In Brazil, some of the country’s most notorious wildlife poachers have abandoned their illegal trade and joined conservation organizations to preserve the very animals they once exploited. The turnaround was not necessarily inspired by some spiritual revelation, but rather by the long arm of the law.
A flourishing international market in exotic pets made the illegal trapping of wildlife a profitable business. Trappers spent years in the wild acquiring extensive knowledge about Spix’s and hyacinth macaws, while at the same time ravaging these wild populations of brilliantly colored parrots.
In more recent years, laws against trafficking in endangered species have tightened, and enforcement has become a reality, not an empty threat. When finally apprehended and sentenced, some of the poachers were looking at years in a 10-by10-foot cell with three other men. While it might appear that parrot populations would be safer with the poachers behind bars, a vast store of wildlife knowledge and skills would be lost. Charles Munn, a senior biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, thought he saw a better solution for the poachers and for the parrots.
Released on parole, the reformed trappers are employed by Munn to assist in finding populations of rare birds, often in highly inaccessible areas. The men must weigh and measure the birds, record the data, band the birds, and release them back into the wild. Their expertise has proven invaluable to scientists working to save endangered populations.
Money for the workers’ salaries comes from photographers and filmmakers eager to record the birds, as well as from eco-tourists who pay handsomely for guided tours to sites where they can see the birds in the wild. As these poachers have halted their illegal trapping and put their knowledge to work in the service of conservation, there is new hope that wild parrots will again thrive in the Brazilian jungle.