Brief Trade Ban Not Enough To Save Wild African Greys

"Recent reports indicate the situation seems to be worsening,?says World Parrot Trust expert. BirdChannel takes a look into the wild African grey bird trade.

Today is a HUGE day for wild African Grey Parrots! The CITES Secretariat has issued a trade suspension for all CITES…

Posted by World Parrot Trust on Thursday, March 19, 2015

The World Parrot Trust’s annoucement on their Facebook page when the trade ban went into effect.

Since July 22, 2012, when it delivered a petition with 42,000 signatures representing 130 countries, the World Parrot Trust, an international non-profit organization, has been pressuring the body charged with enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to suspend trade in threatened parrots from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the middle of last month, the World Parrot Trust? wish was granted?or a few short weeks.

Highly intelligent with advanced verbal abilities, African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus or Congo Africna greys) are in extremely high demand as pets and this has led to their rapid decline in the wild. They are now reported at very low numbers throughout vast portions of their natural range. Dr. Rowan Martin, Manager of the World Parrot Trust’s Africa Conservation Programme, said, “Following the decline in exports from all other range states, the DRC is now the primary exporter of Grey parrots.”

 This is true for both legal and illegal exports, “which generally go hand in hand in the parrot trade,” he noted. “DRC has consistently exported more parrots than its quota allows, but CITES has taken no meaningful action to address this.?lt;/span>

No effective regulation of trapping exists, and trappers and traders operate openly with little fear of law enforcement.

In fact, as the BirdChannel previously reported in 2012, “From 2005 to 2010, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has exported more than 3,100 individuals in excess of their CITES approved quota.?

Martin confirms this is still a serious issue. “Very large numbers of parrots are being trapped in parts of DRC, many of which will be exported with falsified permits and others will be exported without any kind of permit,?he said.

The World Parrot Trust has been working with the Lukuru Foundation, which has been conducting investigations into the trade in Orientale and Maniema Provinces in DRC since 2013. Martin reports, “The numbers of trappers and traders in the area has increased in the last few years following declines in wild populations in other parts of the country. Lukuru? research estimated that in 2013, 12,000 to 18,000 Grey parrots were trapped in one province alone. The annual export quota for the whole of DRC is 5,000.?Martin states, “No effective regulation of trapping exists, and trappers and traders operate openly with little fear of law enforcement.?lt;/span>

As Martin observes, the legal trade gives cover to the illegal trade, as forged documents allow illegal sources of birds to mix with and contaminate legal source streams. Often the African grey parrots captured in the wild and illegally trafficked fare terribly. Trappers of wild birds motivated solely by profit can be cruel and careless, and the means of transport are rough and dangerous. Because of their intelligence and emotional sensitivity, many African greys experience shock and trauma at being ripped from their home environment and imprisoned in small, crowded cages.

African Greys

Many of the African greys caught and sold illegally do not survive the journey to the black market. In one example, out of a shipment of 108 birds trafficked out of the Congo in 2013 and confiscated by customs officials in Bulgaria, only 17 of the parrots survived. These were released into the wild by the World Parrot Trust and renowned conservationist Jane Goodall, and now live in a forest sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees on Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria. Estimates put the mortality rate between capture and export specifically from DRC at 45-65%. According to a 2003 report by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, from 1982-2001, 657,000 individuals entered international trade. Although this high mortality rate makes it difficult to determine the exact number of African greys taken from the wild, experts say that total may be over 1 million. Some sources put this estimate much higher, at more than 2 million since 1975. The breakdown of the numbers is staggering [GRAPHIC IMAGE WARNING: this link contains disturbing images].

Taking these statistics into account, the 17 parrots rescued by the World Parrot Trust and its partners in Uganda are incredibly lucky. Dr. Martin was able to provide an update on their condition after their release into the wild. “Our colleagues in Uganda report the parrots are doing well and are regularly seen on the island,?he says. “They are no longer dependent on the food that was provided in the first few months following release.?lt;/span>

CITES granted these vulnerable birds a brief reprieve in March, in the form of an order to suspend trade with DRC. This suspension was not in response to the World Parrot Trust? petition, but rather was brought about in the service of another gray African species, the elephant.

Due to the recent attention on the illegal ivory trade, and amid warnings from researchers that, “elephants, a keystone species across sub-Saharan Africa, could be virtually extinct across most of their range by 2020,?CITES, at its July 2014 meeting, ordered 11 countries to submit national ivory action plans by October of last year. Despite repeated reminders issued in January and February of 2015 several countries did not submit the required action plans.

The deadline was extended until March 14, 2015. CITES met again in January to consider the situation and, in its intersessional recommendations, announced that countries that failed to meet the extended deadline would face trade bans on all CITES listed species, not only elephants.

By March 14, Nigeria, Laos, and DRC had still not submitted their national ivory action plans (NIAP) and on March 19 CITES issued formal notice to all state parties that it had placed these countries on a trade ban list and that all member states should enforce the ban against trade with these three countries.

Although this recent suspension has resulted from the countries?failure to act on matters related to illegal elephant poaching, the benefits for African grey parrots of a long-term ban could have been significant. A ban on trade with DRC for all CITES listed species would mean CITES member countries could not import African greys from the country at all until the suspension was lifted. Unfortunately, CITES lifted the suspension only one month later, on April 15, 2015.

Lukuru? research estimated that in 2013, 12,000 to 18,000 Grey parrots were trapped in one province alone. The annual export quota for the whole of DRC is 5,000.

CITES formally notified state parties that “On 6 April 2015, the Secretariat received an adequate national ivory action plan from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.?It further advised, “The Secretariat therefore informs Parties that the recommendation to suspend commercial trade in specimens of CITES-listed species with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is withdrawn with immediate effect.?And with that, any potential for reprieve for African grey parrots (and elephants) in the DRC, no matter how tenuous, came to an abrupt end. Dr. Martin observes, “The temporary ban last month will have had almost no impact on the ground.?

In fact, according to Martin, “Recent reports indicate the situation seems to be worsening. WPT are working with the Lukuru Foundation to understand how the situation is changing and work with local authorities to identify opportunities to bring trapping and trade under control.?

Due to the export of so many excess thousands of birds each year, WPT believes research findings regarding wild populations warrant a change in status. Dr. Martin asserts that “an important step towards arresting the decline in wild populations will be to end the legal commercial trade in wild caught Grey parrots through placing Grey parrots on Appendix I of CITES.?lt;/span>

To this end, he adds, “we are working hard to ensure that the issues are on the agenda of all CITES meetings. Recent information on the status of populations and the impact of trade supports previous evidence, building an even stronger case that the species meets the criteria for this much-needed level of protection.?lt;/span>

Learn more: 

Meet The World Parrot Trust 

Article Categories: