The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott

TitleThe Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw–One Woman’ s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird
Author: Bruce Barcott
Genre: non-fiction (endangered species, conservation, Belize)
ISBN: 9781400062935
Length: 298 pages
Published: 2008
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5

Reason for Reading: I was looking for a book set in Central America for my sub-resolution to my Travel the Globe resolution, and Belize sounded like a good, less talked about country to look into. And this seemed like a good look at the region, even being a work of non-fiction.

Summary (from Goodreads):

As a young woman, Sharon Matola lived many lives. She was a mushroom expert, an Air Force survival specialist, and an Iowa housewife. She hopped freight trains for fun and starred as a tiger tamer in a traveling Mexican circus. Finally she found her one true calling: caring for orphaned animals at her own zoo in the Central American country of Belize.

Beloved as “the Zoo Lady” in her adopted land, Matola became one of Central America’s greatest wildlife defenders. And when powerful outside forces conspired with the local government to build a dam that would flood the nesting ground of the last scarlet macaws in Belize, Sharon Matola was drawn into the fight of her life.

In The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, award-winning author Bruce Barcott chronicles Sharon Matola’s inspiring crusade to stop a multinational corporation in its tracks. Ferocious in her passion, she and her confederates–a ragtag army of courageous locals and eccentric expatriates–endure slander and reprisals and take the fight to the courtroom and the boardroom, from local village streets to protests around the world.

As the dramatic story unfolds, Barcott addresses the realities of economic survival in Third World countries, explores the tension between environmental conservation and human development, and puts a human face on the battle over globalization. In this marvelous and spirited book, Barcott shows us how one unwavering woman risked her life to save the most beautiful bird in the world.

My Thoughts: I’m not really certain how I feel about the issues that arose in this nonfiction work. I’m not really one to care much about animals, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating animal cruelty or anything. But for such an enormous political and legal issue to arise over the saving of a subspecies of birds, of which 100-200 were estimated still alive, I find it a little silly. I think macaws are beautiful birds. It is a shame that so many species of animals and plants become extinct. What really gets me is how the United States and similar powerful countries in the world make it their business to get involved. I understand that the NRDC wouldn’t have gotten involved had it not been for an American company being involved in the whole scheme. But had I been my 24-year-old self rather than ten when all this started, I would’ve said, its got nothing to do with me–it’s the business of the Belizeans. (This made me think of when Merry was talking to Treebeard and said, “But you’re part of this world!” in reaction to the Ents not wanting to involve themselves in the fight against Sauron. At least in the movies haha)

I feel like I’m rambling. When it comes to things like animals that live in different areas of the world, I’m in a grey area as to what I think about foreign involvement. The world’s endangered animals vs. a country’s right to deal with that animal is hard for me to pick a side. In the end, the Belizean government won and built the dam under similar reasoning:

As expected, Lord Hoffmann [of the Privy Council] proved to be the deciding force. Though he was troubled by the improprieties practiced by the government and Fortis…Belize is a sovereign nation, he wrote. Despite the inconsistencies and mistakes contained in the EIA [environmental impact assessment], Hoffman believed the government had more or less followed its own rules for environmental approval. (p267)

So, it was the Belizean government who ended up with the right to decide what to do in its jurisdiction. Which makes complete and rational sense to me.

However, it’s obviously clear what the author wanted the readers to take away from the book. The Belizeans government was painted in such a bad picture. It is almost as if the whole point of the book wasn’t to show a fight to save the scarlet macaw, but to show how corrupt the government and big international companies could be. I had assumed, going in, that the Zoo Lady would win her fight and save the habitat of the scarlet macaw. I mean, there was such a blatant display of the anti-dam people being the good and innocent and the pro-dam people being horrible and crooked that I assumed (wrongly) that good would triumph evil and that would be the entire point of the book.

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