A rare Spix’s macaw has been returned to its home country of Brazil, in an attempt to revive the nearly-extinct species. Although the breed is protected by international treaties, it was probably smuggled into the U.S. from Brazil 25 years ago. There are only about a dozen inbred birds left in Brazil, so the newcomer can inject some genetic diversity into the remaining population, and perhaps prevent the species from becoming extinct.

The parrot was discovered by accident in Colorado when a Denver woman called her veterinarian, saying she owned a Spix’s macaw that was depressed. Parrot enthusiast Mischelle Muck answered the phone. Since the bird is extremely rare, she thought the woman had misidentified her pet. However, there were rumors that a Spix?s macaw was somewhere in Colorado, so she got the woman in touch with the World Parrot Trust. The director, James Gilardi, finally talked the bird owner into returning the bird to Brazil.

The owner says the bird was left with her in the late 1970s and she didn’t know it was so rare. Special agent George Morrison of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the bird smuggler?s trail is now cold, although an investigation is still open. The woman named the bird Presley and caged it with an Amazon parrot for company. The Amazon died this year, leaving Presley depressed and listless.

Parrot experts think the bird is between 25 and 50 years old. Parrots live for 50 or 60 years in captivity and can breed until they die. It?s hard to tell a parrot’s sex, so Gilardi sent samples of its feathers and blood to the San Diego Zoo, where geneticist Oliver Ryder discovered Presley is a male. He also froze some of its DNA so it can be cloned if the species goes extinct.

Muck began getting the parrot ready to return to the wild. She introduced it to a variety of new foods and taped his cries and played the tape back to him. Officials at the Denver zoo finally decided the parrot was ready for the 20-hour flight to Brazil. Muck paid for her own ticket and put the parrot inside her shirt when she walked through security. On board the plane, Presley’s cries drew the attention of the other passengers. At the Miami airport, Muck handed the parrot over to Iolita Bampi, a senior Brazilian wildlife protection official who took him the rest of the way.

Biologist Fernanda Vaz at the Sao Paolo zoo says Presley is eating well and is very healthy. Officials plan to move him to Recife, where the breeding program is underway. “In 15 years, there?s every likelihood we will be talking about Presley having reproduced or his genome having been cloned,” Gilardi says. “In some way, he will contribute to the continuation of his species.”

Rare birds aren’t the only exotic things going on south of us. Edgar Cayce had a lot to say about the mysteries of South America.

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