National Geographic

VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers

Menu

Efforts Underway To Save Endemic Cape Parrot: South African Television

South Africa — Between March and August each year we monitor the largest-remaining flock of Cape parrots on earth that aggregates over the “Cape Parrot Sanctuary” at the University of Fort Hare (Alice Campus). In 2011, we counted flocks of over 280 Cape parrots that represent 25-35% of the global population, in one flock… They come each year to eat from pecan trees planted in 1986 by the university as part of a long-term study on four different cultivars. In 2009, plans were put in place to chop down the trees as theft by local communities was becoming a security and fire risk on the property. This is when we, the Wild Bird Trust and Percy FitzPatrick Institute, stepped in to secure the pecan trees by fencing off the sanctuary and maintaining the pecan orchard.

Now, pecan nuts are 68% fat – peanuts are only 50% fat – and would kill a parrot feeding on them for a prolonged period of time in captivity. They have high levels of tannins and high risk of myo- and aflo-toxins. Not the perfect parrot food. Fats are usually deficient in their wild diets, so when they find it in their food they rapidly become “addicted” to it. I always compare this 40-year old habit of feeding on pecan nuts for up to 5 months of the year, to a person eating MacDonalds for almost half of the year, year-on-year, and seeing what happens. We have found that the parrots feeding on pecans become highly susceptible to Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and many die each year. Catch-22… Chop the unhealthy pecans down and you have no food for dependent parrots. A metafor for life in the developed world…

The remaining Cape parrots in these large flocks have maintained complex social interactions and collectively are able to sustainably find food resources, but when the pecan nuts are available they should be investigating indigenous forest patches for more nutritious food resources. Cape parrots have had to reinvent themselves to survive, but the new lifestyle is not good for them. We need to find ways to help them return to their traditional ways by planting millions of trees and slowly teaching them how to, once again, depend on indigenous, healthier food resources. I suppose we need to take all human beings on a similar path – restore habitat, eat less, eat healthier…

 

Rodnick Biljon

A breathtaking photograph taken by the “Cape parrot whisperer”, Rodnick Biljon, who is the only person able to approach the Cape parrots in King William’s Town. They know him and allow him to take these stunning photos. (Rodnick Biljon)

Steve Boyes

Small flock of Cape parrots roosting in the early morning sun while over 250 parrots circle above them on their way to the Cape Parrot Sanctuary. These early mornings between March and July each year are very special to witness. (Steve Boyes)

Steve Boyes

About 65 Cape parrot circling over the Cape Parrot Sanctuary inaugurated as part of the Cape Parrot Project. This flock represents 5-15% of the global population and at least one third of the local population. (Steve Boyes)

Rodnick Biljon

Cape parrot taking off from a high perch. Caught here forever in this amazing photograph by the “Cape Parrot whisperer”, Rodnick Biljon. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

A sensitive moment between Rodnick Biljon and this young, inquisitive Cape parrot that is feeding in a wild plum tree. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Two young Cape parrots radiant in the sunlight. Perfect parrots like these are the future of the species and need to be protected from the ravages of beak and feather disease. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

There are less than 1,000 adult Cape parrots remaining in the wild. Remaining local populations seem unable to recover due to excessive commercial logging, disease, and the wild-caught bird trade. (Rodnick Biljon)

Steve Boyes

There are few birds that could possibly enjoy flying more than Cape parrots. Here is a flock of Cape parrots excitedly arriving at the Cape Parrot Sanctuary in Alice (Eastern Cape, South Africa) to feed on the 54 pecan nut trees in our orchard. They dive and weave between each other as they scream wildly! (Steve Boyes)

Rodnick Biljon

A shining example of a Cape parrot perched in the morning sunlight. Can we consider a world without radiant creatures like this in it? (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Two young Cape parrots in a “nursery tree” in King William’s Town where they wait for the parents to return and feed them. They are often more relaxed and are reluctant to leave the tree. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Beautiful Cape parrot feeding in a wild plum tree. They enjoy these fruits when they are green or red. The Cape Parrot Project has planted over 2,000 wild plum trees to provide alternative feeding sites for Cape parrots along the Amathole mountains. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Cape parrot flying low over a wild plum tree. Africa’s most endangered parrot like never before… (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Cape parrot parent feeding a fledgling in King William’s Town (South Africa). We need to ensure that this fledgling survives to breeding age. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

Almost all of the Cape parrots in King William’s Town congregate every morning at this specific bird bath. Notice their poor condition due to the ravages of beak and feather disease and malnutrition. (Rodnick Biljon)

Rodnick Biljon

An inquisitive Cape parrot feeding on a wild plum in King William’s Town. If the town council had not decided to plant these trees along the roads in the 1970s, there would probably be far less Cape parrots in the region. They feed on these nutritious fruits for up to 10 months of the year. (Rodnick Biljon)

Steve Boyes

Wild male Cape parrot that broke his wing when flying into a large power line. He escaped with his life, but will never fly again. These amazing aviators fly up to 250km per day to take advantage of distant feeding grounds. Here he looks out and remembers the freedom he once knew in the skies… (Steve Boyes)

Rodnick Biljon

Cape parrot with extensive yellow feathers on the wings and body. It is still unclear what is causing the high incidence of yellow feathers on Cape parrots in the Amathole region. Indications are that it could be an immune reaction and/or the result of low genetic variability. (Rodnick Biljon)

Steve Boyes

Young male Cape parrot that tested positive for Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) virus and more than likely died a few days later from bad cold weather and snow. (Steve Boyes)

Steve Boyes

An adult female Cape parrot that was rescued after being found unable to fly in a swimming pool. She spent 3 months in a warm box on anti-biotics and supplements, and another 3 months in rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. She was to become known as “Alice”. (Steve Boyes)

Steve Boyes

Cape parrot displaying advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. The feathers have degraded, crumbled and fallen off and the only reason this parrot is still alive is that the beak has not yet broken. We could not catch this individual and it can be accepted that he/she died a few days later. (Steve Boyes)

Rodnick Biljon

Cape Parrot suffering from advanced beak and feather disease. A few days after this photograph was taken a cold snap hit King William’s Town that this poor parrot would not have been able to survive… (Rodnick Biljon)

Steve Boyes

Most Cape parrots infected with Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) virus die cold and alone under a roost tree. We find them weeks later during our inspections intended to find them alive… (Steve Boyes)

 

“uPholi” Want a Forest? Rescuing Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot from Extinction: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/16/upholi-want-a-forest-rescuing-africas-most-endangered-parrot-from-extinction/

The iziKhwenene Project: Establishing Local Communities as Forest Custodians to Save the Cape Parrot – http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/04/the-izikhwenene-project-establishing-local-communities-as-forest-custodians-to-save-the-cape-parrot/

Some awesome YouTube videos, interviews and articles on the Cape parrot…

Comments

  1. RAJA SARKAR
    india
    January 16, 11:38 pm

    excelent iam parrot lover

  2. Samir Desani
    Bhavnagar, India.
    July 5, 2013, 12:25 am

    1000 likes for this work. i wish i can also do the same!!!

  3. Susan
    United States
    July 4, 2013, 9:31 pm

    A very informative and superbly well-written article that balances well the hope we hold for these magnificent birds and the ongoing threats to their survival.