Monday, August 8, 2011

Tony Silva and the endangered parrots

When Tony Silva was a boy his parents emigrated from Cuba and settled in the Miami area. He developed an interest in exotic birds and, encouraged by his parents, collected them, raised them, studied them and wrote numerous articles about them. He became a featured speaker for groups of ornithologists. He was outspoken conservationist, and brought attention to the need for endangered parrot species to be protected.

Silva's book, A Monograph of Endangered Parrots, was published in Canada in 1989 in three limited editions. Only a total of 2,226 copies were produced. The most rare of the three editions was the Remarqué Edition, which had only 26 copies, each marked with a letter A-Z and signed by both Silva and the illustrator. Each includes an original drawing by the illustrator.

A volume of the Remarqué Edition, marked with the letter A, is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. Other copies of this edition are said to be in the collections of wealthy and powerful people around the world, including Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Wildlife artist Gracia Bennish illustrated the volume. Bennish is also a photojournalist and is now based in Tarpon Springs. She says illustrating the rare parrots was a challenge because not many references existed for some of the species. In some cases, she even used tiny postage stamps featuring certain birds. Gracia Bennish is a world class painter of animals, especially parrots. Her work has been selected by the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, for its prestigious Birds in Art international tour. Her photography assignments have taken her to Iraq, Haiti, Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, South Africa and Cuba.

The book was produced in Canada by Silvio Mattacchione & Co., a premier publisher of art animal and bird books. The books are hand sewn, glued with special conservation glues and adhesives, and stamped with 24-karat gold. They are handbound in Nigerian goatskin with raised bands, Irish linen, handmade endsheets, conservation paper and felt-lined slip covers.

By the time he was 30, Silva became the curator of Loro Parque, a huge animal park on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. He was well known as a leading opponent of the smuggling trade.  At Loro Parque, he participated in a conservation project to breed endangered Spix’s Macaw in captivity.

In 1996, Silva pleaded guilty to smuggling more than 185 hyacinth macaws and other rare birds from South America. He was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison and fined $100,000. Silva always maintained his innocence and continues to do so in extensive articles online.

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