From the late 1800s, the attractively colored Peruvian plantcutter’s (Phytotoma raimondii) habitat was 14 sites along the north Peruvian coast (Collar et al. 1992). By late 1998/early 1999, however, Gunnar Engblom, a Swedish ornithologist based in Lima, with help through funding from PeruVerde (a small non-governmental organization), visited all 14 sites to investigate the present day situation of the species. He was alarmed to find the Peruvian plantcutter in only three of its previous 14 sites.
There are only three species of plantcutter in the world, and all are found in South America. They derive their name from their fondness for young leaves and buds, which their bills are specially adapted for cutting, but they also feed on berries, drupes (stony fruits) and small seeds.
One of the sites in which the Peruvian plantcutter was spotted by Engblom is Rafan, near Chiclayo. The two other sites are located near the Province of Talara. On the basis of the numbers sighted within this area, ProAvesPeru, an organization formed in 1998 for the welfare of Peruvian birds and the environment launched a wider investigation into the species presence with funding from PetroPeru (the state petroleum company).
Jeremy Flanagan, Scientific Director of ProAves, informed me that the Province of Talara is a main center for petrol production, and this has been the reason for the plantcutter’s survival there. PetroPeru has backed the action of ProAves and has denied access to the oil fields, which allowed the sparse bush desert habitat to flourish — along with the plantcutter. In the suitable habitat within the estimated 24,710 acres, the plantcutter has been observed across a wide area.
The other known sites for the species are centered around Chiclayo and consist of small fragments in the order of 494 to 988 acres, with some of these representing new sites discovered by Gunnar Engblom during his study. However, it is estimated that the total population is not much more than 500 birds, and Talara contains around 80 percent of the whole.
ProAvesPeru is now confronted with an uphill fight to secure the specie’s survival in Talara, namely with a reserve and by providing environmental education within Talara and Piura (northwest Peru). Some funding to help in the fight has been received from the National Audubon Society but more is required urgently in light of the plantcutter in Talara now being threatened by an agroindustrial project conceived by the Province’s mayor.
The situation for the last remaining plantcutter is extremely perilous, saving it from extinction will depend on saving its habitat in Talara.
Collar, N.J., Gonzaga, L.P., Krabbe, N., Madroño-Nieto, L. J., Parker III, T. A., and Wege, D. C. 1992. Threatened birds of the Americas: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, UK.