Almost every afternoon, in various spots in Mérida, you will hear some unique noises that will surprise you and make you look up: two, four, or even six parrots flying in pairs, making noises (chattering) that sound like laughter. From one tree to another, favoring the ones with bitter oranges and other favorite fruits, flying over parks, avenues, and neighborhoods. They are a reminder that we share our habitat with many other species.
The joy of these chatters can take a very sad turn when they are captured and sold (and consequently bought) as pets. Parrots, in all their varieties, are social species that need to fly, and they need to fly in flocks, composed of long-term established pairs. It may seem fascinating to you that a parrot whistles the Imperial March or says its own name, but parrots (like many other birds) in captivity often develop physical and behavioral problems with serious consequences in the medium and long term.
That is why, in 2011, a group of bird lovers decided to start a project for the protection of Yucatecan parrots. Today, Proyecto Santa María goes much further and has become one of the few organizations dedicated to rehabilitating birds from illegal trafficking and captivity, preparing them to reintegrate into their habitat and live freely once again.
Proyecto Santa María currently manages an Environmental Management Unit (UMA) near Telchac Puerto. It functions as a rehabilitation center (although “sanctuary” is a good way to describe it) for parrots with all kinds of stories, from those that were confiscated to those that lived in captivity until their “owners” realized the harm they were causing them. During our visit, we heard the story, for example, of Patachín and Patachón, two parrots that shared a cage for many years and managed the stress of confinement by plucking each other’s feathers; we also met Isis and Zeus, a pair of endangered Blue-crowned parrots who met here and have already formed a small family; and the story of a woman who traveled from Puebla, in the center of the country, to deliver her pet parrot of over 10 years, as she realized that her parrot would outlive her and be left unprotected when she was gone.
In total, at Proyecto Santa María facilities in Telchac Puerto, there are over 100 birds of different species at various stages of progress towards their release. The shelter is sustained through donations from visitors and the generosity of people who choose to sponsor one of its residents.
The truth is, once you see the difference between the newcomers and those that are close to returning to nature, you will have no doubt about the importance of the work being done here. If you are in the coastal area or if you are a bird lover, you won’t regret visiting the Proyecto Santa María facilities. The visit will take approximately 40 minutes, and you can schedule it any day of the week in the morning. English-speaking guides (volunteers) are available on Thursdays and Sundays.
We invite you to visit the Proyecto Santa María website and social media channels and schedule your visit to the sanctuary. And remember, birds are meant to fly, so let’s not encourage their captivity!
By Alicia Navarrete
Communicologist born circumstantially in México City, but who says “uay” since 1985. Life has allowed me to see the world, which in turn has allowed me to discover how much I love the place where I live
Photography by Renée Morales, Sunny Snow, and Alicia Navarrete for use in Yucatán Today.
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