Saint Lucia: birthplace of the Rare approach to conservation

Saint Lucia Parrot. Image credit:

Rare is an international conservation organization that uses behaviour change approaches to protect and preserve species and habitats across the world.  Did you know that the Rare approach to conservation actually originated in Saint Lucia?

On his first day in St. Lucia, Paul Butler hiked to the edge of the forest at the island’s northern end, in search of the bird that had brought him there. The brilliantly colorful, endemic St. Lucia parrot, a species at the edge of extinction, drew Butler from his native England, to count the island’s remaining parrots and learn more about the species’ shrinking numbers. By 1977, the St. Lucia parrot had become a rare sight, even for the island locals. Studying the trees through dusk for the parrot’s lime feathers, cherry red chest and brightly burning amber eyes, Butler looked up to finally spot a single St. Lucia parrot cut a clear form against the darkening sky.

However brief, that first sighting lingered with Butler, who would one day be known island-wide as the Parrot Man — the young Englishman who helped save the St. Lucia parrot from extinction.

In 1977, Butler estimated that only 100 to 150 birds remained in St. Lucia. After studying the parrot’s decline, he submitted recommendations to the forestry department for measures it could put in place to help the parrot population bounce back. The head of the forestry department, Gabriel Charles, decided to make Butler an offer: Come back to St. Lucia, act as a conservation advisor to the forestry department, and help St. Lucia bring its rare bird back to the island’s forests and skies in healthy numbers. Butler accepted.

He put forth a straightforward set of solutions for protecting the St. Lucia parrot: Revise legislation on the species dating back to 1885, intensify its penalty for killing the parrot — then only five U.S. dollars — and set up a sanctuary for the parrots within an existing forest reserve to protect their habitat.

To pass these conservation measures into law and sustain them long-term, the forestry department would need the public to back them. In the 1970s, the birds were hunted, eaten and trapped as pets, and their habitats were increasingly destroyed by human activity. Upon spotting the bird, the average St. Lucian boy would likely pull out his slingshot and take aim at it. Butler and the forestry department had to figure out how to inspire St. Lucians to connect with the bird emotionally, and embrace the parrot as part of their collective identity.

Read more at the Rare website.

Thanks to the work of Paul Butler and the Saint Lucia Forestry Department, populations of the Saint Lucia parrot have rebounded remarkably.  The conservation work is still ongoing; find out more about current efforts at the website of the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots.


[Image via the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots]

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