Beautiful Blue Macaw Species From Cartoon Movie ‘Rio’ Declared Extinct From Wild

August 31, 2019 Updated: September 5, 2019

The central focus of the cartoon movie “Rio,” which follows an adventurous blue macaw named Blu through his journey to return to the wild, is on the efforts to prevent the macaw’s extinction outside of domestication.

The movie was released in 2011, less than a decade ago—but unfortunately, the grim future it warned of has already come true.

According to a study conducted by BirdLife International in 2018, the Spix’s macaw has been officially declared extinct in the wild. Some of the birds still survive in breeding programs in captivity, but that doesn’t change the harrowing reality that it—along with a handful of other species every year—has officially been eradicated in its own native habitat.

The Spix’s macaw, also known as the little blue macaw, is an eye-catching pale blue parrot native to Brazil.

The species was already rare even before human intervention. It was first officially recorded by German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix in the early 1800s, but long stretches of time between human sightings led scientists to believe it had gone extinct multiple times long before it truly did.

Modern scientific study methods helped show when the bird was truly put in danger, though. Following recordings of the bird studied in the 1970s and 1980s, the macaw’s populations saw an even more dangerous decline due to trade and trapping and destruction of the habitat near Rio de Janiero, Brazil. By 2000, the species officially went 16 years without being formally spotted in the wild—and after a singular 2016 spotting of a lone male, it was officially declared extinct just two years later.

The species’ extinction was likely deemed inevitable long before “Rio” ever hit theaters, unfortunately. According to an article published by Birdlife in 2018, the last known female Spix’s macaw—which was portrayed as a wild female bird named Jewel in the movie—likely perished in or around the year 2000. That left just the remaining male Spix’s macaws out in the wild, and no way for the species to survive once they passed as well.

A Little Blue Macaw couple named Bonita und Ferdinand stand in their enclosure at the center of the Association for the Conservation of Threatend Parrots in Schoeneiche, eastern Germany on April 26, 2013. (©Getty Images | PATRICK PLEUL)

The adorable blue bird was the first bird species confirmed extinct in the last decade, but it’s not going to be the last. The rapid rates of deforestation in the Amazon region had already exacerbated the problem, with numerous species finding themselves on the critically endangered list in recent years.

This marks a shift from previous extinctions—which, according to Birdlife chief scientist Dr. Stuart Butchart, had typically taken place among island species—and suggests that there are more animals suffering from the effects of human actions than just the turtles and whales so often seen in conservation advertisements.

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It’s heartbreaking to think that there was never a real-life Blu able to escape and find his own Jewel. But hopefully, movies like “Rio” will be able to help change that fate for other species in the future. As the entertainment industry makes it easier for young kids to learn about saving the planet, there’s optimism that future generations will become more engaged in protecting the Blus and Jewels of the world.