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The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  740 ratings  ·  148 reviews
“The first time we came here I didn’t know what to expect,” she told me as we paddled upstream. “What we found just blew me away. Jaguars, pumas, river otters, howler monkeys. The place was like a Noah’s Ark for all the endangered species driven out of the rest of Central America. There was so much life! That expedition was when I first saw the macaws.”

As a young woman, Sh
Hardcover, 313 pages
Published February 5th 2008 by Random House (first published January 1st 2008)
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Start your review of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird
First read in June 2008. Reread in December 2016. I liked the book just as well the second time, I'm happy to say. Below is my original review written in 2008. Since that time I have, in fact, visited Belize, though we stayed on a caye and never visited the zoo or saw most of the places mentioned in the book.

I'm an admittedly "distracted" reader and often have several books going at once, but once I was a few pages into this one, I dropped all other reading to immerse myself in it. I should note
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I started out loving this book, but I felt that it did get bogged down in too much detail around the middle.

The "Zoo Lady" Sharon was a fascinating and brave woman who cared so much about Belize and its animals.

Then you have the corrupt government, hiding information and making side deals while increasing the power rates of the impoverished citizens. And the evil company that is only too happy to take the money that will further indebt this country.

I went to Belize last year and found it absolut
Mar 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals
I have to admit that I often read books with an eye to edit. What would I cut to make it more efficient? This is a story of a woman trying to save the last nesting ground of the scarlet macaw in Belize from being flooded by the construction of a dam to provide her country with much needed electricity. Did we need the chapter on the Mayan civilization? Did we need to know the entire colonial history of Belize? Did we need an overview of dams in the United States? The answer is yes. All this infor ...more
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This engaging book covers the life of Sharon Motala up to her battle to stop devious (lying) corporate entities and corrupt politicians from building a dam that would destroy the only habitat in Belize of the Scarlet Macaw. Along the way learn about the Maya, how governmant funds disappear to friends and the diversity of wildlife in Belize. Most of all we learn about thtenacious founder of the Belize Zoo who ran away to join the circus and took what she learned when she worked with Jaguars.

Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book about one woman's conservation fight precisely because it's not just about one woman and conservation. Rather, it shows how many people need to be involved and how many aspects of culture, history, economics, science, and politics need to be considered in conservation decisions. Plus, it's a good read. Recommended!
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
You'll love the writing style, the characters and the setting, but it will get your ire up.
Joyce Mitchell
Jan 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every time I go to San Francisco, the first stop is usually a long walk to City Lights Booksellers. The most amazing indie-bookstore on planet earth! I'm always discovering new gems here. This being one of them. I love natural history, and at times, struggle with it in context to conservation. Conservation has become such a dirty word, and with understood cause. I love my 'earth' fighting friends, but understand that they often alienate with their passionate (albeit righteous) propagandizing rat ...more
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended for ecological learning, how harmful dams really are, how big capitalist global companies ruin wildlife and culture, and of course, the living habits of the endangered Scarlet Macaw. The author also writes for Outdoor magazine and did some extremely thorough and amazing research. He managed to keep digging up facts, just when you thought he couldn't get any more. Read about the real-life heroine attempting to save the Macaws. Excellent!
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nonfiction books are often thought of as being “good for us”, as if they were literary vitamin tablets, but many people take their summers off from their vitamins by reading trashy novels or mysteries while ensconced under an umbrella on a sandy beach. So what would you say if you could read a book that has the best qualities of both genres? If you think that such a book doesn’t exist, well, think again: Bruce Barcott’s recently published book, The Last Flight of The Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’ ...more
Jennifer Pletcher
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the true story of Sharon Matola - the "zoo lady" who has devoted her life to the safety of the wild animals in Belize. When she discovers that a big power company plans to build a dam right where the last remaining Scarlet Macaw's nest in Belize, she knows she is in for a fight to stop the build.

The story follows how she, and a pieced together team, flight the dam all the way to court to try and save these endangered birds. The author pieces together how globalization and a growing dema
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although at times it read a bit like an long journalistic account rather than a a non-fiction 'story,' i really enjoyed it, and learned a bunch. Amazing to read while spending time in some of the beautiful areas of Belize described in the book. Sharon Matolo is inspiring - keep fighting the good fight! While her antagonists and the local corruption are appalling and disgraceful. #1 book to read if travelling to Belize
This book is about a lot more than birds. It's actually about conservation, politics, corrupt governments, geology, ecology, history, and much more. I was fascinated by the Belize Zoo and dismayed by some of the things I learned about the government in Belize. This is a book that I was glad I read.
Jessica Park Rhode
keep hold-leapfrogging with another person at sfpl- will hopefully finish this summer
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, belize
I ordered this book before traveling to Belize in early-August, but it came after my return. I started reading it about a month ago, and I'm glad I read it after processing the trip and after the visiting the Belize Zoo. The story is about Sharon Matola, the founder and director of the Belize Zoo, and her determination to challenge the construction of the Chalillo Dam and save the nesting grounds of the vulnerable Scarlet Macaw. Although Sharon and her team of professionals exhibited great forti ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Contributing editor to Outside magazine and author Bruce Barcott (The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier [1997]) has constructed a gripping and suspenseful account of one woman's crusade against corrupt foreign governments and multinational corporations to save the habitat of an endangered bird. Barcott's simple and eloquent prose, vivid descriptions, and ability to render the most complicated business deals and legal concepts in clear layman's terms allow him to tame this

Jun 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I found myself wishing this guy had won a Pulitzer. The book is so well written and edited, pulling off the feat of being simultaneously comprehensive and spare. When warranted, the author takes his readers on brief trips to Africa or Canada or London; he explains electricity, arcane colonial law, and the fascinating, paralyzing history and politics of Belize. All this, but he never loses sight of the ecology and beauty of the Macal Valley, nor of the center of his book, Sharon, who tried to sav ...more
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
As a former resident of Belize, this book had special meaning to me. My husband and I once awakened at 4 am to get on the road to Red Bank, where we hiked with a Maya guide in absolutely POURING rain, up the side of a mountain, in hopes of seeing Scarlet Macaws. Due to the rain, we were unsuccessful, but we are determined to see these magnificent creatures one day.

Since we have lived in Belize, we were familiar with many of the places and some of the people mentioned in this book, as well as wi
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-the-world
This is a wonderful book about a difficult topic for me: the near extinction of a once ubiquitous bird, the Scarlet Macaw, and one woman, Sharon Matola that is trying to save them.
One of the things about the challenge I am involved in: to read the world, is that I read books that a part of me doesn't want to know, greed and corruption, environmental disaster and underdevelopment; but I end up learning so much more, geography and history. The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw had all of these thi
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Every once in awhile, a book comes along, grabs my attention and as I turn over the last page I feel a interminable sense of sadness that the journey is finally over and there is no more to read.

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw was fascinating and fantastically written. Bruce Barcott brought Sharon Matola and the plight of the habitat threatened by the Chailillo Dam alive with a sense of immediacy and passion.

My only regret is that I hadn't read this book sooner.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, non-fiction, 2012
Belize, animals, dams and a strong woman making things happen. It's the perfect blend of things that interest me. I went to Belize for an amazing vacation last spring and so much of what was described was familiar. I also learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes with the government. I found the book hard to put down, something unique in nonfiction for me. I highly recommend this book.
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting to see the battles that rage over environmental concerns in a foreign country. The book is pretty one-sided, but that's really the point so I can't complain about that. It was definitely more political than I expected, though. I guess it is what it is. :)
Jul 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
A wonderful account of how one woman's passion for saving the Scarlet Macaw made a difference. A motivating story to encourage people that they can make a difference.
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read.

It's amazing what goes on in politics, both in 3rd world and 1st world countries. It's a shame too, because it affects many aspects.
Clara Lee
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about Belize politics and an amazing woman.
Jun 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars
Jan 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
blog post for library --

Hubby and I are starting to daydream about our next vacation. While looking over travel books, and talking to friends about their recent travels, a friend gushed about his recent trip to Belize. I’m not sure if timing, a toddler or finances will allow it, but I picked up the book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird anyway.

The woman in question fighting to save the scarlet macaws is Sharon Matola, owner and direct
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Caring for orphaned animals at her own zoo in the tropical country of Belize, Sharon Matola became one of Central America’s greatest wildlife defenders. And when powerful outside forces conspired with the local government to build a dam that would flood the nesting ground of the only scarlet macaws in Belize, Matola was drawn into the fight of her life.

In The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, award-winning author Bruce Barcott chronicles Sharon Matola’s inspiring crusade to stop a multinational
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh, this is everything a good conservation narrative book should be. Initially I was put off by the author inserting himself too personally, but I was quickly swept up in the story and all the other characters. I appreciated the branching information chapters that provided context for the issues, including the history of dams, regional cultural histories and conflicts, and relevant corporate energy politics. This was an incredible amount of work to research, synthesize, and organize into a compe ...more
Mike Parkes
Good brisk page-turner about the intersection and conflict between wildlife conservation and development, focused on the political and legal battles to build a hydroelectric dam in the heart of Belize's rainforest, putting the endangered scarlet macaw at risk. Great read for tourists heading to Belize - you will learn something about the nature, politics and history of the nation. The character at the heart of the story is the owner of the Belize Zoo, one of the most popular tourist attractions ...more
Hunter McHugh Smith
The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw taught me how crucial it is to listen to people's stories and come alongside those who are fighting authentic and important battles. This book did a beautiful job laying out the journey of the conservation activists in Belize and their battle to protect the Scarlet Macaw. I read this book prior to traveling to Belize for a study abroad trip. Having read this book before our trip made my experiences in Belize so much more rich and powerful. I could just imagin ...more
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Bruce Barcott is an American editor, environmental journalist and author. He is a contributing editor of Outside and has written articles for The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Sports Illustrated, Harper's Magazine, Legal Affairs, Utne Reader and others. He has also written a number of books including, The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier (1997 ...more

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“How do you keep this place running?" I said. "How did you think it would work in the first place?"
She smiled. "I was dumb enough to give it a try.”
“What will our descendants think when they come upon Chalillo? When they scrape away the deep layer of dirt covering in stepping-stone facade, what will they make of the dogleg desig, the Chinese gauges, the long-stopped turbines? What will they make of the skeletons and fossils long gone? Will they connect the two?” 0 likes
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