Africa’s parrots are a unique assemblage of lovebirds, Poicephalus parrots, grey parrots, and Rose-ringed parakeets that have managed to find a home in the forests and savanna of this wild and primordial continent. All species are now under serious threat from escalating trade due to emerging markets in the Far East and habitat loss due to deforestation, agricultural development, climate change, and poor land management practices. Africa is home to the two most traded birds on earth – the grey parrots and Senegal parrot. To add to the removal of as many as 8 million African parrots from the wild over the last 25 years, Africa’s deforestation rates are twice that of the rest of the world. Our charcoal industry, commercial logging and widespread burning for pastures are cutting down huge numbers of large hardwoods for emerging and established markets. South Africa has emerged as a global hub for the wild-caught bird trade with traders and importers taking advantage of an advanced avicultural industry in a country with under-resourced enforcement and permit officers. Perceptions need to change, new laws need to be drafted, and the wild-caught bird trade needs to be halted throughout Africa. Read here about the efforts of the World Parrot Trust Africa to halt any further trade and ensure that important parrot populations are adequately protected on a rapidly changing continent…
Please watch this YouTube video featuring an interview with Boyd Matson on National Geographic Weekend about the trade in wild-caught African grey parrots set to photos from the World Parrot Trust Africa archives:
Cavity-nesting forest specialists like African parrots are particularly sensitive to the selective removal of large hardwoods due to their reliance on these trees for sustenance and nesting opportunities. According to a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report in 2008, deforestation rates in Africa are twice that of the rest of the world with the continent losing over 4 million hectares of forest cover every year. Logging, land conversion to agriculture and human settlement, wildfires, cutting for fuelwood, the booming charcoal industry, and civil unrest are the primary causes of this rampant deforestation on the continent. Deforestation rates of 15% and above are not uncommon and several countries (e.g. Kenya and Malawi) have less than 1% of their original forest cover remaining. To add to our worries most records on the population status of African parrots pre-date this chronic loss of forest cover across the continent over the last 30-40 years. We simply do not know how well African parrots are adapting to this rapidly changing continent.
The World Parrot Trust Africa is coordinating a continent-wide survey of all African parrot species over the coming years to establish which species require urgent conservation investment. The primary goal is to ensure that healthy populations of all African parrot species are adequately accommodated and protected for future generations. Unfortunately, most of our recent African parrot surveys have ended in failure with only small relict population associated with a commercial crops (e.g. coconut palms), degraded forest or protected areas being recorded. We urgently need funding to finance further expeditions to remote areas that may have healthy parrot populations. Next year, we are conducting the most in-depth study of the distribution and status of Africa’s parrot ever undertaken by networking with established NGOs and conservation authorities across Africa.
Africa’s parrots are charismatic, colourful, and larger than life. They have found their way into the hearts and minds of private collectors, parrot enthusiasts and aviculturalists around the world. Most African parrot breeders that I interact with are absolutely passionate about the species they work with and have often specialized in raising Poicephalus parrots, Agapornis lovebirds and/or grey parrots. As with all things that are left unregulated, the trade in wild African parrots boomed in the 1980s and 1990s. This lucrative trade was fueled by profiteering middlemen and resulted in the Senegal Parrot becoming the most traded bird on CITES Appendix II with over 45,000 parrots being removed from the wild each year. Between 1996 and 2000, 474kg of red Timneh grey parrot tail feathers were exported from W Africa for use in manufacturing flies for trout-fishing. As a result the grey parrots became the second most traded wild birds in thew world. In Namibia, cross border trade in wild-caught Ruppell’s Parrot caused their disappearance from many parts in their distributional range where they were previously abundant. In 2006, while finishing my PhD Zoology (University of KwaZulu-Natal) at the University of California (Berkeley) we conducted a study of the the UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database for all records of trade in African parrots to determine the scale of this trade and the potential impacts on wild parrot populations. See Table 1 from the World Parrot Trust report (Click on image below to zoom in).
According to the issuance of CITES Export/Import permits, the grey parrots and the Senegal parrot are the top two most internationally-traded wild-caught birds. It must be noted that almost twice as many African parrots (mainly lovebirds) in international trade were sourced in captivity. As can be seen in Table 1 there are, however, several species (e.g. grey parrots) that have almost exclusively been sourced in the wild over the last few decades. In addition, the huge numbers of parrots that died during capture and transport, were killed for consumption or never exported, and that were smuggled across international borders to avoid tax and permit issues, are not accounted for in these records. According to research conducted in the Americas, up to 50% of the actual off-take from the wild (e.g. nest poaching, snaring in nets or loops, bird glue, etc.) is not represented in international trade numbers. Some 3,085,322 wild-caught African parrots were recorded in international trade between 1975 and 2005, and we project that over 8 million will have been exported by the end of the decade, which will be too much for most species. Conservative estimates indicate that up to 8 million African parrots have been removed from the wild since 1975.
There is no way that African parrot populations that we have studied so far would be able to sustain this constant pressure from the wild-caught bird trade. If parrots are being pushed out by deforestation, they are being captured at unsustainable rates… Adverts like these ones shown below are no longer published due to a temporary moratorium on the issuance of CITES import permits for African grey parrots from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This moratorium resulted from a presentation on this unsustainable and unethical trade to the Scientific Authority here in South Africa by myself and Prof. Mike Perrin. The decision was to halt trade until the DRC conducts a Non-Detrimental Findings workshop on the trade in wild-caught African grey parrots.
On Christmas Eve in 2010 at 1pm a commercial flight landed in Durban with over 700 dead wild-caught African grey parrots originally from the DRC. The World Parrot Trust Africa broke the story to the newspapers on the 10th January 2011 and kept the story in the media for over 6 months. Investigations into the syndicates involved in these tragic deaths are ongoing. In essence, these poor parrots were at the centre of an ownership battle and were rushed to Durban when the necessary court order was issued. The actions of the people involved were unethical and beyond justification. The reaction of the general public to the over 60 newspaper articles, YouTube videos, petitions, radio broadcasts, and TV news pieces put out by the World Parrot Trust Africa was public outcry that has seen African grey parrots become less popular pets in South Africa and the establishment of new advocacy groups (e.g. African Grey Action Group (AGAG)).
With further trade in African grey parrots from the DRC into South Africa temporarily halted and airlines and cargo carriers committed to avoiding the transportation of wild-caught animals, illegal traders have resorted to smuggling these parrots by road through the Mozambican and Namibian borders. On the 31st March over 160 wild-caught African grey parrots were confiscated on the Mozambican border by military police at midnight. The World Parrot Trust Africa stepped in to cover all veterinary costs, source and pay for all food, and look for a release site in Uganda or Rwanda. Unfortunately, this story ended terribly with the traders being awarded the parrots by the State Attorney after 6 months in quarantine, but that is the subject of a future blog… The point is that this battle between unscrupulous traders and conservationists rages throughout Africa. Just last month over 300 wild-caught African grey parrots were confiscated in Congo-Brazzaville. We need to step up or efforts and get serious about saving the soul of Africa’s rain forests, the enigmatic grey parrots flying high above the canopy… What we need to do now is get out into the Congo forests and the forest of west Africa to stop any further capturing of wild parrots by interacting with local communities and investing them in the conservation of the local parrot populations and the forests they depend upon. We are currently networking with established conservation NGOs in Africa (e.g. BirdLife International and Wildlife Conservation Society) to mobilise as many people on the ground as possible.
The mission of the World Parrot Trust Africa is clear. We need to achieve three primary goals within the next 5-10 years or face a future with no African parrots in the wild, including the following:
1) End the wild-caught bird trade in Africa and support African aviculturalists that adhere to accepted norms and standards.
2) Update all records of the distribution and status of all African parrots in relation to deforestation rates.
3) Establish community-based conservation projects (e.g. Cape Parrot Project) and conservation areas that stimulate positive change for Africa’s parrots and the forests they depend upon.
Please follow this blog to stay up-to-date with developments in the fight against the wild-caught bird trade in Africa. Share this information with your friends. To join the World Parrot Trust and for more information on how you can get involved in or contribute to African parrot conservation projects (e.g. Cape Parrot Project), please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 149, Hogsback, 5721, South Africa.
Are you keen to visit Africa with National Geographic? Please join me on one of the National Geographic Expeditions in southern Africa: http://www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/experts/steve-boyes/detail
Dr Steve Boyes, National Geographic Grantee