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Polly Wanna Shelter

How 230 endangered parrots survived Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico


WHEN HURRICANE IRMA STARTED barreling toward Puerto Rico, people across the island launched into storm preparations. Edwin Muñiz and Tom White were among them, but they had a somewhat different plan from most for dealing with the storm, seeing as they had to take care of themselves and ensure the safety of a bunch of brightgreen individuals covered in feathers. That’s because their jobs involve protecting 230 endangered Puerto Rican parrots.

The species, which has been protected under the Endangered Species Act for five decades, is the only parrot found on U.S. soil. And on its home island, the parrot is considered “an icon,” according to Muñiz, a field supervisor at the Caribbean Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Natives nicknamed the foot-tall, redforeheaded birds iguaca because of their charismatic chattiness. By the late 1960s, however, the parrot was in trouble, mostly because of habitat loss due to agriculture and road-building, so the FWS began tending to the birds, which now make up three wild populations and two captive populations— including the parrots Muñiz and White needed to get through Hurricane Irma’s wrath at the aviary in El Yunque National Forest, in the northeast corner of the island. Captive populations are a powerful conservation tool because they produce birds that can be released into the wild, and their breeding success rates are higher than those of wild populations.

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