Foto: Jean Mercier
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The Resplendent Quetzal was considered divine, associated with the "snake god", Quetzalcoatl by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. Its iridescent green tail feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Aztecs and Maya, who viewed the quetzal as the "god of the air" and as a symbol of goodness and light. Mesoamerican rulers and some nobility of other ranks wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers, symbolically connecting them to Quetzalcoatl. Since it was a crime to kill a quetzal, the bird was simply captured, its long tail feathers plucked, and was set free.
Until recently, it was thought that the Resplendent Quetzal could not be bred or held for any long time in captivity, and indeed it was noted for usually killing itself soon after being captured or caged. For this reason it is a traditional symbol of liberty. However, a zoo in Mexico has kept this species since 1992, and in 2004 breeding in captivity was announced.