Reprinted with permission from The Crescent-News, Defiance, OH
By JENNY DERRINGER
The actions of one Defiance College student are having far-reaching effects in the United States and the country of Belize.
Kaitlin Studer, a junior biology major at Defiance College, is hoping to change the attitudes of people in those countries about the pet bird trade.
A McMaster Scholar at DC for the 2006—07 and 2007—08 school years, Studer wrote a proposal to travel to Belize last December and research the endangered yellow-headed parrot and its habitat. The parrot, also known as the yellow-headed Amazon, is a popular pet in the United States.
Her goal was to study problems contributing to the bird’s population decline and why it is being poached by residents of Belize. In addition, the Grand Rapids resident wanted to formulate educational materials to the distribute to the schools that McMaster students are in contact with to educate the younger generation about endangered species and the importance of protecting them.
“When I went to Belize in December of 2006 I learned way more about the parrot and the environment it lives in than I ever would have just reading articles and books about it,” explained Studer.
In Belize, Studer learned that the yellow-headed parrots nest in Caribbean pine trees in the savanna. Woodpeckers and other tree-borers make the initial holes in the trees and the yellow-headed parrots eventually make the openings large enough to house their nests. The problem arises when poachers not only remove the young chicks to be sold in the pet trade but they cut down or damage the trees, making them unusable by other parrots.
“When a poacher destroys a (tree) cavity, it becomes one less nest that can be used by the parrots,” she stated. “When I was in Belize, Ivan Gillett, our guide and the person in charge of the recovery program, took me to a tree that was completely cut down. He said that this was a tree frequently used by nesting parrots and it was a fairly new nesting tree. Since it was cut down, it can never be used by the parrots again. He said that many times poachers will bring children to help them get the parrot chicks or to climb the trees. When Ivan told me this I knew exactly what kind of educational material I had to create — a children’s book. I returned from Belize just before Christmas and I actually started writing right away.”
From that experience, she has penned a children’s book called Leaving Wild in English and Spanish. She hopes to reach the Belize parents and their children, and plans to take more than 200 books to distribute in their schools.
Studer is also selling the books here to fund field packs she will be taking with her when she returns to Belize next month.
“Since Ivan had expressed a need for help in developing materials that would spread the word about the endangered status of the parrot in the villages and schools on the periphery of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, this seemed like a very good project,” she explained.
The field packs will be equipped with binoculars, a field guide to birds in Belize, check lists and a field notebook.
“When I go to Belize in December, I am taking these field packs to the schools and I am going to teach the children how to bird (watch) and to become more engaged in their environment. This equipment is needed to move science education from the classroom to the field — something that the teachers there are very interested in doing but they lack the equipment that would enhance this experience,” she noted.
The cost of Leaving Wild is $15 and Studer has done a number of speaking engagements including at a Black Swamp Audubon Society meeting and the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Denver, Colo.
Another part of her project is estimating biodiversity in different land-use plots. She hopes her data will help the rangers managing the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area to convince people on the periphery not to “slash and burn” the rainforest for more land to farm.
Studer also completed an internship at Toledo Zoo’s aviary in the summer of 2006.
“I have learned so much by working at the zoo and it’s actually (along with my McMaster project) changed my career plans,” she pointed out. “When I started college, I wanted to become a veterinarian but I now want to go to graduate school in conservation biology concentrating in tropical and avian ecology. I was offered a temporary keeper position at the Toledo Zoo in May of 2007 and I worked during the summer of 2007 as a bird keeper. I currently continue to volunteer on the weekends in the aviary at the Toledo Zoo. I love working with the keepers and especially the birds.
“Since the pet trade has had a significant negative impact on the yellow-headed parrot that I researched in Belize, seeing parrots or other tropical species as pets makes me wonder if they were originally wild. My book Leaving Wild is my attempt to convince all people to do just that — leave wild,” she noted.
“When you live a project, it becomes a part of you and it’s something you think about all the time, it’s something you enjoy working on,” she added.
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