The parrot community has been saddened to learn of the death at the age of 38 of one of the world’s most well–known birds, Presley, one of the few remaining Spix’s macaws. On recent trips to Brazil sponsored by Phoenix Landing, members of the tour group were fortunate enough to spend some time with him. His story was the inspiration for the recent movie Rio. In person, Presley was a lot less animated, a mellow old fellow, and the oldest recorded individual of the species. He spent his final years at the Lymington Foundation, in the Atlantic forest about 45 miles from Sao Paulo, under the care of Bill and Linda Wittkoff.
Presley was one of 78 individuals (as of 2011) of this rare species, and the future does not look good for them. Of the captive population, many of the birds are old, their genetic pool is limited, and their health has been compromised from being smuggled from the wild. The population is also geographically isolated from each other, kept in private collections and zoos around the world. The challenges of maintaining the Spix’s macaw population are perhaps overwhelming, which made spending time in this bird’s gentle presence a true honor. It also proved a bittersweet lesson: humans are responsible for the decline of this and many species, and our last-minute efforts to save them may not be enough. We should support the organizations that are on the forefront of conservation efforts, and educate people about the loss of fantastic creatures like the Spix’s before it’s too late.
Presley was comfortable in the presence of strangers, the result of many years spent as a pet in the United States. He was brought to Lymington in 2007, but breeding attempts with him were not successful. This fragile creature, from a species that is no longer found in the wild, lived out his remaining days in comfort, in an aviary in the sunshine. His cage mate of many years, a golden conure, died in 2013. A Vinaceous Amazon was his companion during his final months.
Sadly, Presley spent much of his life as many birds in captivity do, looking out from behind the bars of a cage because the world they belong in is no longer safe for them. They are refugees from their homelands. I hope Presley has somehow returned to freedom, the freedom that all parrots deserve.
Phoenix Landing sponsors conservation efforts every year, and the Lymington Foundation was the recipient of our 2013 grant of $2,000, based on the great work the Wittkoffs are doing with other endangered parrot species, such as the golden conures, the Lears macaw, and the Vinaceous Amazon.