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Last Wild Macaw of Rio De Janeiro is Lonely and in Search of Love

Looking for love | Image credit: AP

Looking for love | Image credit: AP

Blue-and-yellow macaws live to be about 35 years old and Juliet — no spring chicken — should have found a lifelong mate years ago.

Some have claimed she’s indulging a forbidden romance. More likely, loneliness compels her to seek company at Rio de Janeiro’s zoo. Either way, a blue-and-yellow macaw that zookeepers named Juliet is believed to be the only wild bird of its kind left in the Brazilian city where the birds once flew far and wide. Almost every morning for the last two decades, Juliet has appeared. She swoops onto the zoo enclosure where macaws are kept and, through its fence, engages in grooming behaviour that looks like conjugal canoodling. Sometimes she just sits, relishing the presence of others. She is quieter — shier? Coyer? — than her squawking chums.

Blue-and-yellow macaws live to be about 35 years old and Juliet — no spring chicken — should have found a lifelong mate years ago, according to Neiva Guedes, president of the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, an environmental group. But Juliet hasn’t coupled, built a nest or had chicks, so at most, she’s “still just dating.”

“They’re social birds, and that means they don’t like to live alone, whether in nature or captivity. They need company,” said Guedes, who also coordinates a project that researches macaws in urban settings. Juliet “very probably feels lonely, and for that reason goes to the enclosure to communicate and interact.”

Aside from Juliet, the last sighting of a blue-and-yellow macaw flying free in Rio was in 1818 by an Austrian naturalist, according to Marcelo Rheingantz, a biologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and there are no other types of macaws in the city. The lovebirds featured in the 2011 film “Rio″ are Spix’s macaws, which are native to a different region of Brazil and possibly extinct in the wild.

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Being boisterous with brilliant plumage helps macaws find each other in dense forest, but also makes them easier targets for hunters and animal traffickers. They’re often seen in other Brazilian states and across the Amazon, and it is suspected Juliet escaped from captivity.

Biologists at BioParque aren’t sure if Juliet’s nuzzling is limited to one caged Romeo or a few of them. They’re not even certain Juliet is female; macaw gender is near impossible to determine by sight and requires either genetic testing of feathers or blood or examination of the gonads.

Either would be interference merely to satisfy human curiosity with no scientific end, biologist Angelita Capobianco said inside the enclosure. Nor would they consider confining Juliet, who often soars overhead and appears well-nourished.

“We don’t want to project human feelings. I look at the animal, and see an animal at ease,” Capobianco said, noting Juliet has never exhibited behaviour to indicate disturbance, such as insistently pecking at the fence.

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first published:May 09, 2021, 17:16 IST