South Africa’s Cape Parrot: A Story of People and Parrots Over Many Generations…

South Africa’s national parrot, a story of people and parrots over many generations, is wonderfully documented in this 14-minute insert on the Cape Parrot Project for a popular conservation TV show on the national broadcaster. This important video by Zach Vincent provides a unique view into community-based conservation actions aimed at stimulating positive change for Cape parrots in the wild. Governments and NGOs around the world must invest local communities in the restoration of degraded indigenous habitat and the preservation of endangered species. Community-based conservation has been the only solution for threatened species and landscapes around the world for the last 50 years. The days of “fences and fines” are now over and we are only just realizing this… We need to work together as a global community connected like never before, sharing and caring towards a better, more diverse future… Endangered species like the Cape parrot are the “canary in the coal mine” and herald much greater problems that may even threaten our persistence on this planet…


A shining example of a female Cape Parrot in flight... This is the future of the species and we need to make sure she has a safe place to live and has access to food yearround. (Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)
A shining example of a female Cape Parrot in flight… This is the future of the species and we need to make sure she has a safe place to live and has access to food yearround. (Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, World Parrot Trust, National Geographic and Conservation International provided the core funding for the Cape Parrot Project and made our mission to save Africa’s most endangered parrot a possibility. Cape parrots are threatened by the wholesale degradation of South Africa’s Afromontane forest patches, their persecution as crop pest, and their subsequent introduction to the wild-caught bird trade. By the 1960s and 70s, the remaining Cape parrots had very little of their specialist food, the yellowwood fruit, and the remaining local populations turned on pecan orchards that had been established throughout their range. With very few large yellowwood trees remaining, government officials in South Africa decided to target all the dead and dying yellowwood trees remaining in the landscape, while regulating the removal of large, living yellowwoods through a permit system. This precipitated the systematic removal of ancient Cape parrot nest cavities used by multiple generations, thus pulling the rug from under this Afromontane forest specialist. There are now less than 1,000 remaining in the wild, all of which are under threat from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) epidemic that we have been studying for the last 3 years. PBFD is a debilitating circovirus that strips the parrot of all feathers and eventually breaks the beak. The virus attacks the immune system and is killing the last-remaining Cape parrots every autumn. We need to do everything we can to guarantee that these shining, amazing parrots are screeching loudly above the yellowwood forests of South Africa forever.


Rodnick Biljon
Female Cape parrot feeding on the nutritious, oily kernel of the yellowwood fruit. This consumption has been linked to breeding successes in the 2009/2010 breeding season. This fruit also has strong anti-microbial action that could help stave off beak and feather disease infection… (Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


The Wild Bird Trust and Percy FitzPatrick Institute has embarked on a multi-generational initiative that needs to see all South Africans rally behind our national parrot. To make this possible we need you to help us… Spread the word in your local community by sharing this story on Facebook, via email, or through your Twitter feed. Have a private benefit dinner, a raffle, or simply ask our friends to donate to the Cape Parrot Project. People around the world must understand that there the loss of an important species like the Cape parrot will herald the beginning of the end. If we cannot atone for what we have done to these forests and the parrots, we will never be able to correct the global imbalances and chronic species loss that threaten our society as we know it today.


Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project
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 Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


National Geographic video on Cape Parrot Project:


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 / Cape Parrot Project)


National Geographic “On Assignment” news piece on Cape Parrot Project:


Steve Boyes / Cape Parrot Project
Cape Parrot with advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. It was early autumn and this parrot died due to exposure a few days after this photograph was taken. (Steve Boyes / Cape Parrot Project)


“Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot Revealed Like Never Before…”:


Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project
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 Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


Introduction to Cape Parrot Project:


Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project
Absolutely stunning portrait of a proud, wild Cape parrot sitting in a Cape lilac tree (often erroneous called a syringa tree). These yellow fruits are thought to be poison, but the parrots have been recorded eating them for over 50 years. (Rodnick Clifton Biljon / Cape Parrot Project)


Community-based conservation work being done:


Steve Boyes / Cape Parrot Project
Hala Village in the valleys below Hogsback Mountain where Cape parrots used to feed on yellowwood fruits, Celtis fruits, wild olives, and wild plums before they were chopped out by greedy colonists or burnt under communal land ownership. We have now planted thousands of indigenous fruit trees in “Cape Parrot Community Orchards” in several villages, fencing them off to protect them from livestock and paying local communities to care for them as the custodians of these forest plots. We have also launched a micro-nursery program that builds small tree nurseries for ten households in the village, which are stocked with yellowwood seedlings that must be grown up to planting size. These partnerships are all going from strength to strength. (Steve Boyes / Cape Parrot Project)


We would like to take this opportunity to thank our funders, sponsors and partners in the Cape Parrot Project, including: Prins Bernhard Natuurfonds, Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, Mazda Wildlife Fund, Abax Foundation, Rance Timber, University of Fort Hare, Cape Parrot Working Group, BirdLife Border, Border Rural Committee, and many charitable donors from around the world… Please help us find new sources of funding to support sustained growth in the work of the Cape Parrot Project.


Please consider donating to the Cape Parrot Project via World Parrot Trust or Wild Bird Trust (Ref: CPP)… 100% of donations go to the Cape Parrot Project!!!



Meet the Author
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.