Dear Local Residents, Here’s a Small Request

By now you probably all saw HRH Princess Beatrix at Parke Arikok admiring the Loras, the Yellow-Shoulder Amazons, extinct in Aruba, that are currently part of an experiment, an attempt to reintroduce the species to the wild, on the island.

Imagine how beautiful that would be.

A Lora was last seen here in 1947. Imagine if a dazzling flock of green and yellow would be sitting again on our grape-trees and cacti?!

It all depends on you.

If you resist the urge to find them, poach them, cage them, that vision is possible.

If the public of Aruba and our many visitors understand, that their cooperation is needed. And all that is required is nothing, no action. Do nothing. Don’t visit, don’t touch. Even if you see one, avert your gaze. Pretend to be disinterested.

Because the reintroduction of the birds here is very challenging and DCNA, a Dutch nature conservation organization, and FPNA, Arikok Park, made great efforts to get to where we were on Friday, at a heartwarming picture opportunity with HRH Princess Beatrix, visiting the park, in an undisclosed location, and feeding the birds string beans and peanuts.

We’ve come a long way.

How long?

Let me share what I know.

Sometimes last year a smugglers’ boat was intercepted in Aruba’s territorial water, and in its dark belly, amid gas fumes two plastic boxes, with peek holes on the side, trapping thirty-three baby Loras, featherless and defenseless, no water, no food, waiting to be sold on the island, to a black-market trader who ordered them from the smugglers.

The Loras, while extinct here, can still be found in Venezuela, and as long as there are beautiful birds, there will be traders who want to sell them to captivity.

Someone at Customs, a bird-lover, saw the babies about to be delivered to the Veterinary Dienst for euthanasia, and called Dr. Ricardo Gogorza, the Bird-Man of Aruba, a forensic pathologist by profession and a consummate bird expert.

Dr. Gogorza called around in a frenzy, including Greg Peterson. He knew this was a unique opportunity, but how do you reverse a death sentence, at the spur of the moment.

The Minister of Nature, of course, he must be aware of the CITES treaty, that forbids culling exotic species, and would perhaps come to the rescue.

(According to CITES, signed by the Dutch and therefore applicable here, wild smuggled animals must quarantine, be cared for and returned to their country of origin, an expensive and almost impossible undertaking for our local vet dienst.)

Minister Ursell Arends came through.

He called with a cease and desist. He was too late for the monkeys in the same shipment but the baby-birds were delivered to Dr. Gogorza, who along with his daughter, Ainhoa, nurtured them to health over many months. A few died immediately, in the wake of the transport trauma. A few caught some harmful virus, but twenty-five survived and they are all nearing the 300GR recommended release weight. Dr. Gogorza who analyzes their poop at regular intervals, pronounced them well-enough, for now.

As a forensic pathologist he knows all secrets are revealed, when looking at poop.

So the birds are OK now, but not out of danger.

Dr. Gogorza & Ainhoa, fed the Loras from the wild, zero store-bought seed, in view of their need to forage in the park in the future. They taught them to love sea grapes, neem fruit, cacti.

They tried to socialize them as little as possible, so that they remain suspicious of people.

All along, Parke Arikok was very supportive and enthusiastic, as it recognized the precious conservation opportunity.

It identified a good place in the park to build an aviary, and is hoping to soft-release some of the stronger birds in a few months, then the others, as soon as they reach the desired weight/size, and acclimate at their surroundings.

The area in the park has some cliffs and crags, the Loras might want to nest in them, though they would prefer palm trees, but there are no palms in the park.

Perhaps they will be planting, now.

Roger, the Arikok Park ranger, joined Dr. Gogorza & Ainhoa, in caring for the birds, in the first months, where they were housed by the good-doctor. Roger is dedicated to their well-being, and HRH Princess Beatrix, listened to him intently, while he told her about them. He will continue to care for them in the park.

So why is this blessed initiative so challenging. The park is arid most of the time, and sources of water and food are scarce. Then we have the famous boas and other predators, wild cats for example.

If all goes well, the birds will start fulfilling their biological mission, and breed, in about five years, and the pairing is not guaranteed. DNA tests established we have a few more females than males in the flock, which is good, but will they like each other? Will they bond?

Will islanders and tourists let them be?

HRH Princess Beatrix showed great interest of the project. She is a patron of conservation and applauded the park on the initiative.

Dr. Gogorza was a bit sad to say good-bye to his babies. He quarantined them, in a large aviary he built, and analyzed their health frequently, protected them from other birds, viruses, the weather, the sun, the heat, fed them a nutritious diet, invested his heart and soul in saving them, and then had to let them go.

That’s how it goes, you hold on to babies, then you have to let them go.

Bu he is however, available 24/7 for questions and advice, he says, and he hopes the park will use him.

While he isn’t always pro-monarchy, he hails from Argentina, the princess shook his hand warmly, and thanked him.

We thank him too.

We are fearful but hopeful.

Photo credit: Dr. Gogorza.

Share on:

November 13, 2023
Rona Coster