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Only One Rare 'Rio' Parrot Left

Jul 01, 2014 04:47 PM EDT

After a rare blue parrot named Presley, who supposedly inspired the film "Rio," died outside São Paulo, Brazil last week, there is only one wild-born Spix's macaw left in the world.

Presley was around 40 years old when he died Wednesday, and his loss is a blow to conservation efforts for the Brazilian native birds, which are believed to be extinct in the wild. Decades of deforestation and wildlife trafficking led to the parrot's decline, along with the presence of non-native African honeybees - which started competing with Spix's macaw for space. None have been seen in the wild since 2000.

There are some parrots currently being bred in refugees throughout the world, though it's fewer than 100 and the lack of genetic diversity is posing its own challenges.

"Just looking after birds in a cage is not conservation," Al Wabra Wildlife Center director Cromwell Purchase told Doha News.

Carlos Saldanha, director of the hit animated film "Rio," supposedly based off of these colorful macaws, has said he hoped the movie would raise awareness of the challenges facing endangered birds in Brazil.

"I wanted [to feature] the rarest bird," he told the website Bird Channel in 2011. "The Spix's macaw truly is the rarest."

But Purchase and his colleagues at the wildlife center are breeding the birds, researching new reproduction strategies and preparing to reintroduce the Spix's macaw back into its natural habitat in Brazil.

Presley rose to fame when he was found in Colorado, smuggled out of Brazil like so many of his kin in the 1970s. The loveable blue parrot was eventually brought to the Lymington Foundation, a privately owned refuge and breeding facility for rare parrots in the forest outside São Paulo.

There, owners attempted to breed Presley with other female Spix's macaws, but all the eggs ended up being sterile. His death came as a surprise, especially to his most recent partner Priscilla, a Vinaceous Amazon parrot.

Presley "was doing pretty well," Linda Wittkoff from the Lymington Foundation told National Geographic. "His death came as a surprise."

However, the bird was already a rare species when it was first discovered in 1819, and was what Purchase called a "niche" species. Goats ate most of the fruits and nuts that made up the majority of the bird's diet, low fertility levels made reproduction difficult and he Spix's macaw was not evolving and adapting to climate and habitat changes as fast as other parrots.

"They were busy getting extinct on their own," Purchase told Doha News. "This created a crisis for a species already on the brink."

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