[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 14:43 GMT
Endangered birds on offer in Nicaragua
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Managua

Stop at any traffic lights in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, and you enter a parallel world of retail. Given time, between the red lights, you could almost do your entire weekly shop from the comfort of your car.

A bird being offered for sale on a Managua street
Birds can be bought from the comfort of a car
Wind down the window and people carrying seven different types of fruit loom up. Turn your head, and the tortilla man arrives.

There are exquisitely carved wooden statues of Christ to tempt you. Phone chargers, phone cards, even phones are yours to buy.

But one item, in particular, caught my eye. This was an item that moved.

It was small and green. Then another appeared. And another. They were birds. All attached to the arms of men eager to show off their beautiful avian armoury.

"What price do you want to pay?" they asked.

I told them I wasn't really buying. But they insisted.

"Okay, if you don't like these we have others. Much better ones."

Macaws on offer

At this point, I wasn't sure about the legality of what they were doing, but just had a feeling that it was wrong. I sensed an untold story.

So, together with my producer, we agreed they could take us out of town to where the "real" birds were.

A man called Juan jumped into the back of our car, putting three of his small green birds into a plastic bag. By the time our 40-minute journey out into the Nicaraguan countryside ended, one of them had died.

Duncan Kennedy is offered a macaw
The men were willing to sell a Great Green Macaw for $400
As each kilometre passed, the quality of the road deteriorated. So when we arrived, we were travelling on rutted mud tracks.

Surrounding us, the lush density of a Nicaraguan rain forest and a few corrugated iron shacks.

We stepped out of the car and were led up a path along side one of these shacks. Some other men appeared. My discomfort level increased, but I decided we had come too far to pull out now.

As we smiled at Juan's wife and the baby in her arms, we turned our heads and there on the far side of the veranda were two of the most beautiful exotic birds I had ever seen.

These were far more impressive than our traffic light offerings. It later turned out they were macaws.

One was green, the other, multi-coloured. Both were about a metre long, from head to the end of their dazzling plumage.


Juan started the bidding.

"One thousand dollars," he said, pointing to the green one.

Environment Minister Cristobal Sequeira
These people are poor... They don't understand that we are trying to attract eco-tourists and that those tourists want to see Nicaragua's beauty
Cristobal Sequeira
Environment minister
This continued for several minutes as I stroked the gorgeous creatures as they sat on their perches. By the time it ended, we had agreed on $400 (200) per bird.

He insisted all along it was legal. But my doubts were gaining strength by the minute.

We told Juan that we would have to consult others before buying and would return. He seemed happy with that. So did the other men around him.

We headed back to Managua, giving the two birds one last look over our shoulders as we left and wondering where they would end up.

It did not take long to confirm the bird trade was totally illegal.

Nicaragua has in the past few years woken up to the importance of its rich wildlife and has taken several steps to protect it.

So too has the international convention on endangered species, otherwise known as Cites.

With the help of an expert, we identified one of the birds as a Great Green Macaw. It is on Appendix One of the Cites red lists - one of the lists reserved for the most endangered species.

Painted birds

"I cannot believe it," said Environment Minister Cristobal Sequeira when I told him what we had seen.

"I thought we had stopped that," he said.

Great Green Macaw
The Great Green Macaw is an endangered species
"These people are poor. They don't understand that we are trying to attract eco-tourists and that those tourists want to see Nicaragua's beauty.

"When we tell the poachers that they could get real jobs in the tourism industry, they don't see it's in their interests to leave the birds alone. They want quick money."

Mr Sequeira said that as well as trying persuasion to stop the poachers, the government was also using the law.

But he added: "In one area of forest popular with the poachers, we have just 20 wardens to patrol 13,000 sq km. It's almost impossible."

It is not just poachers threatening Nicaragua's birds. Logging is also swallowing up their habitats.

In the end, we did not buy the macaws we were offered - but someone will.

The sellers are so desperate to supply the market with the more lucrative species, they paint the bodies of some birds to fool the buyers. It works, too, we were told.

What will not work are Nicaragua's attempts to turn itself into worldwide centre for nature tourism if it does not have the nature to offer.

Seventy per cent of its population live in poverty and the foreign money will only flow in if there is something to spend it on.

For Nicaragua to succeed, it must show a red light to the poachers and a green light to the visitors.

Hong Kong animal smuggler held
10 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific