ZSL at CITES CoP - African grey parrots

African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus)

The downfall of a booming wildlife trade is crucial to the success of the African grey parrot, whose numbers are dwindling in the wild. In a new move to safeguard the species wildlife experts will present new proposals for their increased legal protection across the globe. 

Proposal 19 will be put forward at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) alongside other plans to minimise the cost of the billion pound wildlife trade to nature.

African grey parrot

The African grey parrot is among the most traded bird species in the world, particularly in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. Its popularity is partly due to its impressive ability to mimic sounds including human speech and these talents have become their downfall, as the global demand for owning this bird as a pet has decimated the wild populations across its range. 

Historically found across the rainforests of West and Central Africa, severe population declines have been seen in 20 of the 22 range states in which it formerly occurs including Cameroon, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ghana has seen a decline of between 95-99% of its population over the past 30 years and similar situation is ongoing in many other range states where it is now very rare or even extinct (Clemmons 2003, da Costa Lopes 2015, Martin et al. 2014, CITES 2014). 

In less than two decades, almost 750,000 wild-caught African grey and Timneh parrots have been traded internationally (UNEP-WCMC 2013), African greys making up the vast majority of these. In the late 1990’s exports from Cameroon accounted for 48% of the trade (Waugh 2010), and with some estimates suggesting up to 90% of trapped birds died even before reaching the export point of Douala airport, up to 100,000 birds per year wear being captured in Cameroon, with the likely regional total of wild-caught parrots hitting over 1 million (Birdlife International 2013). 

Parrot trapping
Parrot trapping often involves putting glue on branches

Tragically, the African grey is highly susceptible to trapping due to its sociable nature, regularly returning to the same roosting, drinking and mineral lick sites. Trapping, often occurs at roosts in palms along riverbanks and forest clearings often within protected areas. In 2016 ZSL, supported the Cameroonian wildlife department to destroy specialised parrot traps built around forest clearings within the UNESCO Dja Biosphere Reserve. Traps were made of branches smeared with glue in order to trap visiting wild parrots, attracted by the calls of previously-caught parrots. 

At CITES Parties will be discussing increased protection and trade restrictions on African Grey Parrots proposed by seven African range states including Angola, Chad, Gabon, Guina, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, alongside the E.U. 

Only two range states have current published export quotas (DRC and Cameroon).  However, there been reports of widespread use of fraudulent permits and quantities reported by importers have regularly exceeded export quotas and the number of export permits issued by range States. In 2015 following assessment of trade in the DRC the Standing Committee recommending a trade suspension from the country and similar concerns exist for Cameroon

Illegal parrot hide out
Destroying an illegal parrot hide

Given the impact the live trade is having on the wild parrot population, and in order to address and reverse the population declines, it is essential that Parties at the CoP apply full trade restrictions and that robust monitoring of wild populations is implemented.

Captive breeding is ongoing in zoos, on a commercial and private basis in Europe and elsewhere, and these efforts should be expanded in order to both meet demands and assist with re-introduction and supplementation efforts for conservation purposes. Captive-bred and reared birds are of a better temperament than wild-caught birds, more easily kept as pets, and they also do not pose the health risks associated with moving wild-caught birds across the globe.

Over harvesting resulting from poor regulation, poor management and corruption have all resulted in the decline of the African Grey Parrot, further compounded by habitat loss. ZSL recommends that Parties address this by supporting Proposal 19 and the seven African countries looking to protect this iconic species. 

(Proposal 19):  Transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I of Psittacus erithacus in accordance with Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 1. 

Paragraph C) i): A marked decline in the population size in the wild, which has been observed as ongoing. 

Paragraph C) ii): A marked decline in the population size in the wild, which has been inferred or projected on the basis of a level or pattern of exploitation and a decrease in quality of habitat and a decrease in area of habitat because of high levels of deforestation in certain areas.

ZSL briefing note on African grey parrots

PDF icon ZSL Briefing Note - African_Grey_Parrot.pdf (1.19 MB) (1.19 MB)