“Apu Pauni” is the name for the scarlet macaw in the indigenous Miskitu language.
This brightly coloured parrot is the national bird of Honduras. It is said that it once traveled the skies throughout the country and that its song was heard by the ancient Mayans.
Today, the largest wild population of macaw in the country is believed to be in the eastern region of La Moskitia, specifically between the Mavita, Rus Rus, Wahabisban and Pranza hamlets, whose populations are mostly indigenous Miskitu .
The impressive biological diversity in the area was what aroused the interest of national and international researchers, especially the species under threat of extinction, such as the scarlet macaw and other parrots.
“When the researchers came, they stayed in our homes,” says Santiago Lacuth, leader of the community and coordinator of the lodging shelter and scientific centre. “We had nothing to offer them. We gave them our food and just took care of them.”
It was in this context that a group of people from the community of Mavita, with help from a group of Honduran and foreign researchers, organized themselves and built a small research centre and scientific eco-shelter to receive and provide facilities for those who came to study the birds. Then the “La Moskitia” project chipped in to provide equipment and set up solar energy and water services.
Now the researchers have the facilities to continue their work, and the local economy has received a jolt.
“Without forests there is nothing; there are no scarlet macaws. We take care of them and set them free… We respect the water, the trees, for us and for our children,” says Santiago Lacuth, community leader and coordinator of the research centre and eco-shelter.
La Moskitia is a big territory with a wealth of biodiversity, but it faces major challenges, including land grabbing, governance, income generation and limited access to basic services like health, education, transportation and security.
Undertakings like the research centre and eco-shelter are opportunities for members of remote communities to promote the conservation and sustainability of their environment and with it gain access to alternative sources of income.
The “Apu Prana” (“the beauty of the scarlet macaw” in theMiskitu language) Community Association responsible for the initiative and the centre received training in hospitality, eco-tourism and business management. In addition, they learnt to support and generate scientific information to assist the researchers in their work.
Although most of the bird monitoring processes are carried out by men, who walk up to six hours into the forest on the edge of the community, it is the women are responsible for caring for the birds in the rehabilitation centre.
“This is where we bring the captured scarlet macaws, those that do not have wings, those that are sick, even abandoned chicks. We support the researchers. We help to measure the chicks, we weigh them, we put the ring [for identification], and we give them food,” says Dionisia.
For UNDP, the sustainable management of the environment is essential for development. The project promotes the conservation and sustainability of ecosystems, because of their inherent value and in terms of the resources they provide: water, fishing, food, oxygen, carbon sequestration. Importantly, it has also brings economic opportunity, increasing its chances of long-tern success.
“We provide food and lodging,” says Dionisia. “We are around 10 to 12 women who work here. We rotate each time, so we all work. We charge our work, another part goes to cover expenses and another part remains in the fund to expand and improve the centre. The plan is to expand from four to six rooms.”
Since 2012, the centre has cared for around 70 birds and reintegrated them into the ecosystem. It hosts several scientific expeditions each year. Currently there are between 10 and 12 women who rotate the responsibility to attend to visitors, while both men and women, who completed training in bird monitoring skills, offer their services as para-technicians to the scientific expeditions.
The Mavita community has been recognized internationally by the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation for its efforts in the conservation of Miskita biodiversity, in particular, for the rehabilitation of the macaws and parrots, and for the harmony with which they coexist with the biodiversity.
The “La Moskitia” project was implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented in Honduras by the Government and the UNDP, supported this initiative by granting funding for the conservation of the macaws and protection of the territory through training on environment protection, tourism project management and infrastructure.