It’s a cruel online trade, global and killing the lovable talking parrot

Above: African Grey Parrot. Courtesy World Animal Protection

Published: The East African 16 February – 22 February 2019

When a flock of African Grey Parrots flew overhead in Kakamega Rainforest on a recent trip to western Kenya, we were elated. In their natural forested home, the birds vanished into the canopy. It was split-second but fascinating.

To then see the African grey parrot caged like a prisoner – or any other wild creature – is sickening to the core. I have never understood people who keep exotic pets in cages instead of leaving them in their natural homes. I would love to cage these people and feed them with treats. Maybe then they would value freedom.

African Grey Parrot -Psittacus erithacus timneh-, adult on tree, native to Central Africa and West Africa, captive
African Grey Parrot -Psittacus erithacus timneh-, adult on tree, native to Central Africa and West Africa. Copyright: World Animal Protection

Unfortunately, the yen for exotic pets is on the rise – with tech-savvy traders finding that going online and using social media is easy to market their illegal wares. And it’s not only limited to African grey parrots but to anything from cheetahs to pangolins caught in the wild.

A recent report by World Animal Protection and World Parrot Trust entitled ‘Illegal online trade in endangered parrots: a ground-breaking investigation’ shows the horrific increase in the trade.

For starters, the population of the African grey parrot has crashed between

90 and 99 per cent  from 1990 to 2010.

In the international best seller, ‘Blood River – Into Africa’s Broken Heart’ by Tim Butcher on his epic journey following the River Congo in 2000 in the footsteps of the Henry Morton Stanley’s 1874 expedition, who is the first to sail the entire course of the 3,000 kilometre Congo, Butcher describes meeting a man walking from the interior of the forest, dressed in rage, carrying his sole luggage – a flock of African grey parrots tied to a branch. They are for sale in the city which would take him days to reach.

The African grey parrot is only found in the equatorial rainforest that belts across Africa’s waist. Poverty-driven citizens in war torn countries make the African grey parrot and other creatures easy target for trade that’s illegal – but earns the much needed cash.

What makes the African grey parrot so attractive as pets is their ability to mimic people. Cute and caged, they make for amusing pets.

Online to Sell

The ground breaking report shows that the online trade is rife with social media used as a marketing tool. 84 per cent of the export is from DRC with Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire sharing the rest. The importers are largely the eastern countries with Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan in the lead with China, India, Thailand and others trailing behind including the northern African countries. With little enforcement and tracking systems, it’s easy to trade.

One post showed more than 150 African grey parrots for sale online.

The report calls for urgent action by various entities including airlines, technology companies and government agencies to disrupt this horrific trade and implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Flora and Fauna (CITES) regulations to protect the globally endangered African grey parrot in its natural habitat – the last of the African rainforest.

Smuggled Out

The report shows that the parrots are largely flown out on commercial flights in terrible conditions, packed as cargo in tightly squeezed cages. Needless to say, the mortality rates are high. In one incident, on 15 August 2018, a shipment departed Kinshasa DRC via Istanbul, Turkey arriving in Kuwait two days later. Seized by customs, the documentation listed a species of bird not on the CITES list. Under CITES, trade in African grey parrots from the wild is illegal.

On the same dates, on 15 August 2018, a shipment departed Kinshasa DRC on Turkish Airlines for Beirut via Istanbul, Turkey. Over 40 were dead on arrival. One cage photographed clearly shows the Turkish Airline logo.

The list is long. The mortalities high.

Law Enforcement

The finding in the report call for governments to strengthen the regulation of trade in wildlife, and for airlines to act on their commitments through agreements such as the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce, the United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Animal Transport Association.

Above all, it needs strong public awareness that life is not to be spent behind bars.