Costa Rica

Published: Tuesday 15 February 2000

Until recently, the orange-billed jilguero was heard regularly in the Pacific coastal province of Prez Zeledn. Better known as the black-faced solitaire in English and Myadestes melanops to ornithologists, the jilguero is highly priced not for its beauty but its melodious call. But rampant poaching has resulted in an alarming decline in their numbers.

The jilguero's habitat stretches across Costa Rica to western Panama. Unlike the toucans, parrots and macaws, which are captured usually for export, the market for the jilgueros is within Costa Rica. Hunters and collectors capture the bird for sport and often release them. But a jilguero is priced at $300 and more and these prices encourage their rampant poaching to the extent that the birds are almost no longer heard in the locality.

"I used to walk out my back door and hear the birds every morning. They're beautiful sounding birds, very melodious, almost like a pipe organ," said Bill Anechiarico, manager of the Avalon Private Reserve, a 145-hectare nature refuge hidden between the peaks of Cerro de la Muerte and Chirrip. "Now I hear nothing." Apprehensive of the fact that the jilguero pollution is rapidly dwindling in each of the provinces, Anechiarico and Glenn Richmond, Avalon's owner, have taken to guarding the woods bordering the reserve.

There have been three instances when they have caught poachers red-handed but could not take any action since the culprits indulged in poaching on Sundays when the area's police station remains closed. Moreover, environment ministry officials work in the Chirrip National Park which is two hours away from the reserve.

Chirrip park director Adrin Arias says, "It's hard to estimate how extensive the illegal sale of jilgueros is, because there hasn't even been a study of the country's existing bird population." He, however, believes it is big as his colleagues had recently busted an operation in San Pedro and retrieved 38 birds.

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