The Ara Project (R.I.P.)

The Unique Great Green Macaw/Scarlet Macaw Breeding and Release Program has Morphed and Moved

This program is no longer in Alajuela and we are no longer involved in supporting the efforts of two great naturalists - Chris Castles and Jenny Pettigrew - with additional support from others in the community. These beautiful beaky birds have moved on - mostly to a new home in Punta Islita.

Chris has just re-emerged and has found a property in the Osa to restart his Macaw conservation work.  If you have an interest in supporting the continued work you can contact him here: "Hatched To Fly Free".

I leave this page up because all other tombstones to the valiant efforts of Chris and Jenny have been removed from the internet and someone should remember what they did one day when the wayback machine fails to yield a clue. Thanks Chris & Jenny for all you did for these 2 species over all those years.


How can you participate in returning an endangered species to its home in Costa Rica? The Ara Project is the next iteration of an effort to save the Great Green Macaw. Nearly 30 years ago Richard and Margot Frisius had a dream of what could be possible. They have now departed the planet with their dream not yet complete. See also story Tico Times June 15th 2012. The project is now run by a few incredibly dedicated and skilled volunteers.

The 4 hectare (about 9 acre) farm they are using for breeding Scarlet and Great Green Macaws has been sold out from under the Macaws. They will lose the land (5 minutes from SJO airport) they had hoped to use until at least 2015. After the death of Richard Frisius they are very concerned about the future of the breeding site. For the moment the place is run on "a wing and a prayer" and I mean that literally. The statistics are extraordinary:

  • There ARE ONLY about 2,000 mature wild Great Green Macaws left on the planet.
  • There ARE about 300 Great Green Macaws left in Costa Rica in the wild (of which there are only 25 to 35 breeding pairs)
  • There ARE 86 Great Green Macaws at the Ara Project in Alajuela.
  • The world's first official Great Green Macaw reintroduction program began in 2011, conducted by the Ara Project

And these are 2 baby Scarlet macaws a few days old at the breeding center in Alajuela. There are also about 120 Scarlet Macaws at the project most in breeding pairs.

Macaws leave the nest naturally around 90 days after birth. As most of the Project's breeding macaws are rescued birds (relinquished from poachers or were previously mistreated/unwanted pets), they cannot be released back into the wild, but contribute to the conservation of their species by laying fertile eggs. If possible, they raise their own chicks, but sometimes due to their past histories, they are not capable of parenting for whatever reason. As a result, some babies need to be hand-reared by staff members. These babies will be ready, in a few years, to fly free in Costa Rica. In the meantime these two must be hand-fed every 90 minutes with a tiny syringe delivering special chick formula into their delicate baby beaks.

The Ara Project works in conjunction with MINAET (the environmental ministry of Costa Rica) and they are getting help from the UNA Vet school The UNA Vet School & Hospital with wounded birds or birds needing special treatment not available at the Project.

The Great Green Macaw AKA Ara Ambiguus are the heaviest of the macaws growing to 3 feet or almost a meter long and weighing up to 3lb or 1.3kg. For numerous reasons (not least of which is the enormous pressure exerted by their beaks - enough to take off a finger) they should never kept as pets, which is illegal in Costa Rica.

Macaws, bred in captivity by the Ara Project, are being successfully released at release centers near Manzanillo (the first Great Green Macaw reintroduction in the world) in the Caribbean and Scarlet Macaws south of Samara at Punta Islita on the Pacific. There are now about 60 breeding pairs at the center:

  • 75 Scarlets have been released over the last 10 years at Tiskita and Tiskita Scarlets have been successfully breeding in the wild the last 4 years
  • 20 or so Scarlets were released at the new Punta Islita release center last year for the first time
  • 10 Great Greens were released at Manzanillo in 2011 and another 10 are ready for release "acclimatizing" in an aviary

This project is completely unique (largest breeding program with Great Green Macaws on the planet, the first to reintroduce the Great Green, a goal of linking up the Scarlet Macaw populations and reconstructing the Pacific biological corridor, reestablishing the Great Green Macaw corridor on the Caribbean coast etc). The project needs a LOT of help in this ambitious project. Think about it for a moment:

  • a minimum of 0.2% of the entire population of Great Green Macaws in the wild are from the breeding project this year (this is also 6% of the Costa Rican population)
  • about 20% of Costa Rica's entire population are to be found squawking at the center, hopefully these numbers will change as more Macaws are released into the wild

Here's a few things that our guests could do right now:

1) DONATE - Make a donation - all donations go to support the project: Click Fund Raiser

A few minutes and $20 or $100 would go a long way to feed the babies or build a new nesting bin or build a new aviary.

2) VOLUNTEER - a few hours a week or a few days, they have very little help. Click Volunteer

The location in Alajuela is actually also a very large garden producing fruit and veggies for the Macaws and the volunteers. They need building/cleaning/
fixing/assisting/driving/oh anything and everything you may have a skill for.

3) VISIT - contact the Ara Project or the hotel to book a time for a private visit: Click Contacts

To appreciate the scale of this effort and the goals of these special volunteers, a visit would be an eye opener. If you want contact the Pura Vida Hotel directly we'd be happy to help you organize a visit. The project is 8 minutes from SJO (San Jose International airport) or from the Pura Vida Hotel. Visit something absolutely unique on the planet.
As a breeding facility, this is not open to the general public as a "walk in" - you can book ahead for a 9:00am appointment any day of the year - local numbers are 8730-0890 (Chris) or 8662-2663 (Jenny) for appointments.

Road directions from Alajuela: Find intersection of Banco Nacional and Macdonalds. Drive south past Cemaco (towards Rosti Pollo) for 1km. Past 3rd traffic light after Macdonalds, go another 20 meters turn left and immediately right along frontage road. Road winds around for 2km past Residencia Cataluna. Look for "Las Flores 600 MT" sign on tree on right side of road. The Ara Project gate is opposite sign says "hatched to fly free". No bell - yell or cell phone to get in.

Alternate directions from Hampton Inn: 600 meters east of the Hampton Inn. (Turn north at the traffic light opposite Super Santiago; go 400 meters to a Y-fork, then
200 meters uphill to the left; look for the gate on the right that says "Hatched to Fly Free")

4) ADOPT-a-MACAW - become a god-parent to an endangered macaw: Click Contacts

Pick a name for your particular macaw or breeding pair and the project will send you an update every 3 months on how he or she or they are doing. Details are below.


The project is a successful 30 year effort to breed and release/reintroduce the native Great Green and Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica. The long term mission is to reintroduce the Great Green into the wild on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and create a corridor from the Panama border north to the last wild Costa Rican population on the Nicaraguan border. For the Scarlet Macaws, they have already established a new population near the Panama border on the Pacific Coast (in operation for 10 years).

Their goal for the Scarlet Macaws is to create a biological corridor encompassing the Nicoya peninsula eventually connecting the wild populations in the Osa and Carara National Park. There are biologist volunteers at each location.

The owners of the project (Richard and Margot Frisius) have died and left the project in the hands of some very capable volunteers with no resources. Unfortunately they did not take care to see the land stayed with the project. The 2 primary volunteers have been on the project for 10 years (Chris) and 5
years (Jenny) respectively and have the largest collection of endangered Great Greens (rescued) breeding birds on the planet. They have about 80 Great Greens on the Ara Project, there are 300 Great Greens left in the wild in Costa Rica and maybe 2000 or so in the rest of the world in the wild.


IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species (International Union for Conservation of Nature):

The listings are here:

The project web site is here: <>

The ARA Project has over ten years of data on macaw breeding and reintroduction. Publishing for scientific journals can be a timely and costly process. The ARA Project is looking for funding to realize this data.


The project breeding center is located in Alajuela about 5 minutes from the SJO international airport. The project was told by new owners of the land (being sold out from under the project) to move. Of course that is currently impossible. The land under the project was ideal unfortunately as it included 2 springs and 30 years of fruit and nut trees used for feeding the Macaws and volunteers. The local municipality has expressed interest in helping with local support. But the project needs to build cages, breeding house, volunteer housing etc and does not have the ability to do that even IF some land can be found locally.

The alternative is to move everything to Punta Islita (5 hours away) and that move is in process. You will help keep the project operating by your visit to the current site - 9am by appointment only.

Ah well - thanks Chris & Jenny for all you did!

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