Threats
Trapping | Hunting | Toxins

Locals readily lease or sell their property to logging companies, who selectively log the land, and often completely clear it to the ground after logging by burning the remaining trees and brush. Selective logging destroys nesting trees or leaves them unprotected increasing the chances for trappers; furthermore, unprotected nesting trees are easily blown over during high winds. When the land is razed it completely destroys any remaining nesting trees. The areas are burned to ‘clean’ the land for planting. The land that is naturally nutrient-deficient (WCD 8) for planting is temporarily made nutrient-rich by the burning process, but it will only yield crops for a few years before again becoming deficient. The farmers are then forced back into the same destructive cycle of relocation and deforestation.

The land was not properly cleared prior to the completion of the Tucuruí dam and the flooding of the reservoir. Only 5% of the land was actually cleared prior to initiating the filling of the reservoir (Fearnside 381). The decomposing of the rain forest below the water’s surface has resulted in the release of methane gasses and carbon dioxide, which has spoiled the areas surrounding the reservoir. The quality of the water is almost unusable and has seeped into the ground water tainting wells for miles around. (WCD 8) The water in the reservoir has an average turnaround of 51 days, while the Caraipé branch has a turnaround of 7 years (Fearnside 378). The decomposition also resulted in the surface of the water being covered with aquatic macrophytes immediately after the initial flooding. Aquatic macrophytes are known as a primary medium for mosquitoes. The area has been so infested with mosquitoes for more than a decade that it has become mostly uninhabitable for humans or animals. This occurrence is locally referred to as the "Plague of Mosquitoes". Fearnside notes that 1% of the mosquitoes in the region are A. darlingi, which are know as the principle vector of malaria in Amazonia (Fearnside 488). Populations of Mansonia exploded after the filling of the reservoir. The plague also consisted of M. pseudotitillans, M. indubitans, and M. humeralis, which bite during the day and the night. Bite frequency was said to be as high as 600 bites per hour on exposed humans. Because of this, the Indians, who had been displaced into these surrounding areas, were once again forced to pick up and move resulting in further deforestation (Fearnside 488,489). Additional re-settlement took place in other areas, which often proved to be inappropriate. These areas were deforested for settlement and then later abandoned (WCD 22,23).

 

 

The town of Paragominas, at the heart of the region, is now surrounded by a devastated landscape. Over the past several years, two thirds of the town’s lumber mills have ceased to operate, indicating an exhaustion of local wood sources. This means the forests that provide food for the local fauna are likely to be razed in the very near future. The rural social conditions spawned by this boom-bust cycle of timber tend to be abominable, presenting a further obstacle in the Golden Conure’s struggle to survive (Hartley 8).

 

A group of Golden Conures was recently encountered near a community of “sem-terras”, landless peasants, who receive plots to farm through a controversial government agrarian reform program. Completely isolated and neglected, the hygienic conditions were so dreadful that malaria had permeated the community. It was simply good fortune that none of Yamashita’s team contracted any grave illnesses. During the initial period of study, Yamashita located 13 active nesting sites within a 90-kilometer radius of Paragominas, all of them were located in cleared areas either next to or at a maximum of 3 kilometers from intact rain forest patches. This doesn’t mean that cleared areas are able to sustain populations of Golden Conures; merely that many of the forest patches nearby have been selectively logged and therefore lack snags large enough to support the birds. As previously stated these snags in open areas are much more vulnerable to winds and often will topple, causing the birds to seek other suitable nesting sites and exposing the flocks to further dangers. In addition, the fact that these snags are not within the protective labyrinth of the forest, further facilitates the work of the local trappers (Hartley 8,9).


Trapping
The local people have never been compensated for their loss of land other than mentioned above. They have never recovered financially or socially and are willing to do most anything to afford survival. Some of them have become parrot trappers to support their families.

Because poverty is rampant in this region it is understandable that poaching for the illicit bird trade is rampant too. Golden Conures bring a high price in the market and remain in high demand. Their bright colors make them easy to spot from miles away and follow, while their clanning behaviors make trapping numerous birds in one attempt almost certain.

There are two favorite trapping techniques. The first is to tie a calling bird to glue covered branches to attract other birds. When others come to investigate they become glued to the branches. The branches are then removed by the trappers, who use water to soften the glue, and remove their spoils. The second method is dependant of the fact that many adult and adolescent Golden Conures share the same nesting cavity. Trappers will loosely wrap a net over the nesting cavity entrance/entrances. They then beat on the trunk of the tree with a large stick or log and scare the entire family clan into the net (Munn). This method can result in the loss of an entire bloodline in one quick action.

Although we have had a field study team frequenting the area, Yamashita states that trapping for the illicit market continues to be prolific. He doesn’t seem to think that the study team’s presence has had any effect on the numbers of Golden Conures being trapped.


Hunting
I have read in the past that Golden Conures are still hunted for food. Once again because of rampant poverty in the region, I wouldn’t doubt it, but I haven’t been able to find any recent reports to confirm these claims.


Toxins
Through my research into the history of northeastern Brazil, I have come across a series of reports done by Dr. Philip Fearnside on behalf of the Brazilian Government. One of the most alarming accounts that I have found in his reports is supporting evidence that a commercial grade "Agent Orange" was used extensively for defoliation during the construction of the Tucuruí dam and the clearing for power lines, which were run from the hydro-power plant to major cities such as Belem. He lists major health problems occurring in humans directly associated with Agent Orange exposure ranging from liver and kidney failure to miscarriage, birth defects, and acute death.

I haven’t been able to find what such an exposure to Agent Orange would do to birds. I think we can realistically assume that the health problems would be similar if not more severe for birds because of the likelihood that it would be compounded by the efficiency of the avian respiratory system and the decreased proportionate size of the major organs in avian species, as compared to other animals. This could suggest that sometime between 1975 and 1984 there may have been an accelerated population decline of all species in the region due to chronic disease, a lack of or a reduction in reproduction, and loss of life.

Dr. Fearnside has confirmed by eyewitness interviews that as many as one thousand fifty-five gallon barrels of Agent Orange were seen in the area prior to the filling of the Tucuruí reservoir; furthermore, as many as 373 barrels were later identified in the areas immediately surrounding the reservoir most of which were empty (Fearnside 386). It is suggested that the remaining barrels are somewhere at the bottom of the reservoir. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but this would truly be an environmental disaster waiting to happen if those barrels are sitting at the bottom of the reservoir rusting away.