaws. The future of this beautiful Brazilian parrot clearly rests in the hands of an oil sheik thousands of miles away from its home range!
The sheik has purchased a 6,000 acre farm in northern Brazil, where the parrots will relocate, along with Ryan Watson, the Australian head of Al Wabra's Spix's macaw breeding program, and his wife, the Brazilian macaw specialist Monalyssa Camandaroba Watson. The move is scheduled to occur by 2013.
Al Wabra plans to build a hatchery, nursery, and aviary on their Brazilian farm. Step by step, they will slowly reintroduce the species into the wild. First, they will test the process with the more abundant Illiger's macaw, better known as the Blue-winged macaw.
Ryan Watson rates their chances of ultimate success no better than fifty-fifty. But he and the sheik are determined to try. As Watson has stated: "Wild animals belong in the wild. Otherwise, what we're doing is not conservation."