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Military Macaw conservation programme in Bahia de Banderas, Jalisco

Current initiative


A couple arguing in flight. Credit: Carlos Bonilla

A couple arguing in flight. Credit: Carlos Bonilla

The Military Macaw (Ara militaris) is protected by national and international regulations such as Mexico’s NOM ECOL 059, the IUCN, the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). However, despite efforts to conduct biological research and a growing interest in this species, important biological information needed for the proper implementation of conservation management plans is still lacking.

Properly developed ecotourism which follows the models established in Central and South America has become one of the best options for management and conservation of Military Macaws. Research programmes that go hand in hand with this type of economic activity appear to be the best approach.

The state of Jalisco offers very unique conditions with regards to biological knowledge of Ara militaris popu­lations in the Banderas Bay region. Ecotourism activi­ties in the region, and the degree of organisation of the non-profit sector, all make this area ideal for the implementation of short-term research programmes intimately linked to community conservation activities carried out through non-profit organisations.

One of the major threats to Military Macaw conservation identified in the Banderas Bay region is the frequent poaching of nests, despite the legal protection this species enjoys. When this is coupled with the naturally low reproductive rate of the species, the loss of hatchlings year after year places regional populations at greater risk.

Our mission is to obtain the biological data necessary for the management and conservation of Military Macaw nests in the Banderas Bay region and use that information in specific activities to benefit both the species and the human communities that share their territory.



In the municipalities of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo Corrientes, Mexican state of Jalisco. The habitats are mainly tropical subdeciduos forest and pine-oak forest. There is no Natural Protected Area there but, the area has been proposed in the past for several categories without success because of the high level of economic and political interests. There is a high percentage of endemic flora and fauna and the tropical subdeciduos forests of this region are among the best preserved forests in Mexico. Here is the biggest population discovered of Ara militaris that has been documented.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Military Macaw Ara militaris

Products in trade

Live animals for the illegal pet trade

Overview of the problem

It is mainly local people involved, plus people that live outside the immediate area but in the region. We only know of solitary poachers - we haven´t heard of particular groups involved. The motivation is always the easy money and the very low probability of apprehension when poaching the species. Mainly, poachers are poor people who think they don’t have any other economic opportunities.

The anti-IWT initiative

Unidos por las Guacamayas, wants to make a difference in the perception of local people about the environment and the fauna that live in it, with a focus on the Military Macaw. Our strategies are to provide environmental education so people can realise the value of nature, and the existence of other ways to use nature so they may get profits whilst respecting and protecting their natural resources. It is hoped that if they know the richness of their land, and if the environment generates economic benefits, they will learn to love it and will protect it against poachers and destruction.

Scientific Research. The research and conservation programme includes three different work lines, each with its own activities, goals and costs:

  • Monthly monitoring of population size of registered populations in different sites of the Bahia Banderas region.
  • Identifying nests of registered populations, protecting these and studying the reproductive success of them.
  • Characterising major threats to Military Macaw reproduction in the region.

Community Work. Complementing the ongoing scientific research work and based on it, is outreach efforts in regard to training and protection of the natural resources that involve and benefit the local communities through ecotourism activities. While searching for and monitoring the Military Macaw nests, local resources and products have been identified that can be integrated into the ecotourism programmes. By using these resources, the opportunities open which may generate both direct and indirect permanent jobs in the local area.

Environmental Education. Additionally, non-formal environmental education is conducted which benefits the local people to better understand their natural resources, focusing mainly on the Military Macaws. With concrete management actions, the Military Macaw population receive direct benefits, that translate into a better and secure reproductive effort and a major number of protected nest sites.

We have established on-going environmental education programmes on macaw protection and conservation targeted for participating communities. These include:

  • The development and production of printed materials about the biology, threats, conservation and protection of Military Macaws.
  • The production of printed materials on the macaw’s ecosystems, species that share its habitat, the significance of these to humans and ways to conserve them.
  • School visits, workshops and conferences

Inclusion of gender, age and ethnic groups

Our approach includes the old field workers, who know the jungle very well, as guardians and guides; to the students and teachers of the local schools, to build from the younger generations greater awareness of the importance of nature for the well-being of their communities.

We focus on women and men with leadership qualities, to take concrete actions within their community that bring them benefits.

We do not exclude anyone who wants to participate with us, for the benefit of natural resources, the conservation of the Military Macaw and the improvement of the community's relationship with its environment.

We employ undergraduate and graduate students to do the scientific work necessary to support the community work and environmental education. In this way we also provide the valuable support to get high qualified scientific personal.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Performance-based payments/incentives for patrolling or guarding
Un-paid (voluntary) community scouts
Paid in-kind community scouts
Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Strengthening and supporting traditional norms and sanctions against IWT
Further detail

Raise community awareness about importance and significance of the health of nature and about its environmental services for human communities, mainly in those communities living directly with nature who depend on its use and health. We are using for this, environmental education techniques, and community support to solve environmental and resource exploitation issues.

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Subsistence resource access/use
Further detail

We offer ecotourism training opportunities and help develop some ecotourism products to encourage the creation of community businesses.

Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardship

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

We use educational and awareness materials of our partner organisations like Defenders of Wildlife, México, and we produce our own educative materials like presentations and children’s tales, like “Arita, a Macaw’s tale”. We already have a catalogue of 25 different products - many of them in English too.

Has the initiative made a difference?

The poaching of Military Macaw’s nests has changed dramatically; in the last 12 years, in the areas we have been working, we have only documented three poaching cases. These cases were strongly related to very vulnerable nests and where there has been weak government presence.

Local people are more aware of the environmental importance of Military macaws – they see the birds more and speak about them frequently, and also inform on poachers. People are aware of the work we do in the area and know that if they poach macaws they could be handed over to the authorities.

Some people in the communities have also taken on a more active role of environmental stewardship by taking care of riverbeds, starting jungle reforestation and with community solid waste management initiatives.

What works and why

Environmental education for children is really important as they pay more attention to nature and talk about it to other children and their parents.

Factors for success

Long-term donor support that is flexible, adaptive and/or based on realistic time goals

Sufficient time investment in building relationships and trust between the initiative and local communities

Effective and trusted community leaders

Further detail

We will obtain more results about attitudes inside the community when we can invest more time in build relationships between the community and the project.

What doesn’t work and why

We try to get along with the community authorities but have found that they only want to talk about money and economic gain. Once we thought we had generated an interest in environmental care because they asked us to do an ecological trail, but in the end they abandoned the trail and used the example to gain profits from other projects.

Family factors - we try to work with families who own big pieces of land. There have been situations where certain family members have been happy with the project, and some unhappy, which in one case led to the sale of land where we were implementing the project.

On the other hand, where we are able to work in collaboration with the authorities, we have achieved very good results to prevent poaching events.

We have supported the community to protect their natural resources by helping to prevent the construction of a mini hydroelectric dam that was going to directly affect the environment of the area and the economic situation of the families in the community.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Lack of supportive national policy/legislation on sustainable use of natural resources

Lack of coordinated and coherent sectoral policies/legislation (For example, land use planning, agricultural etc...)

Ineffective and/or untrustworthy community leaders

Lack of clearly defined tenure or resource use rights

Further detail

Some issues like the community leaders, are a “pro” when they are present and effective, but a big “con” when they aren’t. Perhaps the real trouble is that the relationships inside the community is not well developed and the leaders are not effective in the long-term.

Organisers, donors and partners

Defenders of Wildlife, México

Roberto Ortiz Dietz

Ernesto Paulsen (Beach restaurant owner)

Friends that knows our work and made donations of little amounts every year or once in a while.

For further information contact Carlos Bonilla (