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Call for the CITES Secretariat to Suspend Trade in Grey Parrots from Cameroon and DRC

If you care about wildlife, nature, your pets, our planet, and all things good, you need to support the suspension of all trade in grey parrots from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thousands of these long-lived, intelligent parrots are ripped out of the wild every year, packed into cramped travel crates, fed on...

If you care about wildlife, nature, your pets, our planet, and all things good, you need to support the suspension of all trade in grey parrots from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thousands of these long-lived, intelligent parrots are ripped out of the wild every year, packed into cramped travel crates, fed on moldy peanuts, and then sold into the lucrative wildlife trade. Many die from exhaustion or fatal injury in nets and snares or from dehydration, disease and stress in rudimentary wooden crates when being stored, transported and sold by local trappers. Even more die in crammed travel crates in transit to rural markets were thousands of grey parrots are collected by exporters and quarantined until they are sold, euthanized or die. Veterinary experts are contracted by importers to visit source countries and select, sex and test all potential breeding parrots held in these substandard quarantines. The exporters make a profit and eventually give away, release or dispose of the grey parrots that are deemed unsuitable for breeding purposes. Housing and feeding them is simply too expensive, and there are more healthy parrots coming in from the forests next week…

Message from Jamie Gilardi, Ph.D. (Executive Director, World Parrot Trust):

“In less time than it takes you to read this message you can help save thousands of wild African Grey Parrots from a cruel and unnecessary fate.It’s rare to have the opportunity to influence the lives of so many incredibly intelligent and threatened birds, but right now you can, simply by signing this petition.

Next week in Switzerland (July 23, 2012), a small gathering of people who decide how wildlife can and can’t be traded around the world (the CITES Standing Committee) will decide on the fate of thousands of wild African Grey Parrots. Specifically, Congo – one of the largest exporters of these birds – is hoping to continue the practice of legally capturing these birds to sell to Asia and the Middle East.

Their quota of 5,000 birds is regularly exceeded. And in Cameroon, despite a zero export quota for this species, a total of over 5,000 birds were exported in the last four years for which data is available. So, this decision next week will decide the fate of thousands of African Grey Parrots traded … every year.

Now is our chance to urge CITES to protect this Globally Threatened Species from such unsustainable pressures. If we can get CITES to adopt a trade suspension from these two countries, we’ll not only spare thousands of birds, we will help turn the tide on the trade in wild parrots for good.

Please join us, sign your name, get all your friends to do the same, and help us save thousands of wild parrots today!

Thank you for your support!”

The foreign importers in South Africa and emerging markets stand to lose the most if a moratorium is put in place, as they make millions of dollars from their commercial breeding facilities and associated parrot export businesses. The problem we are trying to solve does not lie with the individual parrot owner in Johannesburg or Beijing. This person hopefully loves his or her parrot, which is more than likely captive-bred and a wonderful companion or even breeding parrot. The problem we are tackling is that the parents of these companion parrot were probably wild-caught grey parrots from the DRC or Cameroon that died young due to being mistreated and exploited in a “bird mill”. To solve this problem the CITES Secretariat meeting next week in Switzerland must halt all further trade in African grey parrots from the DRC and Timneh grey parrots from Cameroon. My experiences fighting the trade in wild-caught birds here in South Africa have been heartbreaking and I have needed the support of my friends, family, and colleagues to get over the tearful frustration from dealing with the people that import, buy, breed with or even issue the permits for these parrots. The wildlife trade in Africa is rotten to the core. Right now, there are thousands of scared, malnourished WILD grey parrots in crates, cages, boxes and bags, on ships, trucks, aircraft and trains, in quarantines, back rooms, rehabilitation centres, sanctuaries, customs offices, illegal holding facilities, underground bunkers, and containers, being smuggled, decapitated for their feathers, and locked up in the 1x1m cages where they will spend the rest of their short lives laying eggs, often in the dark. Their pre-weaned offspring are then exported around the world.

Imagine yourself standing in front of over 1,000 African grey parrots drinking together in the Congo forest. The deafening squawks, the chaos of vibrant life, the grey storm when they all take off together in fright! A combination of nets and snares set around this waterhole the next morning would wipe out most of this local population. Never to be seen again. Grey parrots are typically collected from trappers in remote forests for $1-10 each, held for up to 6 months in crude quarantine facilities at major centres (e.g. Kinshasa), and then exported to places like South Africa, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Taiwan and Pakistan where there are established markets or commercial breeding facilities. In South Africa, we are faced with the emergence of African grey parrot “bird mills” that exploit wild-caught parrots like battery chickens. Suitable grey parrots are used to produce hundreds of eggs that are incubated, hatched, and the pre-weaned chicks exported to emerging markets.

Why not use captive-bred grey parrots as breeding stock? Captive-bred parrots are simply too expensive to raise all the way to breeding age with food, veterinary care and housing costing far more than the parrots will ever be worth. Hatchlings being prepared for breeding also need to be parent-raised, which reduces productivity considerably. The return on investment is, therefore, extremely slow and extremely risky. Running captive breeding programs without using wild-caught breeding stock, therefore, require specialist knowledge, passion, and long hours. The market right now, however, can only support these “bird mills” that pump out hundreds of chicks a week at low cost using wild-caught breeding stock. Prices are simply too low due to lack of government support. We need to shutdown the pipeline of big numbers of cheap, high-quality, wild-caught grey parrots of breeding age, as with sexed and paired wild grey parrots you can start exporting within 12 months and get the cash rolling in. By 2009, so many South African bird breeders and exporters had adopted this lucrative business plan that we reached a tipping point, which saw South African imports of African greys exceed the CITES export quota for the DRC. The DRC had a quota of 5,000, yet exported over 12,000. In 2009, South Africa imported over 5,000 wild-caught African greys from the DRC, and bizarrely exported over 25,000 to emerging markets that same year. If we are so good at breeding African grey parrots, why do we need to continue decimating wild populations? Because this is what we are allowing to happen. Conservationists working in the vast forests of the DRC are literally unable to keep up with the advance of this unethical and unsustainable trade. There are now “dead zones” in these forests where neither parrot nor monkey can be heard anymore. In this day and age, the global avicultural industry must take sole responsibility for supplying the requirements of the international pet trade. With a human population exceeding 7 million and resources stretched to the limit, we need to be very careful about the sustainability of any further harvesting from wild population of any species. Right now we are on a roller coaster ride to the biggest, fastest, most profound mass extinction ever. We need to be brave and protect species and places that are dear to us with everything we have…


Join the World Parrot Trust by urgently calling for a moratorium on this trade by signing this petition:

To: CITES Secretariat

We respectfully request that CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) suspend all trade of African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) from the countries of Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.This species has recently been designated a Globally Threatened Species on the IUCN’s Red List chiefly as a result of declines caused by capture for the pet trade. Moreover, violations of the CITES procedures and quotas have been clearly documented in both countries in recent years, providing a clear indicator of the likelihood of future lack of compliance. Suspensions of trade in this species with both countries are warranted under the CITES Review of Significant Trade as these countries have failed to implement the recommendations of the CITES Animals Committee.

The export of Grey Parrots from DR Congo is of special concern. For over a decade the export quotas have been consistently exceeded. The UNEP-WCMC data for the years 2005-2010 shows that quotas were exceeded by more than 50% in 2005, 2008, and 2009; in 2009 the quota was exceeded by more than 100%. This trend has been ongoing since 1995.

For Cameroon, as you know a zero export quota was established by the CITES Review of Significant Trade beginning in 2007. In reality, Cameroon went on to allow the export of 4,715 grey parrots in 2007, 708 birds in 2008, 10 birds in 2009, and one shipment of 300 wild-caught individuals in 2010 (data from WCMC).

Whilst these exports from Cameroon were a lamentable violation of the zero export quota, the clarity of that zero quota created a welcome change in enforcement policies there. Since 2007, the Cameroon enforcement authorities have confiscated thousands of illegally trapped birds. Their rehabilitation and release has led to new populations of Grey Parrots in parts of their former range. These confiscations underscore the effectiveness of clear and unambiguous wildlife policies at the national and international level, they empower wildlife enforcement authorities to take swift and effective action, and they strongly suggest that trade suspensions will lead to similarly productive outcomes in both Cameroon and DR Congo.

In sum, we feel that such suspensions will be a crucial step toward the recovery of this Threatened species and an appropriate and much-needed response to this significant and on-going threat to the African Grey Parrot’s survival in the wild.

World Parrot Trust / PASA
Confiscated, wild-caught Timneh grey parrots in their own faeces being unpacked at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. These parrots live for 60-80 years, have advanced cognitive abilities and complex social interactions, and should be treated with the respect and care they deserve. (World Parrot Trust / PASA)
World Parrot Trust / PASA
Stressed out and mistreated Timneh grey parrots being unpacked from crates at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. (World Parrot Trust / PASA)
World Parrot Trust / PASA
Confiscated, wild-caught African grey parrots at the Lwiro Primate Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (World Parrot Trust / PASA)
World Parrot Trust / PASA
Confiscated, wild-caught Timneh grey parrots at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. (World Parrot Trust / PASA)
World Parrot Trust / PASA
A view into the hell that these "Near Threatened" grey parrots have to go through before being quarantined for months and then condemned to a shortened life in a "bird mill". (World Parrot Trust / PASA)

Watch these YouTube videos for background information:

Read previous National Geographic News Watch blog on the trade in wild-caught African parrots:

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Steve Boyes
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.