After going through the IUCN reports yesterday I was shocked to read Glaucia’s latest blog post from Brazil about 225 MORE baby parrots seized - this was in addition to the 400 parrots seized earlier. Parrots, are among the most intelligent birds. Their popularity stems mostly from their ability to mimic human voices. This site tries to match your needs with the characteristics of differn parrot types – criteria include ‘noise level”, “talking ability”, and “cuddliness”. According to the site, the Amazon Blue fronted and it’s relatives all score high on these criteria – and all will live to at least 50 years of age (African Grey parrots go up to 60). They are popular because like dogs they bond with indivduals.
Because of these factors, and perhaps the declining sociability of people, the popularity of keeping parrots as pets is growing and as a result they are subjected to more exploitation than any other group of birds. A study done in Tanzania a few years ago revealed that only 1 in 100 taken from the wild actually makes it to a pet store!
Why would anyone get into such business? Money of course. Amazon parrots sell for $600 while African Greys go for 900 according to this website . Even if the poacher in Africa only gets 1/100th of the price for each parrot, it’s worth it – afterall, most people survive on less than 1$ per day. I believe that it is these prices that drive the illegal trade.
While working for the KWS I discovered that thousands of parrots are held illegally in Kenya – most are caught by children in neighbouring countries, transported by dealers and arrive over the borders quietly in bags and tubes. They are purchased and kept clandestinely by wealthy people, some get exported. Everyone knows it’s illegal so to avoid detection by the authorities many are kept in small cages in back rooms… resulting in serious maltreatment and are sometimes kept in deplorable conditions. Talking to the owners I realised that these were not bad people, they loved the parrots, they felt that they had ‘rescued’ the bird from certain death…..they didn’t understand why they were being victimized. They had also bonded very strongly with these charismatic birds and considered them a member of the family.
If the person left Kenya they could not take the parrot as it did not have ‘papers’ so they would leave it with a well wisher …and so the cycle continued.
When I met I met Jane Goodall she told me about her experiences with African Greys. She believes that they don’t just mimic, that they are intelligent enough to actually ‘talk’. She told me this story which is apparently related in this book “Of Parrots and People: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collisions of Two Intelligent Species.”..in a review of the book in the Los Angeles Times state “Jane Goodall learned of one such New York parrot and scheduled a visit. In advance of her arrival, the “parront” (a parrot’s human “parent”) showed the parrot pictures of the primatologist with chimpanzees and explained her work. When Goodall arrived, the parrot looked at her and asked, “Got a chimp?”
Ie. they say things for a purpose. Dr Goodall is not alone in this thinking. Though there are many skeptics out there, I agree with the view that parrots are special and intelligent. This story of a lost parrot that told the police it’s name and address convinces me.
KWS rules were to conduct an all out seizure of all these thousands of illegal parrots but we knew that nobody had the means to look after them if they were seized. So we turned a blind eye. After I met Jane I decided to take her advice and began planning to offer an amnesty to those who came clean – to enable parrot keepers to get papers which would allow them to take care of these special birds more openly, get veterinary support, and start a parrot owners association that would set standards, advise, and provide networks for parrot lovers, plus provide the much needed register of birds and owners to prevent them from returning into trade illegally. I also wanted to build a huge aviary so that any owners who wanted to let go of their parrot could do so and create an environment for the parrots to live in a flock. Once big enough a flock could be returned to a suitable safe place in the wild.
My colleagues at the KWS however didn’t agree with me – they felt that an amnesty would drive further illegal trade further and lead to even more poaching. I could see that but if the only solution was to arrest and charge anyone with a parrot – the trade would remained underground and parrots would continue to suffer, and we’d never get information on the scale of the trade.
After I left the Wildlife Service the status quo remained. I think about the parrots situation all the time and wonder whether the amnesty would have helped. I wonder what we should have done.
If you had the power to decide… what would you do?