Home again. Parrot researcher freed after 8 months in the hands of Colombian rebels.

Colombian Rebels Release Biologist

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

A Dutch biology student and parrot aficionado who was kidnapped by Marxist rebels last October in Colombia arrived back safely in Amsterdam 19 June, ending months of negotiations. Roelant Jonker, who studied a parrot species on the brink of extinction in the jungle, says he was generally well treated but was "bored to death" during his captivity.

Hoping to obtain his master's degree at the University of Leiden, Jonker, 28, traveled to Colombia last August to study the breeding behavior of the yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), a species believed extinct until a population of a few dozen was discovered 3 years ago in the northern province of Antioquia. In October, just as his research was getting under way, he was taken hostage by a group of rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who were passing through his small compound. Jonker, who describes his captors as a "a bunch of friendly teenagers with Kalashnikovs," says he spent much of his captivity keeping a diary, listening to Radio Netherlands' world broadcasts, and designing a house.

Although his captors initially demanded $1 million, they released him after Colombian workers in the field convinced them that Jonker was neither rich nor associated with a foreign company, says ornithologist Paul Salaman of the London Natural History Museum, who directs the research and conservation project in Colombia that helped Jonker with his project.

Unintimidated, Salaman says he's going back to the site himself next week, adding that he usually tries to prevent getting nabbed by befriending local rebels groups. But Jonker says he'll settle for different parrot species in safer countries, such as Brazil. "Colombia is a fantastic place to do research," he says, "but my mother won't let me return there."

Related sites
The yellow-eared parrot conservation and research home page
U.S. State Department's travel warning for Colombia

Posted in Scientific Community