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A Sister’s Legacy

Saving the blue-throated macaw

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Laney Rickman

THE START OF SOMETHING BIG Laney Rickman's love for half-moon conure Luna and scarlet macaw Sam ignited a passion that revived a dwindling population of blue-throated macaws. Recently, the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Preserve was dedicated in Bolivia in Laney's memory.

Blue-throated macaws were not always on Dorothy Paterson’s list of passions. But when her beloved older sister Laney Rickman dove deep into saving the nearly extinct birds, Dorothy supported her.

“Laney and I were kindred spirits,” Dorothy says. “We both quit the careers we trained for [Dorothy was a geologist, Laney an executive at The Houston Post] around the same time to go into the nonprofit world. Laney came to my cancer-awareness things, and I went to her bird events.”

Laney’s fascination with birds began when a friend gave her one as a gift. In an effort to learn more about them, Laney started volunteering at the Houston Zoo on weekends. Next thing she knew, she had adopted a scarlet macaw named Sam, whose owner had gotten too old to care for her. So began an enchantment with birds – particularly the near-extinct blue-throated macaws (the Houston Zoo had a pair).

Eventually, Laney’s passion grew so big that she and her husband Jack, an editor at The Post, quit their jobs and moved to a farm in Cuero, where he was from, to raise blue-throated macaws. “At one point, she had about 40 birds,” Dorothy says. “She cared for them for over 20 years at their farm and became a world-renowned expert on parrot-rearing.”

In 2006, Laney attended a conference in Spain, where she met people who were working in Bolivia with artificial nest boxes for the blue-throated macaws, which were discovered in the wild only in the 1990s. “She was so excited, she began a nonprofit called The Bird Endowment, which she eventually used to send money to Bolivia to sponsor nest boxes.

“The birds live in a very small area of Bolivia,” Dorothy says, “and the problem is 150 years of humans living there. These old hollowed-out palm trees where the birds would make their nests and eat their fruit were just not available. Laney started this program wondering if anyone would participate and sponsor a $250 nest box. The first year they surpassed their goals and had 34. Now there are people all over the world donating. The LA Zoo, the Sacramento Zoo.”

In 13 breeding seasons, 81 chicks have fledged from the nest boxes. Prior to the artificial nest boxes, there were only 200-300 blue-throated macaws in the wild.

Dorothy becomes emotional talking about the success of Laney’s nonprofit. “My tears come from this deep respect and admiration for what my sister was able to do,” Dorothy says. “People described her as the perfect bridge, this incredibly warm person who could communicate with all different sides of conservationists, bird breeders, bird pet owners, zoos. It was this integration of a lot of passion.”

Everyone was shocked when Laney passed away of a heart attack during Hurricane Harvey, most of all Dorothy. “My daughter Audrey, who had helped Aunt Laney on the farm in the summers, helped me brainstorm. We decided to start a separate fund called the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund. We partnered with the American Bird Conservancy, and they manage the fund and send all disbursements straight to Bolivia to help pay for park rangers and whatever they need.”

About the same time of Laney’s death, a ranch in Bolivia, where 55 fledgling birds had been born in nest boxes, came up for sale. Several nonprofits joined to purchase the property, and in August of last year they dedicated the new Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Preserve. The once-damaged land is being restored to a natural habitat.

“It fills my heart up to see this organization naming this after Laney and to see the president of the American Bird Conservancy naming the new reserve as the No. 1 ‘Biggest Conversation Win for Birds in 2018!’

“Witnessing all of that,” Dorothy says, “and being part of the fundraising has absolutely shifted my deep dark grief and turned it into this joy of keeping my sister’s legacy alive.”

Recently, an anonymous friend offered to match all donations to the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund up to $100,000, on April 15 – Laney’s birthday. “We surpassed the goal, and the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund now totals over $230,000 and is still growing!” Dorothy says. The money will be invested and interest will ensure that programs are sustainable far into the future. 

“I never thought I’d be doing this myself,” Dorothy says. “But feeling the love these people had for Laney now being showered on my daughter and me just fills up my heart and keeps me connected to her in such a beautiful way. What a gift.” 

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