Author Archives: Maria

Feature paper and cover in Animal Conservation
08 Apr

Feature paper and cover in Animal Conservation

The scientific journal Animal Conservation has decided to feature an RSI article in its April issue!: “Social network analysis reveals specialized trade in an Endangered songbird”. Every month, Animal Conservation selects an article to appear on its cover and to be the object of additional expert commentary, thereby highlighting the article to their readership and to the wider conservation community. We would like to thank Dr. Elina Rantanen for the invitation, and the experts Susan M. Tsang, Damien Farine and J.S. Kahler for taking the time and share their valuable insights about our research. 

This article takes on greater urgency now as the world examines possible links between the COVID-19 pandemic and wildlife trade, and represents an opportunity to build new alliances and engage larger audiences. 

We invite you to read the full Feature PaperIllegal wildlife trade networks: finding creative opportunities for conservation intervention in challenging circumstances” and share.

If you have any comments, please contact us:

Cover Photo by Leonel Ovalle-Moleiro

Red Siskins make it on Smithsonian Magazine again
07 Apr

Red Siskins make it on Smithsonian Magazine again

In April 2020, the Smithsonian Magazine published the article “Heavily Trafficked Songbirds Have a Path Back to Resiliency authored by Joshua Rapp Learn. The Red Siskin Initiative wants to emphasize that the Red Siskin is a success story in the making. Wildlife trafficking is a pernicious threat to many species across the globe. We are taking a multipronged approach based on strong stakeholder engagement to understand and reduce the threat, protect habitats and breed birds for reintroduction. We are simultaneously recovering this beloved species while also its cultural value and the lessons learned help us to promote the conservation of habitats and ecosystems where today live many threatened and endemic species.

Researchers are working on learning more about trafficking rings in an effort to potentially recruit some of the breeders and other players to help with siskin conservation. Meanwhile, working with Provita, a conservation partner in Venezuela, plans are underway to reintroduce the birds to parts of their former range in Venezuela to bolster the fast-dwindling wild population.

This is a great opportunity for the Red Siskin Initiative, Iniciativa Cardenalito to spread the word about the species’ conservation and communicate the interesting findings of the research about the unsustainable extraction of wild red siskins. This research also brings important attention to trafficking as the entire world suffers through a global pandemic linked to the illicit trade of wildlife as the source of zoonotic disease.

We would like to thank Michael Braun, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Warren Lynch, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Brian Coyle, Smithsonian Conservation Commons, Kate Rodríguez-Clark, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, and Ada Sánchez-Mercado and Arlene Cardozo from Provita NGO for their collaboration in the article.

If you wish to learn more about this project, click here to read the article Social network analysis reveals specialized trade in an Endangered songbird(2019), published in Animal Conservation. 

In 2020 we continue promoting sustainable use: Phase III is on!
21 Mar

In 2020 we continue promoting sustainable use: Phase III is on!

We are grateful to Neotropical Bird Club (NBC) for awarding a 2020 Conservation Grant to the Red Siskin Initiative. This is the third consecutive NBC award in support of RSI research on the illicit trade of the red siskins. 

During this next phase of research, we will increase sampling and expand the project’s scope with help from a growing community of red siskin aviculturists in Venezuela and globally who are passionate about conservation. This avicultural alliance is partnering on education, donating birds, supporting action and contributing to research by distributing surveys among a greater number of national and international groups and societies. In recent years, RSI has consolidated the Red Siskin’s Specialists and Aviculturists Network (ReSSAN, Red de Especialistas y Avicultores Amigos del Cardenalito (REAAC) in Spanish), with scientists and conservation experts who are united in their commitment to the conservation of the Red Siskin and the promotion of good practices among their peers.

The network continues to grow and adding allies in Venezuela and the world, strengthened with the support of the Federación Ornitológica de Venezuela, The American Federation of Aviculture, the National Finch and Softbill Society, Queensland Finch Society and others.  In addition to activities above, together we are developing a protocol for captive breeding for conservation purposes, adding experiences of aviculturists and specialists, as a first step towards the preparation of a manual of Best Practices for Captive Breeding that promotes the sustainable management of captive populations.

Thanks to the Neotropical Bird Club for their trust and support. Stay tuned to our website and future newsletters to learn more about the progress of this interesting project.

Red Siskin Conservation Center receives Species360 Membership Grant
23 Feb

Red Siskin Conservation Center receives Species360 Membership Grant

The Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC), which is hosted by Zoológico Leslie Pantin (ZLP), opened its doors in Venezuela in July 2019. This February, thanks to a conservation grant awarded by Species360, Zoológico Leslie Pantin will be able to share studbook and husbandry data on the Endangered Red Siskins it holds as well as other species subject to conservation programs in ZLP. These data will be shared with international partners in species conservation, including Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Zoo Miami, Brevard Zoo, National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Zoologischer Garten Basel, Den Blå Planet / National Aquarium of Denmark, Zoo Zürich, Miejski Ogrod Zoologiczny Warsaw, Fundação de Parques Municipais e Zoobotânica (Brazil), and others.

In all, 19 institutions in four regions (Europe, Australia, North and South America), share key information on Species360 databases regarding Red Siskin husbandry and individuals. New connections among these institutions represent new potential alliances for protecting and restoring populations in the wild.

Leonel Ovalle-Moleiro, one of the leading collaborators in the Red Siskin Initiative (RSI), is the Bird Curator at RSCC and oversees logistics for the transfer, reception, and monitoring of specimens that have been confiscated or surrendered. Leonel and RSCC staff will use ZIMS software to curate and share data on individual birds in their care, and can reference husbandry, care and welfare indicators, medical information, and more from partner institutions, as needed.


Commenting on this conservation grant from Species360 and its expected impact, Ovalle-Moleiro said:

“Sharing information generated in the RSCC through ZIMS database will be beneficial for everyone involved, because we contribute unique data from within the range country of the species, under climatic conditions and exposure to other natural elements of their habitat that may be difficult to recreate in other latitudes. We hope to generate communication and welcome feedback, and are eager for this to become a source of ideas or experiences to be replicated for the improvement of management here and in other facilities around the world.

Undoubtedly, the system will facilitate the systematic organization of the data, which will allow us to record events effectively, carry out evaluations and clarify doubts. It will allow a global level of access in a unified format, which will support our interest in  researching and developing new management practices. At present, our information is shared in a somewhat informal way, through direct person-to-person communications, written records, spreadsheets and other non-specialized tools. The access to ZIMS undoubtedly is a leap to modernity for us and a great support for the conservation of tropical fauna.”


Zoológico Leslie Pantin is the first Species360 institutional member in Venezuela, and joins the more than 1,200 zoos, aquariums, wildlife refuge, and research centers worldwide, curating and sharing data on species in 99 countries.

One of the main objectives of RSI is to generate information networks connecting new allies to conservation, not just of the Red Siskin, but of other threatened species around the world; this is why the RSI and ZLP are thankful to Species360 for this amazing opportunity. We are certain that this new alliance will be very beneficial for both organizations and, more importantly, to species worldwide.

RSI is an international partnership that employs community-based conservation strategies coupled with support from species advocates and experts working within zoos and aquariums around the world. Led by the Venezuelan NGO Provita with Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZP/SCBI), RSI supporters include the National Museum of Natural History, Zoo Miami, the Avian Protection and Education Conservancy, and many other collaborators.  Learn more at

See the full article by Mary Ellen Amodeo, Member Communications, Species360 HERE

Provita is a Venezuelan non-governmental organization that for over 30 years has led the country’s only successful integrated conservation program focused on a bird, which has ushered in population recovery of the Yellow-Shouldered Parrot (Amazona barbadensis).

Zoológico Leslie Pantin (ZLP) is a private Venezuelan zoo with 50 years’ experience raising awareness about conservation of native wildlife. ZLP has participated for 10 years in the recovery program for the endangered Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) and American crocodile (C. acutus) contributing to their ex-situ breeding program. ZLP will provide ground preparation for the nursery, and technical oversight and support the development of the guided visits planning.

The Red Siskin Conservation Center is growing bigger
15 Sep

The Red Siskin Conservation Center is growing bigger

Shortly after the Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) in Venezuela was completed (July 2019), we received a notification from the Venezuelan legal authorities about the seizure of two male red siskins. Also in August, a local breeder who found out about the RSCC and the Red Siskin conservation in the country willingly gave new birds as a contribution to our efforts. Leonel Ovalle-Moleiro, one of our closest collaborators of the Red Siskin Initiative since before its beginnings and who is currently the RSCC bird curator, was in charge of the logistics for the transfer, reception, and monitoring of the birds. They have passed the quarantine period successfully and they are in excellent health condition.

Photo by: Jhonathan Miranda

RSI-“Birds and Coffee” project phase II is on!
20 Aug

RSI-“Birds and Coffee” project phase II is on!

In July we received the approval of the financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), to extend the work we have been developing since 2016 on the “Birds and Coffee” project in Piedra de Cachimbo, northern Venezuela. Thanks to these organizations’ support, Provita, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Red Siskin Initiative will continue working to preserve critical habitat for the neotropical migratory and resident birds in Venezuela. In the second phase, the scope of the project will be expanded to a 400 ha of production units; which simultaneously will have a landscape-scale impact on around 2,000 ha of protected areas. Also, we will strengthen the organizational capacities of the communities and the commercialization network of shade-grown crops, cultivated using eco-friendly techniques learned during the first phase of the project.

RSI expands to a total of 5 zoos!
05 Jun

RSI expands to a total of 5 zoos!

Two new partners’ zoos have joined the RSI in 2019. Brevard Zoo in Melbourne Florida and National Aviary in Pittsburg Pennsylvania have or will soon receive Red Siskins for exhibit from SCBI and the Avian Preservation and Education Conservancy (APEC). Also in Florida, the Zoo Miami Red Siskin exhibit continues to grow with a new donation of more birds from APEC. We are delighted to welcome our new partners and excited to expand the RSI conservation education program, now at 5 zoos… and counting! Many thanks to Caroline Efstathion and Robert Horsburgh of APEC and to SCBI for their leadership and excellent work helping to grow the RSI.

Photo: Jhonathan Miranda.

Presentations by June 2019
01 Jun

Presentations by June 2019

  • Mike Braun: “Red Siskin Conservation and Genomics”. Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation Genomics course, October 2018; U Arkansas business school, Nov 2018; Augusta County Bird Club, Nov 2018.
  • Brian Coyle: “Red Siskin Initiative: Integrated Conservation”. Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation Ecology and Conservation of Migratory Birds Course, Sept 2018.
  • Jon Fink, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Board and Portland State University: “From Tom Simkin to Red Siskins, A 40-year association with the National Museum of Natural History”.  National Museum of Natural History, June 2018.
  • In April, Karen Holm, DVM, a student at George Mason University presented the poster: “Using Ultra Conserved Elements (UCEs) to produce SNP markers for the Pedigree Analysis of the Endangered Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus)” on Research Day of the SciTech Campus Student. The research had the collaboration of Dr. Kate Rodríguez-Clark and the co-supervision of Dr. H. C. Lim, and received an Honorable Mention. Congratulations!
News Flashes!
31 May

News Flashes!

New Red Siskin bracelets went on sale at FONZ gift shops at Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park (NZP) thanks to the support of the Conservation Nation and Chávez Charity. Of all the species bracelets offered, Red Siskin bracelets were the top sellers! Funds from the sales of these bracelets support RSI conservation work in Venezuela. Many thanks to Mea MacKenzie for this creative idea.

● Erica Royer completed the AZA course “Population Management I” and Kate Rodríguez-Clark, NZP population ecologist, completed “Population Management II” in November in St. Louis, MO. These courses train participants in the latest software and procedures for studbook keeping and population management, respectively.

● Karen Holm, DVM and George Mason University PhD student, started a research project with Kathryn Rodriguez-Clark, NZP, to analyze genomic data and infer pedigree relationships for population management of red siskins. HC Lim, of George Mason University, is co-supervising and Brian Coyle, of Conservation Commons, is collaborating closely.

● Rafael Camacho, Master Sergeant, started an internship with Kate Rodriguez-Clark, NZP, supported by the Wounded Warrior Program of the Veteran’s Affairs Administration. He is an expert in logistics, is fluently bilingual in English and Spanish, and is learning about wildlife conservation as he contributes his bilingual skills to the team. Welcome Rafael!

● An article titled “Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee and Red Siskin Initiative: Sustainable Agroforestry in Venezuela” written by Brian Coyle, was published in November in the Smithsonian Sustainability Matters Newsletter.

● The Red Siskin Initiative is featured on the Smithsonian Global website, as part of their success stories. The article entitled “From Red Siskin Science, New Paths and Opportunities in Guyana” relates the beginning of the Initiative when a wild Red Siskin population was discovered in Guyana in 2000. Read the full article here.

● Miguel Arvelo, Red Siskin Initiative Coordinator, attended the 2nd International Wildlife Reintroduction Conference at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

● Raúl De Armas started an internship at Provita in November 2018 supporting project management of the “Siembra sombra, cosecha agua” and “Birds and Coffee” projects. Raúl is currently finishing his studies in Management of Business Administration at the Universidad Metropolitana (Caracas-VE). Welcome Raúl!

● Miguel Arvelo was selected for the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders class of 2019-2020 and completed his first training program at White Oak in March.

The Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) is ready!
16 May

The Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) is ready!

We are pleased to announce that Venezuela’s first dedicated Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) is almost complete! The Center, located at Leslie Pantin Zoo in Turmero, Aragua, Venezuela, represents a major milestone for RSI, and a crucial step toward bringing the Endangered Red Siskin back from the brink of extinction. With the support of many partners, we have created essential infrastructure to rescue, rehabilitate, raise, and one day reintroduce this species in a sustainable way within the framework of our overall Conservation Strategy. We are grateful to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Department of Animal Programs of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) for the support that made this work possible.