Imagine you’ve been transported deep into the humid, tropical forests of northern Colombia, traversing the El Paujil reserve. You scramble down a steep hillside, trying to stay on your feet as you dodge low-hanging branches and push through dense, prickly underbrush. You’ve been searching for what seems like forever, and you’re tired. You sit down to rest and have a drink of water. Your eyes glance up to a small clearing, and you can’t believe it. You see what you’ve been searching so hard to find: a bird so rare that fewer than 700 still exist in the wild…possibly many less. You found the blue-billed curassow.
The blue-billed curassow, as beautiful as it is rare, is facing some serious issues in the wild that are causing its population to decline. Its habitat is being used for agriculture; the forests are being replaced with farms. The El Paujil reserve is the only one in the world dedicated to the blue-billed curassow (which is called El Paujil in its native Colombia).
Fortunately, there are people working every day to make sure these birds will never go extinct. One way is to make sure there are birds in zoos so that if the wild population takes a drastic nose dive, the population still stays viable.
Zoos work together to determine which birds have the most genetic diversity and then pair them together so they can ensure the long-term survival of the species. The Houston Zoo, for example, worked with Zoo Lourosa in Portugal to trade pairs of blue-billed curassows for this purpose. After the trade, the new birds were then paired with other existing birds, and now there have been babies born at both zoos.
It is also important that people see curassows in person and appreciate their uniqueness so they will care about them and want to help them.
The Houston Zoo has been working to save these birds since the 1970s – there have been more than 50 blue-billed curassows born in Houston. Zoos in Colombia have also been working for many years with species like the curassow that can be challenging to breed. The Houston Zoo has been working with Colombian Zoos since 2004 to share our knowledge and our resources to help their breeding programs. The ultimate goal is for Colombian zoos to be successful in breeding these birds, and then to release birds back into the wild once the population can be sustained.
And there is good news from this very important effort: in January 2014, the Aviario Nacional de Colombia became the first Colombian zoo to breed the blue-billed curassow in its native Colombia. The very next month, the Houston Zoo’s Chris Holmes, assistant curator of birds, traveled to Colombia and hosted an incubation workshop at this same place to train 21 staff members from four Colombian zoos. Four incubators and other related equipment was also donated.
To date, there have been 10 chicks that have hatched at the Aviario Nacional de Colombia.
What can you do to help? Visit the Houston Zoo and see the blue-billed curassow for yourself. The more you appreciate and understand this bird, the more knowledge you can share with others. And when you visit, a portion of every ticket goes to saving animals in the wild.