VENT Donates $5,000 to National Parks Authority, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
By Barry Lyon, June 17, 2020
March 12, 2020 – On a sun-splashed morning in the heart of the scenic Buccament Valley on the multi-island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours met with Andrew Wilson, Director of the National Parks, Rivers, and Beaches Authority, to commemorate VENT’s donation of $5,000 to the Authority in support of infrastructure repair on behalf of the endangered St. Vincent Parrot. The donation, offered in the spirit of perpetuating access to the parrot for the citizens of St. Vincent and tourists alike, was earmarked for restoration of the parrot-viewing platforms in the St. Vincent Parrot Reserve, which had fallen into decay.
High amid the forest-clad slopes and ridges above the Buccament Valley, the St. Vincent Parrot (Amazona guildingii) exists as one of the Caribbean region’s most endearing birds. Displaying an improbable mix of plumage characteristics—its body and wings a blend of bronze and green; its face a striking white rimmed with blue and yellow; its tail deep blue and tipped in yellow; and its bill a grayish-white, appearing like cracked ivory—the St. Vincent Parrot is one of the most unusually marked and most beautiful of the New World parrots. It is also one of its rarest.
The St. Vincent is one of four parrot species endemic to the Lesser Antilles, and it occurs in only one place in the world—the volcanic island of St. Vincent. Owing to its beautiful plumage and large size, the St. Vincent was for decades the object of desire for Vincentians merely seeking a handsome pet, and to international wildlife traffickers seeking a small fortune. The removal of birds from their native environment, in tandem with extensive deforestation, contributed to a decades-long decline of the species. A bird that once numbered in the thousands was, by the 1980s, reduced to a population in the low hundreds.
In the face of such dramatic decline, alarm bells in the international conservation community were finally sounded. Working with the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, several organizations, most notably the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, went to work to save this remarkable bird, which indisputably was heading for extinction in the wild. In the 1980s and early 1990s, important conservation measures were enacted, most notably the halting of deforestation and a crackdown on the capture of birds for pets. Of perhaps greatest importance, a public awareness campaign was launched to educate the people of the island about the plight of their national bird. A centerpiece of the campaign was “Vincy” the parrot, a costumed mascot designed as a St. Vincent Parrot that visited schools across the island. The program was a spectacular success in that the parrot population was stabilized.
One of the key developments of the conservation effort was the establishment of viewing platforms, or lookouts, along the Vermont Nature Trail within the St Vincent Parrot Reserve. The creation of these lookouts made parrot viewing accessible not only to travelers to the island, but also to island residents who could experience the sight of wild parrots.
From the platforms, dramatic views abound of intermountain valleys and sheer peaks and ridges. From these lofty perches, one enjoys high probability of seeing free-flying parrots in their native habitat. The platforms were installed in 1992. After almost thirty years, the concrete foundations were crumbling, the wooden railings rotting, and second-growth vegetation obscuring the once open vistas.
Every other year for the last ten years, but dating irregularly to the late 1990s, VENT has visited the island of St. Vincent as part of our birding and natural history cruise, The Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud. After our visit to the island in 2018, we saw for ourselves the extent of deterioration of the platforms. Given our concern that soon we would be unable to show this beautiful bird to our guests, and that the people of St. Vincent would lose the ability to see their national bird in so accessible an area, VENT chose to get involved.
Working with good friends and St. Vincent residents Glender and Greg Francois, we were put in touch with Mr. Wilson of the Parks Authority, and made our proposal to restore the parrot lookouts. St. Vincent is a small island of limited economic resources. After a period of dialogue and procuring of cost estimates, an agreement was reached late in 2019 by which VENT would underwrite the restoration effort.
In March 2020, VENT again operated its Lesser Antilles cruise. Our visit to St. Vincent occurred on March 12. We learned that the restoration work was completed only days before our arrival. Early that morning we sent several groups of birders to the Vermont Nature Trail to see this specialty bird. Later in the morning, with part of our tour group present, Victor, Barry, and Mr. Wilson met to perform the ceremonial check hand-off and photo op.
VENT is proud to have played a role in the restoration of the parrot lookouts in the name of continued access—for tourists and locals alike—to the premier area to see this wonderful bird.
Today, the wild population of St. Vincent Parrots numbers between 650–800 birds, a healthier but still vulnerable number. Although illegal cutting of the forest is an ever-present concern, the future of this handsome species appears stable.
VENT CONSERVATION PROJECT 2020: PACHA QUINDI, ECUADOR
Since its inception, VENT has been committed to supporting conservation. Through the years we have worked to raise funds for the protection and preservation of wild places, endangered birds and mammals, and important birding areas all over the world. Moving forward, we have decided to designate one project every year that VENT will support. In 2020 that project will be Pacha Quindi, a parcel of land in the Andes of northwestern Ecuador that the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation plans to purchase from Tony and Barbara Nunnery. Tony and Barbara bought this 50-hectare (125-acre) tract over 20 years ago. Deforested prior to their arrival, they removed the non-native tall grass and other invasive plants and began restoring the land with native vegetation. This effort took many years of backbreaking work. Today, Pacha Quindi is a magnificent property that features a restored cloud forest ecosystem with trails and over 20 hummingbird feeders that host a dozen or more species of hummingbirds at any given time.
Now, because of health problems and other issues, Tony and Barbara need to sell this land and move to Germany where Barbara’s parents live. VENT provided the funds for Tony to hire and train a local person, Edison Velez, to maintain the property, including the trail system and hummingbird feeders. These feeders have attracted more species of hummingbirds than any other site in the world. So renowned is the hummingbird show here that Tony and Barbara received over 10,000 visitors to Pacha Quindi from 2011–2018. It would be a great shame if the tract that Tony and Barbara worked so hard to restore was lost, certainly for the natural world, but also for the international birding community.
VENT has agreed to pay the salary of the local manager and to donate $10,000 to the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation. An anonymous donor has pledged $100,000 to match the first $100,000 raised in the effort toward a final goal of $300,000.
The Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation has been working for eighteen years to acquire tracts of land in this marvelous area which is near the community of Mindo only a couple of hours west of Quito. Acquiring Pacha Quindi will take that organization to a new level. VENT tour leader Paul Greenfield is a board member of the foundation. He and Dr. Robert Ridgely feel this is a very important project and regard Pacha Quindi as one of the best tracts of land in the Mindo area. In Paul’s words, “We are looking forward to keeping Tony and Barbara’s legacy alive and well, and with this land purchase further the cause of environmental conservation in the mega-biodiverse region and country for future generations.”
We hope you will join us in support of this important project, both for its tremendous conservation value and to honor Tony and Barbara for their hard work over so many years. Please visit the Pacha Quindi website to learn more about this magical place. Additionally, we encourage you to visit Pacha Quindi’s YouTube channel for a “real time” experience.
You can donate to this important cause in two ways: via personal check sent to Friends of Mindo Cloud Forest, 103 Chestnut Hill, Brattleboro, VT 05301, or by credit card or PayPal through the foundation website: http://bit.ly/MindoCloudForest_Donate
Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donors will receive a proper acknowledgment letter for tax deduction purposes.
We will appreciate any donations.