Mount alum, Cinti. Zoo CREW document conservation effort to reintroduce threatened bird to Trinidad

By: Jill Eichhorn

File Under: alumni, biology, college theatre

Register now for the world premiere of the film “The Blue and the Gold.”

Bernadette Coutain Plair ('67) remembers seeing flocks of magnificent Blue-and-Gold Macaws flying near her home in her native island of Trinidad. 

“When I was a little girl growing up in Trinidad, I remember seeing flocks of these spectacular birds flying from their roosts in the forests to their feeding ground in the swamps,” she said. “This amazing spectacle left an indelible impression in my mind.”

Plair came to the United States at age 19 when she received a full, four-year scholarship to study biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph. After graduating from the Mount, she worked in medical and academic research for many years and in 1991 joined the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden as a research scientist for the Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). During one of her early trips to Trinidad, she learned the Blue-and-Gold Macaw had been extirpated from the wild in her native country in the early 1960s because of nest poaching for the chicks and habitat alteration.

“It made me so sad that the people of my country, my own children and grandchildren would never see the macaws in the wild as I did as a child,” Plair said. “So it became my dream, my mission, to reintroduce the Blue-and-Gold Macaw back to Trinidad.”

With help from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Aviculture and Veterinary departments and support from CREW, Plair spent a few years laying the foundation work to reintroduce the birds. Reintroduction of avian species would require releasing captive-bred or confiscated birds, or translocating wild-caught birds, something researchers were not sure would work. But they were willing to try.

“When it comes to saving wildlife species, most progress is achieved when a very passionate individual takes the lead, inspires others and simply refuses to give up, regardless of the setbacks,” said Dr. Terri Roth, Director of CREW.  “For the Blue-and-Gold Macaws of Trinidad, that individual was Bernadette Plair.” 

In 1993, Plair established CRESTT (Centre for the Rescue of Endangered Species of Trinidad and Tobago) and over the next ten years worked with CRESTT members to document the reintroduction project. The result was the documentary, “The Blue and The Gold,” a 45-minute journey to Trinidad’s east coast, which captured the process of reintroducing the macaws. The film will be shown to the public on Sunday, October 20 at 1 p.m. in the College of Mount St. Joseph’s College Theatre. The event is free and open to the community. The Cincinnati Zoo will feature animal encounters including a Blue-and-Gold Macaw for public viewing at 2 p.m. A reception will take place immediately following. DVDs of the documentary will be available for purchase after the premiere.

“The film touches on all aspects of the reintroduction, from the research to the release of the pioneer flock,” said Plair. “Trinidad government support was essential, as was the collaboration of international partners. We collected a lot of data and learned several lessons along the way, some of which weren’t always good. The local community bordering the Nariva Swamp played a key role as ‘citizen scientists’ to help document the macaw nesting sites and protect the birds in the wild.”

One lesson learned came after a nest with macaw eggs was destroyed when a tree was cut down. “It was a sad loss,” said Plair, “but we were make important observations and obtain measurements from the felled tree which helped to determine the nesting preference of the macaws.”

The conservation effort of the Blue-and-Gold Macaws has paid off. There are now at least 86 documented macaws once again flying free in the wild in Trinidad.

The documentary has been selected for screening at the 8th Annual Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival which takes place September 17-October 1. A two-minute trailer of the documentary is available on the Mount’s website at www.msj.edu as well as the Cincinnati Zoo’s website at www.cincinnatizoo.org.

Plair is a member of the Mount's Board of Trustees.

The College of Mount St. Joseph is an undergraduate and graduate Catholic college that provides an interdisciplinary liberal arts and professional curriculum emphasizing values, service and social responsibility.

Treaser Trailer for the "The Blue and The Gold"