Tambopata Macaw Project

By Donald Brightsmith, PhD
Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at Texas A&M University
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Bruce Nixon, DVM
Animal Emergency Hospital of North Texas

November 2012 

Tambopata Macaw Project: Preserving the world’s largest clay licks

The clay licks of southeastern Peru were catapulted to international fame by the images of hundreds of macaws on river edge cliffs that first appeared in the pages of National Geographic in 1991. Since this time, these idyllic regions of southeastern Peru have been transformed from remote outposts in a nearly forgotten corner of the Peruvian rainforest to major tourist destinations in a region threatened by new roads and a hyper-destructive gold rush.

Almost every day, hundreds to thousands of parrots, parakeets and macaws gather to socialize and consume the sodium rich clays found at clay licks. Our research shows that southeastern Peru is the world’s epicenter of parrot clay licks. Within southeastern Peru, the Tambopata National Reserve boasts what are arguably the most diverse and impressive clay licks on the planet: the Colorado Clay Lick and the Chuncho Clay Lick. The Colorado Clay Lick, long considered the “world’s biggest clay lick” is located next to Tambopata Research Center and has been monitored and protected by researchers and the government since at least 1989. However, in recent years natural changes have caused many of the large macaws which made this site so famous to move elsewhere, and all indications are that many of these birds have moved about 20 km down river to the Chuncho Clay Lick (-13.001429° Lat, -69.512771° Lon).

Yet the Chuncho lick has remained largely ignored by scientist and conservationists. However, as the number of macaws and parrots has increased, so have the number of tourists. Every year hundreds of tourists visit this site to observe the birds. Tourism in general has had a very positive impact on conservation in the area, providing much needed income to those willing to preserve the region’s forests and wildlife. However, researchers and regulators have observed unorganized and inappropriate tourism behavior at Chuncho which may be impacting the birds and reducing their ability to use this important resource. Unfortunately, the ability to manage this tourism has been severely hampered by a lack of systematic data.

In addition, we have found that large macaws make seasonal movements of up to 150 km which often take them outside the parks to areas where they face gold mining, hunting, deforestation, and other threats to their survival. In fact, over the last decade the new Interoceanic Highway and the explosion of unregulated gold mining has converted hundreds of thousands of acres of primary rainforest into degraded grasslands and mercury-laden sand dunes. The impacts of these land changes on the macaws remain unknown, but the rapid changes in the region redouble the importance of reducing the disturbance inside the park to ensure that the birds are not forced to go outside the parks.


  1. Document the use of the Chuncho Clay lick and compare it to the current and past use of the Colorado Clay lick to determine if the number of large macaws using these two licks has increased, decreased or remained stable since monitoring began in 2000.
  2. Document tourism use and impacts at the Chuncho Clay lick to help the government create guidelines and regulations which minimize the impacts on the birds to help them stay within the Tambopata National Reserve.
  3. Create educational materials to distribute to park guards, tourists and local people on how to minimize disturbance to birds using clay licks.
  4. Use the data from this preliminary study to develop larger conservation research initiatives to aid the protection of the Chuncho Clay Lick and other clay licks in the Tambopata Region.


This study will run for 20 days in December 2012. The data collected during this time will then be analyzed and reports written in February 2013. This first round of information will be used as a basis for expanding the project and returning to the field in summer of 2013.


Boat, driver and gasoline


Assistants   $500
Food ($15 per day x 15 days x 5 people) $1125
Equipment $1700
Flights $1200
Total $6425

Funding is being sought from many sources and donations of all sizes are greatly appreciated.

How to donate

There are two ways to contribute to our project
   1) Check: Make payable to “Texas A&M University” and mail to:

Donald Brightsmith / Patty Vychopen
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology
Texas A&M University 4467
College Station, Texas 77843-4467

   2) Credit card:

a. Visit us at http://vetmed.tamu.edu/giving/opportunities/parrot-conservation-research
    Or click this button:  

b. Follow the instructions on the screen and your donation will go directly to support our parrot conservation research at Tambopata Research Center.

For more information please contact Dr. Donald Brightsmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.