Only a handful of the world's most endangered parrots still survive in the wild, but state and federal captive breeding programs are holding them back from extinction. Learn more from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Audubon. (Video: Assignment Earth)


Gary:  Ivan Llerandi spends his days inside this dense forest on the western mountains of Puerto Rico.  He’s only one of eight employees of the state’s captive breeding program for the world’s most endangered parrot.  Operating for only two years, Puerto Rico’s own program was started on this drier side of the island to avoid problems like this: respiratory disease brought on by constant rain on the eastern side of the island where the federal captive breeding program began 20 years ago.  Without an established population here to receive released birds, they’ve had to improvise, like teaching them to fly in large cages.

Ivan:  We gave them the opportunity to reproduce by themselves, you know.  And we tried to avoid all the human contact with them.

Gary:  And they’ve had a lot of success.  These 19 parrots are in the group for the next release.  In training for a year, they’ve been fitted with ID tags and closely monitored to be sure they can handle life outside the cages.  Once liberated, their constant monitoring has paid off.  Half of them are surviving.

Ivan:  Because we have two different populations in two different part of the island, we are trying to keep the gene flow between the populations.  Using that technique, we are able to increase the genetic viability in the population.  So, I’m very optimistic about that.

Gary:  With budget shortfalls and few employees, biologists have become jack of all trades, improvising nests out of plastic pipes and checking them constantly during breeding season.  It’s a sacrifice for Evan and his new family, but the prize is knowing that, like this one, 26 now live and breed in the wild.

Ivan:  It’s hard, but when you do what you like, it’s not a big problem, you know?

Gary:  For Assignment Earth, I’m Gary Strieker.

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"Assignment Earth" features compelling video reports from the front lines of major environmental stories from around the globe. Topics include global warming, pollution, habitat destruction and endangered species.