In the 2011 film Rio, a male blue macaw – one of the most endangered species on Earth – is discovered living in Minnesota and is flown all the way down to Rio de Janeiro in the hopes that he can help repopulate the species with a female blue macaw. The story has a happy ending, as Blu and Jewel wind up living happily ever after with three children. Keep those cheery memories in mind as you read the next few paragraphs, because I’m about to lay some unfortunate "real world" facts on you (and we all know that the real world doesn’t always have happy endings).
A report from National Geographic says that the endangered blue Spix’s macaw that inspired the story of Rio – a bird named Presley – has passed away at the age of 40, and, most depressingly of all, left no offspring behind. Like his big screen counterpart, Presley was smuggled out of Brazil, but instead of just being in the United States, the bird was sent all throughout Europe as part of various private bird collections. He eventually ended up in Colorado, and in 2002 he was discovered and returned back to his native country. Scientists hoped that his return would inject an important amount of variety into the species’ dwindling gene pool, but unfortunately that plan didn’t work out so well.
Ready for things to get even sadder? The last known wild Spix’s macaw disappeared in 2000, and the surviving birds – of which there are less than 100 – all live in captivity. Because the population is so small breeding is risky due to the high potentiality for genetic defects.
Is this getting to be a little too much for you? Well, if it helps, it turns out that Presley was a very friendly bird who apparently wasn’t too negatively affected by his time globetrotting. Said Bill Wittkoff, the executive director of the refuge known as the Lymington Foundation,
"He was very affectionate – just a very congenial bird, very chirpy, very talkative. He loved visitors. He's got an aviary that we'd wheel in and out, for the cold in wintertime and because of very, very hot sun. We'd go by his aviary often and he'd always gives us a chirp, a hello."
Presley was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat in the past year, and this past week demonstrated a lack of appetite. He was taken to a veterinary clinic and the hope was that he could survive long enough to be a resource for artificial insemination (previous attempts with female birds resulted in sterile eggs). He didn’t survive long enough for this to happen.
Making this story all the more tragic is that the plot of Rio 2, released earlier this year, was not only about Presley’s movie counterpart raising a family, but also discovering a full flock of Spix’s macaws in the wild. This is a circumstance where fiction does not look to be matching up with reality.