Parrots in Peril

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Have you ever had a parrot as a pet? Are you completely sure of where that parrot came from?

Like many other animals, a variety of birds form part of the illegal wildlife trade. The most common species, however being parrots. Wild parrot populations have declined over recent periods, with nearly 30% of 355 species currently vulnerable to extinction. The reasons for this are because of habitat loss and climate change, but the main problem is the illegal pet trade. Parrots are popular as pets due to their flamboyant plumage and their ability to mimic human speech, some to the equivalent of a three-year-old child. Now that’s impressive.

Parrots are loved as pets all over the world

Parrots are mainly found in the neotropics of South America, Africa (including South Africa) and Australia. In the twentieth century, much of the demand for parrots were focused on three areas, namely The United States of America (USA), Europe and Asia. In 2007 however, the USA and Europe implemented a complete ban on the importation of parrots. This was a significant step in conserving parrots in the West. Yet, the trade just shifted its market more eastwards towards China, Vietnam, Japan and other Asian countries.

Most parrot species are found in forest ecosystems

There are many different species and varieties of parrots. Some small, others large, some with short tails and others with long tails. The most charismatic parrots, in my opinion, are the Macaw species with their bright red, blue and yellow colours. Apart from the Macaws, African Grey parrots or as they are called in Africa – Grey parrots are another prevalent species to have as a pet. This can be attributed to the fact that 9/10 times that I would walk into a pet shop or farm stall growing up in South Africa, there is the pride of place would be a cranky Grey parrot that scorned anyone who came too near to its cage. Don’t even try scratching its head because you may get a nasty bite. As pets go in my family, we are more of a dog and cat family. However, we have dabbled in having parrots as pets, the first was a cockatiel that I found by chance at the bottom of the garden, whom we named Flash, I can’t remember a lot about him, but I do remember he got eaten by our cat one night. The second was a Ring-necked Parakeet, and the third was a Grey Parrot which we bought from my friends’ mom who bred them. No, they didn’t all get eaten by our cat.

There are many different species of parrot

Poaching Parrots

Different parrot species live and nest in different places, some nest in tall trees, others live on cliff faces. No matter where they live, however, they will be found by poaching humans whether it be actively or opportunistically. Methods of poaching parrots include gum paper, nets and mist nets. Baby parrots are first prize though because they are easier to train and more docile than their parents. Parrots usually nest in hollows of trees, to get the baby parrots out of these small holes, they typically use a machete or bring a child with them as the children have smaller hands to reach into these tiny holes and snatch them. When transported, the birds are either shoved into plastic pipes, bottles or cramped cages. A large percentage of the birds in transit don’t survive. The poachers are aware of this, so catch more to meet their quotas. Sea travel is preferred for smugglers as airports have security scanners.

This is just horrible

As is this

Parrot trade is made on both a local and international scale, particularly in South America, the more charismatic species like the macaw are sold into the global exchange for high prices. The smaller fewer known species are sold to local markets or given to friends and neighbours. The local trade is more dominant in these areas, and hunters are very opportunistic, an example of this can be seen in the regions agricultural sector. Large portions of forest area have been cleared for farming to accommodate the human demand for food, mainly fruit. The parrots are drawn to this bountiful supply of food and ultimately destroy crop yields. Consequently, Mr. farmer gets angry and calls in his local poaching friend to get rid of the menace.

Parrots are sold by poachers to market places

Another reason why some members of the community turn to poaching is that it offers another source of income. Many of these local communities have low paying jobs. Thus if the opportunity comes along to steal a parrot out of a tree, they will take that opportunity, if it means being able to put food on the table for their family.

What is being done

Parrots are essential for seed dispersal in the forest as well as in my opinion, critical symbols of the woods. Studies done have shown that many local people are unaware the parrots are endangered. Conservation NGOs have put adverts on radio stations and in other media, raising awareness about parrots and their decline. They have also raised awareness about keeping parrots as pets. An article I read said that in the first year of raising awareness, five parrots were returned to authorities, and in the second year, 29 were given back to authorities. This may not seem like a lot and in the more significant parrot population its only small feather. However, it shows that parrot conservation awareness is improving and gaining momentum.

Radio advertisements have brought awareness of parrots to the general public

Law enforcement in these remote areas is often ill-equipped and poorly manned. Local communities and law enforcement have joined up and do patrols and surveys of their areas to regulate poaching.

One other way of securing the wild population of parrots is by breeding and hand-rearing a second population for domestic use. This, however, can lead to laundering of both wild-caught parrot individuals as well as the money gained from the illicit trade.

By getting the community involved in conservation projects, and instead of using the parrots for a crime, they could use the tourism. This would supply them with extra money in a legitimate way.

Including local communities in conservation is key for any species in the wild.

So the next time you think of buying a parrot, make sure that it comes from a reputable , sustainable source. Ask the dealer or the breeder for certificates and breeding licenses. Along with this if you can see the parrots in the cages and they look bedraggled and featherless, walk away.

That's all for now, join me again next week for another exciting article.


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