The scarlet macaw will have Endangered Species Act protections under a new ruling that was prompted by a Friends of Animals lawsuit against the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to act on its petition to have two of the populations protected under the act.

The ruling, effective March 28, 2019, lists the northern population as endangered and the southern subspecies as threatened.

But it also allows for commercial trade for some of the subspecies without an ESA permit. FWS ruled that commerce of macaws within the U.S. is not a threat and will not affect efforts to recover wild populations.

“The resulting decision that the northern subspecies deserves protection is a long-overdue finding and a victory for the species,’’ said Jennifer Best, assistant director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “However, we are disappointed that FWS decided not to list the scarlet macaw at the species level. It is critical that all individuals of the species and subspecies receive protections and the exploitation of these birds is put to an end.” 

The scarlet macaw has faced ongoing threats from human development and deforestation, climate change and poachers who target them for the exotic pet trade.

The two populations of brilliantly colored scarlet macaws that FoA sued to protect live in tropical humid rainforests ranging from northern Colombia through Central America. The northern subspecies, Ara macao cyanoptera, is larger with significantly longer wing lengths and does not have the green band separating the yellow and blue on its feathers on its wing coverts that the southern subspecies, Ara macao macao, has.

A 2010 lawsuit that FoA brought against FWS for failing to submit a 12-month finding on the scarlet macaw resulted in a settlement in 2012, where FWS acknowledged that the listing was warranted, but still had not enacted any protection for the birds.

FoA will continue to hold FWS accountable to protect the full population and base its decisions on the best available science, Best said.