Founder of Belize Bird Rescue scoops international award

Friday, October 20th, 2023

London – 18 October 2023 – A woman who lives in Belize, originally from the UK is one of the first international winners to be recognised with a special award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at BAFTA, London, honouring her work to protect wild birds.
Nikki Buxton, 58, relocated to Belize 20 years ago where she founded Belize Bird Rescue and has been rescuing parrots and birds in the country ever since.
Each year, approximately 300 birds, from about 250 species come to her rehabilitation centre, which houses up to 190 birds at a time. Most are parrots, which have been taken from the wild and sold into the illegal pet trade. Nikki says about half are handed over by local authorities that have confiscated them, and half are surrendered directly by people keeping them as pets.
The parrots that come into Nikki’s care need attention to get them ready to be returned to the wild. Sadly, many have their wing feathers clipped, which take a long time to regrow. Some develop leg deformities when they grow up trying to stand on tiled surfaces. Or their bones, eyes or feathers don’t develop properly as a result of being fed poor diets causing and malnutrition. Mostly though, they have behavioural issues that need correcting, such as talking and being overly familiar with humans.
“Every bird you see in a cage here has been taken from the wild. Rehabilitating these birds is a long process which can take from two to nine years,” Nikki says. “When we first started out, people would say to us that it couldn’t be done – the birds could never be returned to the wild. But now what we’re seeing is not only are the birds surviving in the wild – they are thriving – joining wild flocks and successfully breeding. It’s worked so well that other organisations in other countries have now adopted this approach.”
Despite the success of this pioneering parrot rehabilitation program, which includes so many other wild bird species such as toucans, raptors and seabirds, it was purely by chance that Nikki came into this position.
Nikki said: “We had recently moved to Belize, and a young boy knocked on our door with two baby parrots in a bucket, selling them for about £20. I’d asked why these birds weren’t with their mum, and offered to pay him to take them back, to which he smirked. I felt I had to do something for these poor parrots, so I took them in. We were able to raise and release them. Then the word spread, and our situation quickly snowballed, so here we are today!”
Birds are usually taken directly from their nests in tree hollows, often by children, and sometimes by poachers. Nikki works closely with the Belize Forest Department to improve the situation for birds in Belize. This includes running local initiatives to deter people from taking parrots from the wild, and making sure correct handling techniques are used when birds are confiscated.
On winning the award, Nikki commented: “When I found out that I had won this award, it took me a while to process – I couldn’t quite believe it. Having Belize Bird Rescue and the work we do here being validated in this way is just amazing and I feel so honoured.”
Loïs Lelanchon, Program Manager – Wildlife Rescue, IFAW said: ““Nikki’s work to rescue and rehabilitate birds that become caught up in the exotic pet trade is commendable. So many animals are captured from their natural environment, and while this has wider biodiversity consequences, for the individual animals involved, their lives in captivity are often short lived and miserable. But Nikki and her team provide a lifeline to help get wild birds back where they belong – in the wild. Hearing about what she has done to protect the endangered yellow headed parrot in particular, is remarkable. Nikki is a deserving winner of the IFAW Animal Action Award”.
Nikki Buxton received her award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event on October 17.


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