Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very small and declining population. Conservative estimates of numbers suggest that all subpopulations are extremely small. It therefore qualifies as Critically Endangered.
The population is estimated to number at most 600 individuals. Taking the most precautionary approach, including only the currently-breeding individuals results in a population estimate of approximately 134-272 mature individuals.
A rapid ongoing population decline is suspected owing to continued illegal trade, compounded by habitat loss and persecution as a crop pest.
Ara rubrogenys is endemic to a small area on the east Andean slope of south-central Bolivia, from south Cochabamba and west Santa Cruz through north Chuquisaca to north-east Potosí. It is principally found in the valley systems of the ríos Grande, Mizque, Caine and Pilcomayo. It is locally common but declining, with the population variously estimated at 2,000-4,000 individuals in 1991-1992 (Pitter and Christiansen 1995), or as few as 1,000 in 1991 (Clarke and Duran Patiño 1991). In the Caine valley (Cochabamba and Potosí) 40-100 individuals were considered resident and secure in 1989-1992, but only one was seen during five days of fieldwork in 1995 (Pitter and Christiansen 1995, Herzog et al. 1997). Conservative estimates in 2007 indicated there were fewer than 500 breeding pairs, although not all nesting colonies had been found, and there were additional non-breeding adults in any given year (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007). A survey conducted in 2011 (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012) attempted to cover the entire range of the species, locating 34-35 occupied nesting sites in cliffs, of which 16 were previously unknown, as well as a small population breeding in palms (Rojas et al. 2012). The survey counted 130 pairs, of which 67-86 were breeding and the rest probably did not attempt to breed (immature pairs). Non-breeding individuals were aggregated in 7 localities during the breeding season and consisted of 545 individuals, giving a total population (including pairs) of 805 individuals (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). This survey also showed that 5 out of 28 (18%) of breeding locations known from the previous five years were unoccupied in 2011 (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). In a precautionary approach including only the currently-breeding individuals, the number of mature individuals was estimated at 134-272.
Its original natural habitat is inter-Andean dry forest, but this has been degraded to thorn and cactus scrub by centuries (if not millennia) of human activity (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007) and it now inhabits subtropical, xerophytic thorny scrub with many cacti and scattered trees at 1,100-2,700 m, dispersing locally to 3,000 m. It nests and roosts on undisturbed, steep-sided river cliffs, with a small population breeding in palms (Rojas et al. 2012). Its diet includes seeds and fruit, but natural food sources are often scarce and birds feed extensively on crops, particularly groundnuts and unripe maize (Kyle 2005). Egg-laying takes place in February and March, with pairs fledging one, two or occasionally three offspring annually (Juniper and Parr 1998, S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007, A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012, Collar et al. 2015). Adults and their young remain on the breeding grounds until May, after which they congregate in a few large flocks in agricultural areas and roost communally in large trees (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). Even though the breeding sites are separated by only 10-60 km and individuals from different colonies forage together outside of the breeding season, the species shows a clear genetic sub-structure with almost no gene flow between colonies, which has been attributed to a strong natal phylopatry (J. L. Tella in litt. 2017).
Its original natural habitat is inter-Andean dry forest but this has been degraded to thorn and cactus scrub by centuries (if not millennia) of highly unsustainable human activities, nowadays mainly overgrazing by goats, firewood cutting and charcoal production (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007). An estimated 40% of natural vegetation in valleys within its range had been converted to agriculture by 1991, with other areas degraded by intense grazing. Several important food trees are harvested for fuel and charcoal. As food plants are lost, agricultural land is used more, thereby increasing the species's exposure to persecution as a crop-pest, and the use of firearms for pest control has been recorded (Brace et al. 1995). Macaws are also potentially threatened by pesticides applied to crops where macaws forage mostly during the non-breeding season (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). Illegal trapping continues, but has been reduced as a result of legal protection (Pitter and Christiansen 1995, Juniper and Parr 1998, Herrera and Hennessey 2007, A. Rojas in litt. 2007). The majority of the Bolivian parrot trade is domestic, but more valuable threatened species end up in Peru or further afield. 26 Red-fronted Macaws were recorded passing through the Los Pozos pet market, Santa Cruz between August 2004-July 2005, and there are four other wildlife markets in the city and others in Cochabamba, suggesting this figure may only represent a small proportion of birds illegally trafficked in the country (Herrera and Hennessey 2007). In 2011, 45 Red-fronted Macaws were recorded in houses; some had been taken from nests as nestlings, but most of them were trapped when foraging in crops. In 2017, more than 100 individuals were found as cage birds in local communities (J. L. Tella in litt. 2017). Most were kept as pets, but some were to sell to in major cities (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). The two main threats appear to be nest-poaching and trapping for local pet supply, and persecution as crop pests (especially in corn and peanut cultivations), and possibly contamination by pesticides applied to crops (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012, J. L. Tella in litt. 2017).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. It is considered nationally Critically Endangered in Bolivia (Rojas et al. 2009). Its capture, transport and export is prohibited under Bolivian law (Fuller and Gaski 1987), although this is not effectively enforced (Herrera and Hennessey 2007). In 1992, 5,000 posters urging the protection of macaws and their habitat were made and apparently well received throughout the region. Non-breeding birds occur in the southern edge of Amboro National Park (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007, A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). Two municipal protected areas have been created at Pasorapa (1,796 km2) and Mollepampa-Lagarpampa (303 km2) (J. Cahill in litt. 2012). Armonía has a long-term conservation project on the Rio Mizque working with three subsistence farming communities to protect a breeding cliff with 11-13 active nests (A. Rojas, F. Hiraldo and J. L. Tella in litt. 2012). An ecotourism lodge was inaugurated here in 2006 with proceeds going to the local communities, and it is planned to establish a protected area at this site (S. K. Herzog in litt. 2007). There are significant numbers of the species at the Santa Cruz Zoo in Bolivia and at zoos and in private holdings outside Bolivia (J. D. Gilardi in litt. 2012), but no formal management plan for these birds.
55-60 cm. Medium-sized, tricoloured macaw. Largely bright green. Orange-red forehead to mid-crown and small auricular patch. Large shoulder patch and mottled thigh coloration as crown. Pale blue primaries. Narrow ring of pale pinkish bare skin around eye. Large black bill. Similar spp. Military Macaw A. militaris occurs in different habitats, is larger and has no red on wing. Voice Rather musical and high-pitched growls and harsher squeaks.
Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Capper, D., Sharpe, C.J., Stuart, T., Benstead, P., Symes, A., Westrip, J.
Cahill, J., Rojas, A., Herzog, S., Hiraldo, F., Gilardi, J., Tella, J.L.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Ara rubrogenys. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/07/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 12/07/2020.