Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 51 – The Hyacinth Macaw

Ringed hyacinth macaw on branch

Photographer: Douglas Janson 2008

The largest of all the macaws, the ‘hyacinth’ is highly sought after by the illegal wild bird trade. Live birds can change hands for as much as $12,000. Headdresses, made from feathers, can fetch up to $2,650 on the open market, and loose feathers are freely available  from around $25 a lot.

Between the demands for pets, hunting for food and needless ornamentation, the hyacinth macaw and its beautiful, vibrant, glossy, cobalt-blue feathers are being dragged towards extinction.  There could not be a better time to enforce and educate, before we say goodbye to yet another much needed species.

Hyacinth macaws are usually found in pairs or in small groups of up to ten birds.  They are intelligent, affectionate, highly sociable and incredibly vociferous.  They are mostly active in the morning and in late afternoon.

They are large birds, growing up to forty inches in length with a wing span of over sixty inches.  They weigh in at about three and a half pounds.  The glossy feathers are a striking shade of blue.   They have bright yellow rings around the eyes and a visible stripe, of equally bright yellow skin, coming down either side from the lower part of the beak. They are, incidentally, the largest flying parrot species in the world.

The hyacinth’s beak is huge and powerful.  Hooked and black, it is designed to break open extremely hard shells.  It is also utilised as a third foot, for rasping and scaling branches. The toes are zygodactylous (meaning there are two in front and two behind).  The combination of these two attributes makes them excellent climbers.

Both sexes look remarkably alike, save the female tends to be slightly smaller.  They are monogamous and mate for life.

When the mating season comes round  (there seems to be a great many conflicting opinions as to the dates of this – so I will not speculate here),  nests are made in tree hollows and cliff faces; normally between four and fourteen metres above ground level.

Usually, two eggs are laid, but, historically, only one ever fledges.  Incubation lasts up to twenty-eight days.  Most of the mother’s time will be spent with her eggs whilst her mate undertakes the duty of feeding her.  Once hatched, the youngsters will stay with their parents for a further six months.  They will not be mature enough to breed themselves until they reach seven years of age.

Areas abundant in nut-bearing trees and shrubs.  Seasonal floodplain forests, tropical forests and adjacent savannah, deciduous woodland, palm groves, palm savannah and palm swamps.
South America: southern Brazil, eastern Bolivia and north-eastern Paraguay.
What they eat
Nuts, fruit and vegetation. (They are especially fond of palm nuts) The hard acuri palm nut is eaten, but only after it has passed through the digestive system of cattle.
Massive illegal wild bird trade and local hunting. Brazil’s Native Indian Kayapo tribe hunt them for food and feathers. There is also an online market for genuine  headdresses of the Kayapo tribe ($2,450 USD is the price on one of those I found) – no surprises there!  As with most endangered species, they have suffered loss of habitat.  In their case, due to hydroelectric dams, cattle-ranching and agriculture. The toco toucan is known to prey upon the eggs of the hyacinth macaw, taking more than half the total eggs predated. Other known natural predators are skunks, coatis and crows.
Status: Endangered
The hyacinth macaw  (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)  is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I. Only six thousand or so hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) are known to still exist in the wild. The hyacinth macaw is protected by law in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, and has been since the 1960s and 1970s. However, the illegal trade continues.  The laws are not properly enforced and the profit margins are high.  In the 1980s, at least ten thousand birds were thought to have been taken from the wild.

Related links
PACIFIC GUARDIANS – Niue launches coins on endangered animal species


“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty”
Albert Einstein

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 48 – The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Source: Unknown

Who could possibly look at the face of this gentle, adorable creature without wanting to save it from extinction.  Thankfully, multitudes of caring, giving and conscientious people want to do just that.  But, a near-extinct wombat – who would have thought!

And, it is by no means delicate in build.  In fact, they are built like small tanks.  Which is probably what is so appealing about them.  They have broad heads, short, stocky legs and can measure over forty inches from nose to tail.  They only grow up to fourteen inches in height, but weigh in, on average, at seventy pounds.  These amazing little marsupials are solid.  On top of that, the females have an extra layer of fat making them even heavier. They have soft grey/brown fur on their bodies and all over their noses, hence the name, pointed ears and very short tails.  There are three species of wombat: the northern hairy-nosed wombat, the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the common wombat. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is the largest of all three.  Wombats are marsupials, meaning they carry and nurse their young in a pouch.

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is nocturnal.  Although usually solitary, wombats sometimes share burrows.  They have teeth which continue to grow all their lives, allowing them to continue to grind food when they are old.  They are extremely near-sighted, but have a highly developed sense of smell.  Known as the ‘engineers’ of the mammal world, they are capable of digging burrows up to 90 metres long. Each burrow has several entrances, is well-ventilated and maintains a constant temperature all year round.  Wombats cannot survive above ground for long periods, so their burrows are of the utmost importance to them.

Little is known about the mating habits of the species, but following a gestation period of roughly twenty-one days, most young will born in the summer (the wet season), between November and April.  Only one baby is ever born at a time. The baby (joey) will stay in the mother’s pouch until it is nine months old.  Interesting fact: all baby marsupials are called joeys.

It is said in many places, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is the rarest marsupial in the world.  I beg to differ here, I think Gilbert’s potoroo is.  But, I am sure this little wombat cannot be far behind.  Whatever the dubious honour, as with all endangered species, it would be a terrible shame to lose this beautiful, docile animal.

Semi-arid grasslands offering deep, sandy soil for excavating burrows.
Epping Forest National Park – central Queensland and St George in southern inland Queensland.
What they eat
Various coarse grasses, including African buffel grass, and roots.  African buffel grass, introduced and favoured by the cattle industry, has taken over the native grasses on which the wombat prefers to feed.
Pasture competition from cattle, prolonged drought, wildfire, disease (such as toxoplasmosis or mange) and dingoes. Due to small population numbers, and all animals originally being confined to the same location in central Queensland, the northern hairy-nosed wombat could have been extirpated by any of these threats, or any other unforeseen natural disasters.  It was a bit like the Board of Directors of a large company travelling on the same plane at the same time. But, all that has now started to change with the founding of a second site in southern Queensland (2009). This reserve has a predator proof fence surrounding it to keep out the dingoes as well. The same overall threats still exist, but now the future is looking better, and new babies are expected in mid 2014.
Status: Critically Endangered
The northern hairy-nosed wombat  (Lasiorhinus krefftii)   is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered. Through extreme vigilance, numbers have increased from thirty to forty individuals in the early 1980s to an estimated two hundred today.  People and organisations all over Australia, who clearly adore the wombat, are helping to protect and maintain the species.  “Re-wilding” has been introduced (re-introduction to old habitats) and scientists believe the northern hairy-nosed wombat may have a future. Let us hope they are right.

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”
Albert Einstein

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 28 – The Markhor

Markhor and kid

Photo: New Scientist

With its magnificent spiralling horns,  physical bulk and impressive coat;   this is one spectacular goat.  Sadly,  these unique characteristics also make it a target for trophy hunters.  The length and colour of its coat change with the time of year – short and a sort of copperish-grey in summer and long and grey in winter.   

The markhor is a very agile climber and can scale heights of up to 11,000 feet in the summer months, coming back down to 1,600 feet in the winter.  They weigh up to 240 lbs and stand almost 4 feet high at the shoulder, with a body length nearing 6 feet.  When eating they tend to stand on their hind legs to nibble at the shoots and leaves on the higher branches.

With the onset of winter,  the mating season begins.  The males enter into the annual ‘rut’ to attract the females.  They violently lunge for each other,  locking horns,  each trying to throw the other to the ground.

The gestation period that follows  can last up to 170 days,  after which the female usually gives birth to two young.  The females and fawns tend to live together in small herds of about nine individuals,  whilst the males,  once again,  become solitary.

Sparsely wooded,  mountainous,  cliff-side  terrain
Pakistan,  Afghanistan,  India,  Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
What they eat
During spring and summer, they graze  mainly  on tussocks of grass.  When these dry up they will browse on dried leaves and twigs.  In winter,  they eat tree leaves and branches.
Intensive hunting for trophies,  meat and medicine.  Human settlement has encroached upon and disturbed their habitat,  bringing with it  competition for grazing from domestic livestock.
Status: Endangered
The markhor  (Capra falconeri)  is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.  It is estimated,  there are less than 2,500 left and the numbers are declining.  Community based conservation projects have been initiated within the appropriate areas to protect the species and its habitat.

“If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals”
Albert Einstein

Book Blast: The Trouble with Toads by Danyelle Leafty


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trouble with toads book cover

Once upon a time a young girl wanted revenge. But first, she wanted to be beautiful.

Twelve-year-old Bettony has read enough stories that begin with ‘Once upon a time’ to know what happens to the ugly stepsisters at the end, and she’s determined to escape that fate by any means necessary—even by magic.

Unfortunately, when it comes to magic, there is no place for regret, refunds, or exchanges. Even if you accidentally turn your older sister into a toad.

If Bettony wants her Happily Ever After to end well, she’s going to have to find a way to turn her sister back into a person before their mother finds out she’s been dabbling with magic and grounds her for life.

Tracking down the family magic turns out to be surprisingly easy. Now, if only it came with directions . . .

THE TROUBLE WITH TOADS (45,000 words) is the first book in a new upper MG series The Secret Stepsister Society. The second book will be released Summer 2013.


danyelleAuthor Danyelle Leafty

Danyelle Leafty writes upper MG and YA fantasy, and is the author of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA series. Danyelle has always loved fairy tales, and prefers stories where someone gets eaten, or at the very least, transmogrified. Much of her inspiration has come from fairy tales, because as G.K. Chesterton so aptly states, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She also collects books, and one day hopes to make a house out of them. She enjoys learning languages, fiddling with her harp, and perfecting the fine art of mothering. (It’s a lot like trying to herd chickens during a lightning storm while a goat stampede is going on.)

One of her heroes is Albert Einstein, particularly for the following quote: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The most important thing is not to stop questioning.”

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