'pest': The cocrico, Tobago's national bird.

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Cocrico, protected and disrespected

I have always been more than puzzled as to why one of our national birds, the cocrico, has been branded as a pest yet continues to be a part of this country's Coat of Arms.

Apparently it turns out that my dismay is shared by visitors to these islands who learned beforehand that the cocrico is Tobago's national bird but who on arrival find that everyone harbours disgust for the bird, labelling it as a pest.

When you think about birds in Tobago the first species that comes to mind is the cocrico Ortalis Ruficauda. Over the years, the early morning and late afternoon raucous calls of this populous bird have echoed the true heart and soul of the island. From the lowlands and wetlands of the South West through to the mountainous heights of the north east, the cocrico multiplied in such numbers that it seemed that they far outnumbered the human population of Tobago. Tobago was indeed recognised as the Land of the Cocrico, such was their dominance.

At present, although the cocrico is legally protected, these birds are shot by farmers who claim that they destroy their crops. In south west Tobago, wetland areas that were once heavily populated with the cocrico have been so deforested that these habitats have all but disappeared.

In round the island communities, the cocricos contributed to many a tourist photo in the past as they fed on the grounds of hotels and resorts. Throughout the day, the branches of trees bowed with the weight of these birds as they moved about and communicated with each other in their arboreal habitat.

At present, the cocrico appears to really thrive only in areas away from human habitation. Those that do venture close to villages display a wary type of behaviour that relates to obvious causes. With the steady destruction of their natural habitats, it is only natural that they migrate to areas where there is food. Sadly, this means human domain and this eventually leads to their demise.

If the current disregard for the laws that protect this bird continues, then the national bird of Tobago will be listed as endangered very soon. Along this vein, sad it is to say, that the cocrico as one of the symbols on our Coat of Arms needs to be replaced by a species whose well-being is not disregarded and disrespected.

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