Born free: Scientists release 15 endangered Puerto Rican parrots into wild


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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A group of scientists opened a cage at dawn on Wednesday and reintroduced 15 endangered Puerto Rican parrots into the wild as part of a conservation program.

The birds flew away without hesitation as they disappeared into a forest near Puerto Rico's north coast, according to Natural Resources Secretary Carmen Guerrero.

It was the ninth release at the Rio Abajo Nature Preserve since 2006. Another 204 parrots remain at the preserve, and an estimated 57 to 108 parrots are believed to live in the wild nearby, she said.

The parrots released Wednesday were between 1 and 2 years old and were kept in a cage separate from the other parrots for a year. Scientists tried to simulate a natural environment in that cage, where they fed them local fruits and showed them how to recognize natural predators.

The Natural Resources Department also manages another breeding center at El Yunque tropical rain forest in northeast Puerto Rico. Scientists expect to open a third breeding center soon in the western mountain town of Maricao.

The birds are Puerto Rico's only remaining native parrot. Scientists estimate that as many as 1 million existed in pre-colonial times, with numbers reaching a low of 13 in 1975 following decades of forest clearing to plant coffee, citrus and sugar cane.

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