Official Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association

RESURRECTION OF A SPECIES

Mike Aubertin goes in search of the St. Lucia Parrot, an endangered, endemic species that is the country’s national bird. Thinking he was headed for a gentle walk in forest, Mike found himself suspended nearly one hundred feet off the ground, the best position, according to his guide, to see the local parrot.
Now I know what it is like to be up in the crow’s nest of a pirate ship. Seventy-five feet up the trunk of a Gommier tree along with two other hardy souls, an intrepid youngster named Sacha, and Donald Anthony, St. Lucia’s wildlife officer who knows everything about the island, I imagined that I had been ordered by Captain Kidd to go fetch Polly.
The wind blew strongly and the mast swayed. I looked out uneasily from my perch. Instead of water beneath me, there was a sea of green. The tree was on a slope way up Piton Flor, a mountain 1,800 feet high, situated in the northern forest reserve at Forestierre. Our quest was to catch a glimpse of St. Lucia’s national bird, the indigenous Amazona Versicolour or St. Lucian Parrot.
After donning life-saving harnesses and receiving a crash course in the use of a ratchet-like climbing device called a dumar, we climbed up to an observation platform that was three feet square. If the climb was unnerving, getting onto the platform was hair-raising. With
Donald’s help we got our legs over the edge and gingerly sat next to each other. As an added precaution, Donald tied us to the tree trunk.
The panorama was marvelous. There were various shades of mottled green as far as the eye could see. In the distance the green changed to a hazy blue. There was a silent reverence. A rain cloud shed its load on the canopy a few miles away, and we watched the misty rain circle from the south-west and head for us. Fortunately we only got a sprinkle.
Donald Anthony spoke about the conservation work to save the St. Lucia Parrot from extinction. It began in 1977 with the efforts of St. Lucian ecologist, the late Gabriel “Coco” Charles, and an Englishman, Paul Butler.
Indiscriminate yet legal hunting had caused the parrot population to dwindle to less than one hundred in the wild. Conservationists initiated a programme that attracted the attention of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Rare Animal Relief Effort
(RARE) and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, formerly the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust.
A parrot sanctuary was opened. The government voted stiff legislation that banned hunting and imposed serious sanctions on lawbreakers.
They exploited the media and broadcast programmes on the importance of the endemic and endangered St. Lucian Parrot. The Jako (Jako is the creole word for the parrot) magazine became the most popular medium. A bus was acquired, and, decked out in the colours of our national bird, Amazona Versicolour, it attracted attention wherever it went. St. Lucian children were the biggest fans of the educational project. World famous actor, Lou Gosset Jr., was spokesman for the parrot in a documentary called On the Edge of Paradise.
A breeding experiment was conducted in the Channel Island of Jersey in Britain, and St. Lucia welcomed Oswald and Lucy, two young St. Lucian parrots born in captivity.
Meanwhile, Donald Anthony and the other forestry officers roamed the rainforest, monitoring the progress of the preservation drive. They scaled giant gommier trees where the parrots typically built their nests, constructing observation platforms at strategic locations with the help of Puerto Rican conservationists from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Once we built a little door in the hollow part of a gommier tree so that we could check on a parrot nest,” said Donald. “When we opened the door, coiled at the bottom of the nest was a boa-constrictor. We nearly fell off the tree.”
I eyed the moss-covered branches with suspicion. Suddenly the silence was shattered by the raucous squawk of the parrots. We looked around excitedly, but saw nothing.
“I remember the first time I saw a parrot this far north,” said Donald. “I was excited as we had never seen them at Piton Flor. This meant one thing: the population was growing and they were ranging further and further from the deep interiors of Edmund forest and
Quilesse forest in Soufrière.”
The current population stands at about eight hundred. The Amazona Versicolour has made a comeback. They feed on about thirty plant species eating the leaves, the seeds or buds. Such a choice augured well for their survival in the forest, once the hunting ban was maintained.
Another loud squawk and there they were, a pair of parrots flying to our left high above the canopy. They flew in short spurts, squawking all the while. Their wings seemed to rest briefly between spurts of energy.
“There they go!” I shouted. They were mainly green in colour, and very beautiful. Donald scrambled for his binoculars. Sacha and I watched excitedly as they circled to our right. Donald tried to get them in his sights, but with their camouflage against the verdant foliage they disappeared. We were happy to have actually caught a glimpse of our rare and elusive parrots flying in their habitat.
Mission accomplished! It was worth the effort and adrenalin getting on the high platform for the bird’s eye view.
Now to get down! Donald untied me from the tree. He readjusted my trappings in preparation for the descent. I leaned over, fought off the vertigo, and stretched my leg to make contact with the first metal rung drilled into the tree trunk. I felt like a utility-pole worker, my yellow helmet completing the illusion. Progress was slow, but as terra-firma got closer, I was happy that I had dared the climb.
It would make a great tour for the environmentally-conscious. According to Donald Anthony this could be accomplished once special insurances and safety nets were put into place.
Said Donald Anthony as we made our way down Piton Flor at Forestierre:“The future of the parrots looks bright, but there are some unscrupulous individuals who want to turn back the clock and reverse the gains we have made so painstakingly. We must never allow them to
hunt the parrot again!”


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