Qatari sheik takes endangered macaw under his wing

AL-SHEEHANIYA, Qatar — Cobalt-plumed and flapping, Jewel, a young Spix’s macaw, hops into a plastic bowl. She’s well trained in the routine. Her handler, Ryan Watson, sets the bowl on a scale. He’s pleased. The 4-month-old parrot is growing.

If Jewel continues to thrive, Watson will soon move her and a companion — a second young macaw shrieking at the far end of the pair’s long enclosure — to a larger aviary, where they will flock with others of their kind.

Though the distance of the move will be short, it has far-reaching implications: It will foster fledgling hope that this rarest of parrots can be saved. Just 76 of the handsome blue birds — endemic to northern Brazil but unseen there in 11 years — are known to exist, all in captivity. Watson was hired by a member of Qatar’s royal family, Sheik Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani, to rescue the species from the edge of extinction and send it soaring back into the Brazilian jungle.

It’s an audacious plan in an improbable locale, this oil-and-gas-rich kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula. With no signs marking it in the flat, arid landscape, a fenced private wildlife compound extends across 1.6 square miles about 20 miles west of the capital, Doha.

Al-Wabra Wildlife Preservation began as a private menagerie with a questionable past. But it has been transformed into an intensive conservation operation.