Avian Expert Articles

Presley the Spix’s Macaw Legacy

Spixs-MacawOur world is a vast place with its many living residents. Humans, animals, insects, and birds of all kinds share the resources available to each of us. This sharing of the world connects us all in some grand way. But, as will happen, by whatever reasons that include malicious intent, ecological mishaps, or a dying out of a species for various reasons, we find that we are a fragile thread of existence.

One of our magnificent birds, the Spix’s macaw, so-named for the German naturalist, Johann Baptist von Spix who acquired a specimen on his journey into Brazil back in the early 1800s, has been on the endangered species list for many decades. Even when von Spix collected his bird, the species was already in rapid decline due, in large part, to deforestation. Unfortunately, since the arrival of the New Millennium (2000), no Spix’s macaw birds are believed to be alive in the wild. There are an estimated 80 left in captivity, held mostly by officially sanctioned facilities so as to enhance their dire numbers, Of that number, there are a few estimated to be in private ownership. One of those was Presley.

Presley’s story goes way back to the late ’70s when he was illegally acquired by a household in Colorado after the original trafficker of the extremely rare bird was being investigated. When the new owner came into possession, Presley was loved by the family. After showing a love for rock music, Presley was named after the famed King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. After twenty years in 2002, Presley became depressed when his African grey female companion died. The owner called a veterinarian and it was discovered that Presley was indeed an ultra-rare bird, one that was not to be privately owned. An amicable arrangement to turn over the bird to governing federal agencies was gained, and Presley was returned to Brazil in the hopes that he could become a vital part of the recovery program.

In 2014, Presley died but not without leaving a legacy. It’s said that the Dreamworks animated films “Rio,” and “Rio II,” had its central character, Blu, fashioned after Presley’s life story adding a dramatic twist. But Presley’s legacy can become a more legendary one in that after his death, his testicles were removed and frozen to preserve them for a future time when technologies have advanced enough to make full use of them. Use would include extraction of valuable cells that could be mined for even more valuable stem cells that would aid in the process of fertilization.

As it happens, there is an available technology developing that would allow for Spix’s macaw reproductive cells to be used in another macaw. This process has a potential to produce new babies that, when grown to a suitable age and independence, can be released into the wild with the hopes that a thriving community of them could be sustained.

Science is at a remarkable pace of evolution at this time in our existence. Taking advantage of a great and dedicated collective hive mind which can help to increase our sadly low numbers of these magnificent blue creatures, our unstable community of Spix’s macaws might just proliferate and defeat the odds. If that happens, Presley will have played a top role in making that happen. In death, he is still alive as an icon and as a spirit of hope.

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