No Bird Is an Island

Conservationist Paul Reillo has waged a one-man campaign to save Dominica's parrots from extinction

The meeting also focuses on supplies. "Give me a wish list," Reillo tells them. In addition to the truck that Rare Species donated, the foundation has provided a steady flow of equipment both minor (parrot food) and major (camera equipment) to the forestry division over the last few years. The most significant request today is a telescopic lens to use for parrot observation. But among the other needs are two-way radios, slide film, and ponchos.

Reillo makes no promises. "I don't know how fast I can move on any of this," he tells them. "We're just a few hundred thousand dollars in the hole right now."

Not long after the parrot team meeting devolves into a happy hour session stimulated by Kubuli beer and Red Cap rum, the Minister of Agriculture and the Environment, Peter Carbon, telephones. He is stopping by to pick Reillo up for dinner but offers no information as to what decision the cabinet made. Reillo frets as he finishes off a glass of rum and changes into his bureaucrat outfit of the previous day -- olive green slacks and loafers.

Paul Reillo (left) and Tony Sheets attempt to gauge if termites have invaded the home of two prolifically breeding jaco parrots
Paul Demko
Paul Reillo (left) and Tony Sheets attempt to gauge if termites have invaded the home of two prolifically breeding jaco parrots

Over a late-night dinner with the minister and various other government bigwigs, Reillo gets the news he has been working for two years to hear: The cabinet has given its blessing to the park. "It's kind of like a dream," he says the next morning. "I'm thinking, What happened last night?"

Now Reillo must prove to the Dominican government that Rare Species actually has $750,000 to purchase the land. In the next few days, essentially all of Rare Species' money will be deposited into one bank account to come up with the purchase price. "We're consolidating money from all over the planet," Reillo notes. "We're penniless."

As we prepare to fly back to Miami, Reillo worries about his decision to purchase tickets for the Santana concert on Sunday. "I need to scalp those tickets for $100 each," he says.

On the day before Halloween, Paul Reillo drives to Miami International Airport with a notary public in tow. Minister Carbon is flying from Brazil to Dominica, but has a stopover in South Florida. Reillo hopes to waylay him in the airport so that they can officially sign the contract for the land purchase, thus avoiding another trip to Dominica. A fax was sent to Carbon alerting him to the rendezvous, but it's unclear if the message was received.

Around 6 p.m., over dinner at the airport, the contracts are signed and notarized. A few bureaucratic formalities are all that remain in the way for Morne Diablotin National Park to be officially established. The park will most likely be announced later this month at a ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of the Dominican Forestry Division and then drafted into the country's constitution by the end of January.

The national park will not necessarily ensure the reclusive sisserou's survival, but it will at least protect the bird from man and machine. Nature unfortunately is beyond the Dominican government's and Reillo's control.

Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address:

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