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>> the macaw; graceful, elegant, and in some parts of the world, endangered. it's a race against time - >> so the climber up top just yelled down saying she saw a lightning strike. >> - to save a species. >> it's time to hurry up. >> i'm phil torres, i'm an entymologist. i do much of my research in this jungle i'll share my findings with marita davision, an environmental biologist, and dr. crystal dilworth, a molecular neuroscientist. that's our team, now let's do some science. >> it's all worth it. >> hey guys, welcome to techknow. i'm phil torres, joined by dr. crystal dilworth and marita davison. so guys, picture this, you are deep in the rain forests of peru when suddenly a flock of red and blue magnificent creatures takes off in front of you. they are beautiful, but let me tell you, they don't start out so pretty.
>> you have to be talking about macaws. i'm a bird biologist so in my day i've seen a lot of baby birds and i have to admit they are bald and can be pretty ugly but i mean its almost so ugly that they're cute. >> macaws are so associated with the rain forrest its almost like their mascot, but they're not so ubiquitous anymore, they're an endangered species and they're at risk because of habitat loss. >> absolutely, because when the habitat is in trouble, these birds are in trouble. we join a team of scientists down there, who are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen. let's take a look. >> dazzling... elusive... charismatic - macaws are undeniable stars of the rainforest. and there's a special place in peru where it's still possible to see macaws in all their wild glory - that is if you don't mind a little travel. >> we're headed to the tambopata
research center - a place so deep in the amazon that it's taken us two days on this boat just to get there. >> there are 16 species of macaws left in the wild - down from more than 20. the populations of all of the species remaining are on the decline. seven - such as the blue-throated macaw - in danger of becoming extinct. why? because of deforestation - close to 300 thousand square miles of amazon rainforest gone since 1978 - for timber, agriculture and mining. then theres the illegal pet trade. it's not easy being one of the world's most beautiful birds. >> they'll pack these juvenile macaws in tubing, smuggle them and more than half will die in this process.
>> annie hawkinson is a field leader for the macaw project at the tambopata national reserve - she's one of a team of researchers who are using science to save the macaws. >> why study macaws? >> macaws are a very special animal because they are very intelligent and yet they face a lot of threats in their habitats. >> today's mission takes us deep into the reserve where those threats are constantly at play. >> we are right in the middle of the breeding season. >> tambopata is essentially a giant laboratory in the wild -- 6 species of macaws inhabit this thousand plus square miles of rainforest. rain is a constant in winter - but too much rain can be a problem. >> today we're going to see how a pair of two week old macaw chicks are faring. the odds are against both of them surviving. examining the chicks is a delicate and daring operation.
while lead veterinarian elizabeth portuguez luyo preps for the chics on the ground - annie hawkinson gets ready to climb to their nest above - i don't like heights but with nests close to 100 feet up, the team has no choice... but to climb. macaws like deep cavities high up in old growth trees. those spots are hard to come by even in a protected forest like tambopata. the scarcity of nests leads to deadly fights between nesting macaw parents and other macaws looking for a home. >> they will kill chicks, they will harm the parents and they may cause such a disruption, that the parents may be unwilling to return to the nest. >> that's why the macaw project is researching man made nests like this one -- called mandy lu. once annie reaches the nest- she opens a special door to access the chicks - separate from the opening the adult macaws use to get in and out.
inside - our first peek at the hope for the next generation of macaws. >> comin' up. >> the frail pale chick is not what you'd expect, but it is alive and annie needs to get it down to the ground quickly. safety is paramount for these vulnerable chicks. annie uses sanitizer on her hands to protect them from germs. the bucket that will take them down is warmed with a hot water bottle - because these chicks have no protection against the cold. >> ok - letting go. >> dr portuguez luyo first weighs the chick and then photographs it. and yes - this is what a macaw looks like in the first weeks of life - no hint of the jungle beauty it will become. this chick is the first of the two to hatch. like its sibling - it's named after its nest- mandy lu.
>> wooden nests like mandy lu have been a big success story at tambopata. research here has shown that macaws can raise chicks in these as well as they do in natural nests. the veterinarian takes detailed body measurements - to determine how the chcik is doing at this stage of development. >> fifty five point three. >> then mandy lu two is taken out and photographed next to its older sibling. >> if you are a macaw chick - its best to be a first hatched. because a macaw mom typically neglects those that hatch later.
>> so the first chick that hatches will receive all of her care. and then the second chick that hatches, if she has enough resources, she'll care for that chick. but chicks number 3 and 4 will usually die from starvation. >> even chick number two has at best a 50-50 chance of survival. >> today both mandy lu chicks had a good checkup. there's a new kind of nest being tested out at tambopata - it's made of cement soaked burlap. researchers want to see if its more durable than wooden nests - which only last a couple of years in the jungle.
>> 65, same as yesterday. >> but today things don't seem to be going well for these two chicks from the experimental nest, neither show signs of being fed by their parents and researcher liz paypay is concerned. >> maybe its just because its just the beginning of the day, so maybe they are going to come back from the clay lick and they are going to feed them later on. >> i'm hoping those parents are ready with a meal- time to get these chicks back home. coming up - >> after seeing the researchers reach heights and views only macaws see - i figured time for me to give it a shot. oh, my goodness. >> plus... >> beautiful! you look like a proper macaw. >> you look soooo different from the last babies we saw. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow.
>> deep in the rain forest of peru, sits a one of a kind research center called tambopata. and when you are working there - you have to be prepared for life in the jungle. research after sundown at the center can be challenging. a generator provides electricity only 7 hours a day - and lights out is 9pm sharp. a good headlamp is your best friend... along with your mosquito net to keep unwanted guests out of bed. and during mealtime - you have to keep an eye out for the occasional thief... this one targeted our techknow crew.
>> pretty good, yeah? >> this macaw is inocencio - who nests near the center with his mate - chuchuy. they are both scarlet macaws - a species that can live to the ripe old age of 50 in the wild. scarlet macaws are doing well here - but endangered in other regions. in mexico, less than 250 survived in the wild as of 2013 - the result of illegal pet trade and habitat loss. inocencio has little fear of humans. that's because a little over 20 years ago - he and 19 other scarlet macaw chicks were chosen to be raised by hand at the center - then released into the wild. the macaws participating in the study are known as the chicos. >> the ones these researchers saw were going to die, they removed them from the nests and raised them here.
>> what was the purpose? >> macaws were disappearing because the illegal pet trade was booming and macaws were in really high demand in north america and in europe. they wanted to see if re-introduction of macaws was a viable option to save some of these populations. >> the study was a success - more than half of the scarlet macaws released survived at least 7 years in the wild. >> some of these macaws still stick around in the area. and those macaws are the most aggressive with us, because they have no fear of humans. >> this morning the team is doing a check up on inocencio and chuchuy's two chicks. but unlike wild macaws - these parents don't leave when annie climbs to the nest. getting chicks out when mom and dad are home - and home is more than 90 feet up - is challenging.
annie uses these paddles to gently push the adults out of the way. then she places the chicks in the bucket and sends them down to researcher liz paipay below. >> good looking baby. >> chicos can breed out of season because they have a ready supply of food year round - they steal it or charm it out of humans at the center. >> bread and pancakes. >> bread and pancakes in these wild macaws. >> yes. >> the extra food source also means chicos are more likely to raise more than one chick to adulthood. it was time for these little guys to go back to their parents - and annie to come down.
>> there are two more chicks that need their checkups today from the nest called hugo. >> oh, my goodness. >> beautiful! you look like a proper macaw. >> you look soooo different from the last babies we saw. >> hugo one is a little over a month away from being ready to fledge - or take its first flight. more than a teacup is needed to hold the bird as it's weighed. >> ah don't bite! >> by this age - the wings and the feet are almost the size of an adult. >> the climber up top just yelled down saying that she saw a lightening strike and she says a big storm is 10 - 15 minutes away. obviously not good to be up a tree during a storm and these macaws don't do well in the rain, so it's time to
hurry up. >> just pray not to be hit by it. >> a few more photos and it's time to bring out hugo two. while a nest with two healthy chics is rare - i was lucky enough to see several including these two guys. >> they look so different - 3 days? >> yeah. >> ahrgh! >> use it for science. veterinarian elizabeth portuguez is also going to take a crop sample from this bird to get an idea of its diet. the crop is this buldge where they store food before digesting. >> so she just put some lubricant on the tube so it can pass through the throat of the macaw comfortably. >> that wasn't so bad, huh? - you're going to help save macaws everywhere. >> basically in the first 15 - 30 days of its life, this will be quite red from the clay he eats - but once its this age -
their diet varies a lot more, so all fruit - all good stuff. >> research on a macaw's diet helps scientists see how the rainforest is critical to their survival. a quick swab to make sure the macaw's mouth is clean and a good checkup for this macaw is done. >> that is amazing. look at those wings. >> macaws are known as umbrella species - making the right conservation decisions to protect them means protecting the countless other species and this special habitat they call home. and right now - this habitat here in the tambopata national reserve is thriving. researchers report that all of the chicks we saw have now fledged - even the two in the experimental cement nest. and each success here offers hope for struggling macaw populations throughout the tropics. >> what we're looking at right
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>> don't shoot. >> hands up... >> don't shoot. >> what do we want? >> justice. >> when do we want it? >> now. >> explosions going on... we're not quite sure - >> is that an i.e.d.? >> when it comes to studying creatures living inside the amazon rainforest, tambopata is about as good as it gets. this gorgeous creature is a juvenile red-tail boa and it looks so fresh because it just shed its skin.
brimming with forest and life, there are likely thousands of species yet to be discovered. and that's where i come in. techknow first visited here in 2013 to look at this spider i helped discover. it's a tiny spider disguised as a big spider. that was the first animal recorded to actually build a fake animal from scratch - we also went to solve what was making this mysterious structure we call 'silkhenge'. these discoveries were talked about around the world, like here online at reddit... even on msnbc which compared my discovery to the hairstyle of a new york city celebrity. back in tambopata, it was time to check in on the spiders and more. first up, the decoy spider. after searching the forest at night, we came upon one just meters away from the research
center, and were able to document it - for the first time - in the act of actually building the fake spider and catching prey. consider this a success in my book. but not all of field work is guaranteed success, sometimes the forest has its own plan. a moonlit boat ride to a nearby island to take a crack at solving another amazon mystery. last year i lead an expidition to this island to solve the mystery of "silkhenge". and despite a few hours' search - an area in which i'd previously found many turned up completely empty. frustrating, but all part of the process. but not all was lost on this island visit, i encountered one of the few species out there that even scares me - and had to document it for a colleague's research project.
meet the wandering spider, the deadliest spider in south america. one of the ways you can tell it's a wondering spider is by the color underneath its front legs, so i'm going to tap it a little bit and see if it gets defensive... it should lift them up... i take the shot... i get out of here. the next day, tracking down a recent discovery that really has me excited - a never before seen butterfly and ant interaction i hadn't been able to solve despite several attempts - coming back to peru i had no idea if i'd ever see this butterfly again, but i just spent three hours observing it and already learned so many amazing new things. the scientist in me couldn't be happier. here's how it works. it all starts on young bamboo plants. first the butterfly lays the eggs, then the ants get involved.
the catapillar stage of the butterfly actually feeds the ants out of a specialized gland, and in return the ants protect it, even from us. but what's new here and what happens nowhere else in the world, occurs once that caterpillar develops into the butterfly stage - these butterflies actually trick the ants and steal their liquid food coming out of the bamboo. ants normally eat butterflies, not share a meal with them. these butterflies likely 'smell' like ant to these ants, but even more unique - they look like them, too. the wings of the butterfly have the pattern of an ant hidden within, only revealed when we found them in the wild. to top it off, we caught a butterfly actually taking food right out of the mouth of an ant, something also never documented before.
with this behavior recorded, i knew i wasn't coming home empty handed. science like this helps us understand the wild world around us, and the importance of protecting individual species which may influence another. after one last jungle stroll into the night i had all but forgotten about not finding silkhenge the night before, when miles from where it should be, this happened... well this is completely unexpected. end of my trip here in the peruvian amazon, i'm heading back to base to pack my bags and i turn to my right and look what i finally found. this is the rainforest. wild. unexpected. always a challenge to understand. and though my time here is over, the macaw researchers and others will keep on hiking, climbing, and documenting their way through tambopata.
>> macaws as a group, some species are endangered, others not so much. the ones that you guys were looking at, where do they fall? >> so they fall kind of somewhere in the middle. basically, a lot of the population is fairly well protected, and that's why this is such an amazing study site because you see them as they should be. however, if you step outside of that in places like central america, the same species is in a lot of trouble because they are regionally endangered, things like the illegal pet trade is getting to them, habitat loss is getting to them, so by understanding what is going on there we can understand what should be going on in other places. >> for me, it was so exciting because i'm a chemist and a neurobiologist and i work in a lab indoors and a very sterile environment so this a really great reminder for me that science really happens anywhere, i mean you guys have an entire rain forrest as your laboratory, its pretty cool. >> i'll tell you, sometimes i'm out there and i envy the life in the lab because you guys can do repeated experiments and they are controlled, out there in the rain forest its pretty tough to
do controlled experiments. from climbing up to the canopy to look inside a macaw nest, to watching butterflies and ants hang out in a way that has never been documented before, we here at techknow have the privilege of getting access to these types of stories from scientists all over the world. we'll bring you more next time we'll see you then. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> ali velshi, getting to the heart of the matter. >> what if there were no cameras here, would be the best solution? >> this goes to the heart of the argument. >> people out here are struggling and just trying to get by with whatever they can. >> new york city has a higher level of inequality of wealth than honduras and india. >> people need to demand reform. >> it's coming together little by little. >> we're making it the best that we can. >> we're not deterred. we're building a historic
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