Conservation news

Video: Thousands of illegally caught African gray parrots being rehabilitated

African gray parrots at the rescue centre. Image from video courtesy of WCS.

  • The Wildlife Conservation Society has released a video showing seized African gray parrots being treated at a rescue facility built specially for the rehabilitation of these birds.
  • The birds were collected from the wild in the Republic of the Congo, and were most likely being smuggled to markets in Europe and the Middle East.
  • So far, the WCS team has rehabilitated and released almost 900 parrots back into the wild.

Thousands of African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus), seized from traffickers in Republic of the Congo by rangers, are being treated at a rescue centre built specially for the rehabilitation of these birds, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced Tuesday. The group released a video showing footage of some of the rescued birds at the facility built by WCS.

The confiscated parrots were most likely being moved to Democratic Republic of the Congo, WCS said, from where the birds would be smuggled to markets in Europe and the Middle East.

African gray parrots are extremely talented mimics. They are also one of the world’s most trafficked birds. Trapped illegally from the wild for the international pet trade, the bird has suffered catastrophic decline across its range. Close to 99 percent of African gray parrots have been wiped out from Ghana’s forests since 1992, for instance, a 2015 study found. These birds are also being stolen from forests across the Republic of the Congo, conservationists say.

“Traffickers are vacuuming up African gray parrots from Africa’s forests,” Emma Stokes, WCS Regional Director for Central Africa, said in a statement. “This heartbreaking footage should serve as a wake-up call to any prospective buyers of parrots to avoid them unless they come from a highly reputable dealer and you are absolutely certain they were bred in captivity and not taken from the wild.”

African gray parrot. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.

Trapping the hyper-social African gray parrots in the wild is not hard. Collectors go deep into the forests, climb trees, and tie up bunches of glue-coated palm leaves to the tree canopy. They also tie up a couple of captive African gray parrots next to the sticky branches. Once the decoy birds start calling, curious wild parrots come down in large flocks and land on the palm branches. The glue sticks to their feathers, and unable to fly, the birds fall to the ground. The parrots are then packed together in small cages and smuggled abroad.

Many gray parrots do not make the journey. They succumb to injuries or die from stress or other illnesses. Parrots that do get rescued from the traffickers provide hope for the species. But they need to be treated quickly if they are to be saved, Stokes told Mongabay.

The first priority, she said, is to reduce the parrots’ physical and mental stress, and stabilize their condition. This is because mortality of these birds is highest during and immediately after the confiscation. Once at the rehabilitation centre, the birds are medically treated by veterinarians and cared for until they are deemed fit for release to the wild, Stokes added. Often, traffickers clip the wing feathers of the parrots, and these birds require longer periods of rehabilitation.

So far, the rescue team has released almost 900 parrots back into the wild.

“From the past releases we believe that the parrots do successfully,” Stokes said. “Many of them continue to return to the cage site to roost at night.”

Veterinarians and bird experts from WCS’s Bronx Zoo have been providing expertise on the parrots’ care.

“The WCS Congo veterinary staff is making heroic efforts to save as many parrots as possible, and we were honored to provide our expertise and assistance,” said David Oehler, Curator for Ornithology with WCS’s Bronx Zoo.

Last year, at a conservation meeting in South Africa, protection for the African gray parrot was increased to the highest level. The species was included in the Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits all international commercial trade in wild-caught African gray parrots. However, the trade ban cannot be effective without proper enforcement, WCS said.

WCS plans to open a second rehabilitation centre soon. The group is also working with the Congolese government to investigate trafficking networks and improve patrolling. The group has also launched a campaign to garner support for their work.

Banner image of African gray parrots at the rescue centre in the Republic of the Congo. Image captured from video provided by WCS.