Justification of Red List Category
Once abundant within its small range, this species has been undergoing dramatic declines since the late 19th century due to the combined effects of habitat loss and trapping. As a consequence of the establishment of conservation measures in the 1990s, the species increased slowly from fewer than 50 to over 200 mature individuals. After Hurricane Maria hit Dominica in September 2017, the population plummeted again, likely to an all-time low. The frequency of intense hurricanes is projected to increase, with potentially severe consequences for the species. Imperial Amazon has therefore been uplisted to Critically Endangered.
Prior to 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, the population was estimated to number 250-350 individuals in total, roughly equivalent to 160-240 mature individuals (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Since Maria, the population has not been quantified due to the inaccessibility of the core parts of the range in the interior of the island (C. Palmer in litt. 2019, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). However, inferences can be drawn based on the effects of previous hurricanes and on recent sightings of the species. Maria is considered to be the strongest and possibly most destructive hurricane that has hit the island so far. Previously, the most severe storm was Hurricane David in 1979, after which the population of Imperial Amazon plummeted to only 40-60 individuals (Evans 1991, Palmer et al. 2018). Tentatively assuming that the impact of Maria on the population was at least as severe as David, the population size may have decreased to fewer than 40-60 individuals, equating to fewer than about 25-40 mature individuals.This preliminary estimate is supported by field data, reporting only 11 individuals about half a year after Hurricane Maria (Palmer et al. 2018). Further sightings have been reported in the northern part of the range in June 2019 (A. Fairbairn per C. Palmer in litt. 2019). To account for the uncertainty surrounding the current population size, until more recent estimates become available the species is here assumed to number < 50 mature individuals.
Historically, the species was abundant within its small, but relatively inaccessible range in the central highlands of Dominica. Around 1880, the species started to decline rapidly as a consequence of habitat destruction and extensive hunting for food and the cage-bird trade (Collar et al. 2019). Following Hurricane David in 1979, the population decreased to only 25-40 mature individuals (Evans 1991). After that, the population slowly re-built as a consequence of conservation action focusing on the protection of habitat and on environmental education. By 1993, the population numbered 50-70 mature individuals, and increased further to 100 mature individuals in 2000. By 2012, the population was estimated at 160-240 mature individuals. However, since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck Dominica in September 2017, the population crashed again, likely to an all-time low. As the species reproduces slowly, recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria may take longer than after Hurricane David (C. Palmer in litt. 2019, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). The exact impacts of Maria on the habitat availability and the population size of Imperial Amazon are not yet known. However, it is estimated that Maria was the most severe storm that ever hit Dominica, felling 30% of the trees on the island and stripping the remaining 70% of their leaves and fruits (Forestry and Agriculture Department per Palmer et al. 2018). This estimate is supported by Global Forest Watch, which indicates a loss of 24,000 ha of forest, equating to 34%, between 2000 and 2017 (Global Forest Watch 2018). Overall, while Imperial Amazon seems to have the potential to recover after a sharp population decline, as it proved in the aftermath of Hurricane David in 1979, climate change and the subsequent higher frequency of severe storms are of immediate concern. If Dominica was to be struck by other hurricanes in the near future, before the species could recover sufficiently, the risk of extinction would increase drastically (Collar et al. 2019).
Amazona imperialis is endemic to Dominica, where it inhabits the Morne Diablotin area (primarily on the north-east, south and south-east slopes [Raffaele et al. 1998]) and the Northern and Central Forest Reserves; it has recently re-established a small population in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park near Morne John (Reillo 2001, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2007, Wiley et al. 2007). The species is known to have declined significantly in the past, when the population plummeted to an estimated 25-40 mature individuals after Hurricane David in 1979 severely damaged the forests on the island. Conservation action then increased the population to 160-240 mature individuals in 2012 (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Until recently, the species's strongholds used to be in Morne Diablotin National Park and its surroundings, the Central Forest Reserve and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park and surroundings. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the population likely declined drastically; importantly, some of the remaining individuals have been observed outside of the original range in the montane forest (Palmer et al. 2018). It is conceivable that the species evaded into lower-quality lowland habitat as a consequence of the hurricane (Palmer et al. 2018). By January 2018, preliminary surveys detected 11 Imperial Amazons at nine localities throughout the island, all outside of the original range (Palmer et al. 2018). By June 2019, further sightings have been reported within and adjacent to the Morne Diablotin and Morne Trois Pitons National Parks, Central Forest Reserve, Northern Forest Reserve and on other sites on privately-owned land (A. Fairbairn per C. Palmer in litt. 2019, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). Most sightings occurred along forest edges and on ridges (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). Two individuals, which were rescued after the hurricane and brought to a rehabilitation centre, have by now been exported to a breeding facility in Germany (Palmer et al. 2018).
It mainly inhabits montane and elfin forest at 600-1,300 m, but forages down to 150 m in response to food shortages (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000, Snyder et al. 2000). It is highly sensitive to habitat modification, readily abandoning traditional foraging and nesting territories (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000). Nests are situated in cavities in tall forest trees (the same species as used by Red-necked Amazon Amazona arausiaca), with breeding between February and June (coinciding with the dry season). The nest cavity is heavily festooned with vines and epiphytes, making observation of nesting activity difficult (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000). Despite the intensive work carried out towards this species's conservation, its ecology remains poorly known.
The species is threatened by habitat loss and degradation and by direct prosecution. Currently, the most severe among these threats is hurricane damage, which not only leads to vast destruction of habitat, but also to direct mortality of the species. The damage caused by hurricanes can severely degrade the species's habitat. Hurricane Maria destroyed about 30% of the forest cover on Dominica and defoliated a large proportion of the remaining trees (Forestry and Agriculture Department per Palmer et al. 2018). In the aftermath of Maria, most individuals were observed in lowland areas outside of their range (S. Durand per C. Palmer in litt. 2019), indicating that montane forests have not yet fully recovered from the impacts of the hurricane and by now only offer a low quality habitat (C. Palmer in litt. 2019). Hurricanes periodically occur in the Caribbean and therefore are a natural feature of the species's habitat, which may cause the species to undergo cyclical fluctuations (C. Palmer in litt. 2019). However, as the frequency of particularly intense hurricanes in the Caribbean is projected to increase as a consequence of climate change (Bender et al. 2010, Knutson et al. 2010), there is a high likelihood that severe storms may hit Dominica before the population has a chance to recover (Collar et al. 2019, C. Palmer in litt. 2019). Apart from hurricane-related damage, forested habitat is also lost for conversion to plantations, especially bananas (Snyder et al. 2000). Deforestation may increase the competition for nest-sites with the more numerous Red-necked Amazon Amazona arausiaca, as the two species come increasingly into contact (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000). Imperial Amazon is further threatened by trapping. Hunting for food and trapping for the cage-bird trade were among the principal reasons for the species's decline up until the 1990s (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Local trade has been considerably reduced, if not eliminated, as a result of a successful education programme, but foreign bird-collectors still pose a threat (Snyder et al. 2000). Two individuals rescued after Hurricane Maria were exported to a breeding facility in Germany (Palmer et al. 2018). While issues relating to the ex-situ conservation of this species are complex and often controversial, the overall number of individuals held in captivity is extremely low (C. Palmer in litt. 2019). Furthermore, as there is no coordinated captive-breeding programme in place, the potential extirpation of the species in the wild may result in the functional extinction of the species (C. Palmer in litt. 2019).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendices I and II. The species is protected by domestic legislation, and it is recognized as the National Bird of Dominica. In recent years, there have been considerable efforts to protect suitable habitat and sensitise local citizens to its needs. Successful conservation education programmes have markedly reduced local trade. It is protected across all national parks, the Northern Forest Reserve and the Central Forest Reserve, but important areas adjacent to these reserves remain unprotected (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000, Snyder et al. 2000). An area of 33 km2 of the Northern Forest Reserve has been designated as the Morne Diablotin National Park (Collar 1997, Wiley et al. 2007). It is also present in small numbers in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Reillo 2001, Wiley et al. 2007). Reports of the first successful captive breeding of the species were published in 2011 (Reillo et al. 2011).
45 cm. Spectacular, purple-and-green parrot. Dark purple head, nape and mantle. Purple underparts with dark fringes giving scaled effect. Dull green thighs and vent. Green wings with red carpal. Purple speculum and blackish primaries. Reddish tail tipped green. Immature has green nape and neck. Similar spp. Red-necked Parrot Amazona arausiaca is smaller and largely green. Voice Loud, trumpet-like flight calls. Also variety of shrieks, whistles and squawks. Often quiet during middle of day.
Text account compilers
Mahood, S., Hermes, C., Sharpe, C.J., Wege, D., Wheatley, H., Isherwood, I., Benstead, P., Khwaja, N.
Palmer, C. & Reillo, P.
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Amazona imperialis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2021.