Thick-billed Parrots: Preparing

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Thick-billed parrot

Thick-billed parrot

You know, there really is a lot to do. We all know that preparing for a vacation can be rather nauseating. That moment when you suddenly realize there are only two days left before you leave, you haven’t even begun to attack the colossal laundry basket or shop for travel-size shampoo, nor have you even selected which book you are going to take (which, of course, you will never read anyway). Well, try preparing for conservation fieldwork!

We are currently readying ourselves to travel to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, where we will be joining local scientists to conduct research on the health of the endangered thick-billed parrots. In a nutshell, we want to see whether habitat changes mean the parrots are being exposed to new diseases and, if so, whether these diseases are adversely affecting wild populations of these unique birds.

There are three of us going south to carry out this research: Dr. Nadine Lamberski is the lead veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and is a long-time researcher on thick-billed parrots. J.P. Montagne is an ecologist with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research with vast field experience and (thankfully) fluency in Spanish. And then there is myself, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Wildlife Disease Laboratories with the Institute for Conservation Research. A multidisciplinary team for a multidisciplinary project!

While Nadine and J.P are seasoned field researchers, this will be the first time I have stepped outside the relative comfort of my warm and well-equipped laboratory, where electricity flows continually and where the coffee pot is never more than a few steps away (this is significant). I will be substituting this for a mobile mountainside “lab” where electricity may (or may not) be available, where walls may (or may not) be available, and where my knowledge of the language extends to “Can you please tell me where the elephants are?” Which, unless I am very much mistaken, may not be entirely useful in northern Mexico.

So with less than a week to go before we head south across the border, we all find ourselves finalizing permits, testing equipment, fixing equipment (!), ordering supplies, keeping our fingers crossed that the supplies actually arrive in time, shopping for travel-size shampoo, selecting which book to take (which, of course, we will never read anyway), and for me personally – learning how to adapt my one Spanish phrase to “Can you please tell me where the parrots are,” believing as I do that it might take a while to find an elephant down there. So you see, there really is a lot to do!

Simon Anthony is a research fellow with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. He will be conducting field research in the Sierra Madres during August and September. Check back for updates on how he copes with field research and for pictures from his research sites.