Venezuela's vanishing red bird gets a lifeline from coffee farmers

Published: 06th November 2018 02:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th November 2018 02:47 PM  

Images of a tiny red bird that barely fills the palm of one's hand appear everywhere in Venezuela — printed on money, labels of craft beer bottles and the cover of children's school books. But the finch-like red siskin is vanishing from the wild at an alarming rate, falling prey to a century of shrinking forests and poachers cashing in on their brilliant red feathers, prized around the world by breeders of exotic birds.(Photo | AP)
Once flourishing in the millions, as few as 300 remain in the wild in Venezuela, although scientists say it's difficult to estimate their numbers in the politically turbulent and dangerous country. (Photo | AP)
The 'Cardenalito,' or 'Little Cardinal' as it is affectionately called, holds a special place in Venezuelan culture, the poster child of some 1,400 bird species — from the Amazon to the Andes — that live in one of the world's most biodiverse landscapes. (Photo | AP)
The Red Siskin Initiative launched about three years ago on a shoestring budget of less than $100,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private groups in the US and Venezuela. (Photo | AP)
That threat has brought together an international team including scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and poor coffee farmers in Venezuela's remote mountains, all set on rescuing it from extinction. The plan is to entice farmers to plant organic coffee groves with layers of thick branches that are inviting to the endangered, perching songbird, which has lost a lot of its habitat. (Photo | AP)
In parallel, a red siskin breeding center is being built at a private zoo in Venezuela where 200 birds are expected to be hatched next year, adding to the 25 caged at the Smithsonian Institution, forming a type of Noah's Ark to ensure that the iconic species does not disappear. Red siskins from the center will be introduced into the coffee groves. (Photo | AP)
While still in its early stages, backers say coffee initiative is already showing positive results. Some 40 farmers in the rugged, coastal mountains of Carayaca, northwest of the capital Caracas, have already stopped cutting down trees — an important first step to creating a robust habitat. (Photo | AP)
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