Before 1989, the Central Pacific Scarlet Macaw population of Costa Rica was known to the locals, but had never been studied by scientists. In 1990, Christopher Vaughan, a wildlife biologist from the Universidad Nacional (Costa Rica) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, began one of the longest studies of a wild macaw population.
Vaughan and his team quickly realized that much of the Central Pacific Scarlet Macaw population followed a predictable daily movement pattern, especially between July-September. The macaws roosted at night in Guacalillo Mangrove Reserve and foraged daily in Carara National Park and adjacent areas to the South and East. From a unique vantage point, the scientists counted the macaws monthly for 5 years (60 months) either when they left the mangrove in the early morning or returned to it in the evening.
However since 1995, counts were restricted to July and August, the months in which the counts were highest. This point in the year coincided with the post-fledging period, i.e. about two months after chicks had fledged from their nests and started roosting in the mangroves with their parents. Analysis of these monthly counts over a several year period reflected changes in macaw numbers.
Between 1990 and 1995, the population was studied, but no conservation work was started. Analysis of 1990-1995 counts demonstrated that the population was declining at an alarming rate, requiring immediate action to avoid extinction. A regional workshop was sponsored by the Universidad Nacional and Punta Leona, a local tourist resort.
Members of the local communities, scientists, ecotourism professionals, and government officials met for two days to discuss the future of the Scarlet Macaw in the Central Pacific. Poaching of chicks for the pet trade was identified as the main threat to the population, with habitat loss and ignorance of the bird's status as secondary factors.
All participants were unanimous in supporting the creation of a local conservation organization, The Association for the Protection of Psittacidae (LAPPA). Our goals were to: a) increase the Central Pacific Scarlet Macaw population, b) improve the economic status of the local human communities so they support natural resource conservation, and c) make the Central Pacific region an attractive tourist destination.
Using knowledge from the Universidad Nacional scientists, LAPPA helped coordinate conservation activities which improved the status of the Scarlet Macaw population. A combination of nest protection, installation of artificial nest boxes, environmental education and community projects between stakeholders resulted in a dramatic population increase of 30 chicks each year in 1996 and 1997, twice the number of chicks counted in previous years.
After 1997, due to decreased resources and personnel working with the project, conservation efforts have been more sporadic; however the population number has remained stable. However, we cannot lower our guard since other individuals of the same family providing important indicators of dramatic reduction on its population as in the case of the Yellow Naped parrot.