The habitat of the beautifully colored Peruvian plantcutter (Phytotoma raimondii) comprised 14 places along the north Peruvian coast beginning in the late 1800s (Collar et al. 1992). However, by late 1998/early 1999, Gunnar Engblom, a Swedish ornithologist living in Lima, had visited all 14 locations to assess the species’ current state, thanks to financing from PeruVerde (a tiny non-governmental organization). He was surprised to discover the Peruvian plantcutter in just three of its prior 14 locations.
There are only three plantcutter species in the world, and they are all located in South America. Their name comes from their preference for young leaves and buds, which their bills are specifically equipped to cut, although they also eat berries, drupes (stony fruits), and little seeds.
Rafan, near Chiclayo, was one of the locations where Engblom discovered the Peruvian plantcutter. The other two locations are in the Talara Province. Based on the frequency of sightings in this region, ProAvesPeru, a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to protect Peruvian birds and the environment, initiated a larger inquiry into the species’ existence with support from PetroPeru (the state petroleum company).
According to Jeremy Flanagan, Scientific Director of ProAves, the Province of Talara is a major hub for petrol extraction, which is why the plantcutter has survived there. PetroPeru has supported ProAves’ stance by denying access to the oil fields, allowing the plantcutter and the sparse bush desert ecosystem to thrive. The plantcutter has been recorded throughout a large region in appropriate habitat within the estimated 24,710 acres.
The species’ other known occurrences are located around Chiclayo and consist of tiny pieces ranging in size from 494 to 988 acres, with some of them constituting new sites identified by Gunnar Engblom during his research. However, it is thought that the overall population is little more than 500 birds, with Talara accounting for around 80% of the total.
ProAvesPeru is currently facing an uphill battle to ensure the species’ survival in Talara, notably via the establishment of a reserve and the provision of environmental education in Talara and Piura (northwest Peru). The National Audubon Society has contributed some funds to the struggle, but more is urgently needed in light of the plantcutter in Talara being endangered by an agroindustrial project devised by the Province’s mayor.
The sole living plantcutter is in grave danger of extinction; keeping it will rely on preserving its habitat in Talara. Contact the National Audubon Society at (305) 371-6399; [email protected]; or ProAvesPeru at [email protected] for further information.
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