Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hatching Hope

Adult macaw pIIc

 Adult Wild Scarlet Macaw

There was a time in my life when I lived egg
incubation and psittacine pediatrics.  I’ve
been responsible for thousands of eggs and chicks in “the days.”  Recently, the work in Guatemala reminds me
how much one embryo in one egg means to me, and to others.  It is a life full of possibility, and to lose
one egg, is to lose beauty and wonder.

 Here’s the theory why incubation and raising chicks
for a short time in captivity can be an important strategy for parrot
conservation. In Guatemala¸ wild parents frequently lay 3 eggs. The 3
egg appears to have lower hatchability and the 3
rd chick definitely has
a much harder time surviving – they usually die.  The thinking is, if we can help hatch these 3
eggs and raise the 3
rd chick until they are strong enough, these chicks
can then be placed into wild Scarlet macaw nests where there is only one chick.
This will raise the population numbers which are frighteningly low in the only remaining
area of Guatemala with macaws, El Peten. There is also the possibility of transferring
eggs from captive parents into the wild as well.

Pulling eggs

 Dr. Fernando Martinez   of ARCAS pulling two eggs out of a clutch of 4 to give to Dr. Melvin Merida of WCS to transport to Laguna del Tigre

This past week I got to witness the first experiment
in seeing if egg manipulation will help the macaws here.  CONAP, ARCAS, BALAAM, and WCS are all working
together to attempt to incubate eggs and raise chicks deep into the Mayan
Biosphere Reserve, Laguna del Tigre. 

Two eggs were removed from a captive pair of
breeding macaws at ARCAS and then transported very carefully up into the
reserve.  It is a very bumpy, rough road,
and this time of year the mud makes the going even slower.  What can be a 3 hour drive turned into over 5
hours because of a broken clutch in one of the trucks.  We were worried about transporting the eggs,
in part because of the rough road, and also because the eggs were young. The
two eggs showed an embryo that perhaps only had a day of incubation, and the other
with less than week old.  Eggs this young
are fragile, and need to be kept at 99 degrees. We learned that it is somewhat
easy to maintain the eggs at 99 if the outside temperature is around 100
degrees, which it was

Looking for clutch

 Melvin and Challo looking for missing clutch piece in mud where were we got stuck


Once up at the station in the forest where the eggs
will be incubated, we held our breath while we candled the eggs, which means
shining a light into the egg in a dark room. Did they survive that long
ride?  Indeed they did!

Egg - live embryo

 Live embryo in egg (notice the red blood vessels surrounding embryo)

 That night we drew lots to see who would check on
the eggs and incubator through the night. 
Eggs are sensitive and we needed to monitor carefully how stable the
temperature and humidly was or was not in the incubator.  My turn came at 2 a.m.  Stumbling into the dark under a starry sky, I
looked up and mused that the stars themselves are incubators of life .What
miracle of temperature and humidity/water led to life on this fertile
planet?  I dallied under the stars,
soaking in the peace when my meditation was shattered by a Howler Monkey in a
tree right over my head.  Maybe he too
was looking up at the stars, proclaiming this his proven territory.

 The next afternoon as we prepared to leave this area
after a morning of climbing nests, we candled the eggs once more. Were they
still alive?  Indeed they were, and
growing nicely.   Hope was hatched in the vigor of this species
at such a young age and in the strength of this egg/chick management project in
such a young stage of incubation.

Incubation - happy parents

 Happy incubator crew after installing live eggs in new incubator room

These eggs, this forest, this planet, all are our territory.  May we prove adequate to guard and to cherish
these treasures accordingly as we continue to howl our proclamation that every
egg has inherent worth and dignity, as does every being


Macaw chick looking at us


No comments:

Post a Comment