The grey African parrot is quite the beauty, and it is intelligent too.
Its ability to mimic different words and sounds, and the fact that it has a four-year-old child’s memory have earned it the title of one of the most intelligent birds on earth.
This gift endears the parrot to many, who yearn one for a pet, with researchers saying many are trapped in urban homes, especially in Nairobi.
But the voracious demand for this bird, mainly found in Kakamega Forest, has seen its population decline rapidly.
In Kakamega Forest, which is an eastern extension of the great Congo Basin rainforest, the population of African grey parrots is estimated to be less than 20 pairs.
There are more in Senegal, Cameroon and the Democractic Republic of Congo, but even there, numbers have dropped at an alarming rate, so much so, that the birds were placed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in October 2016, prohibiting their trade.
But they are still sold, with Europe, the Middle East and China serving as the key markets, where a bird goes for up to Sh100,000.
Deforestation and habitat destruction also exposes the birds to persistent poaching. The unprecedented decline in the birds’ population is further blamed on their unregulated trade which peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, and continues today, despite a ban.
LUCRATIVE BLACK MARKET
The lucrative black market is driven by profiteering middlemen who use locals to capture the ornamental birds from the forests at a small fee.
The birds are then smuggled overseas for better profits.
CITES estimates that more than 1.5 million wild African grey parrots have been taken from their native habitats over the last 25 years, making them one of the world’s most illegally trafficked birds.
An investigation released by World Animal Protection last week revealed that the trade of the bird is exacerbated by major European airlines who despite making commitments to combat wildlife trafficking, continue to transport the birds as pets.
While people want one as an ornamental bird in their homes, wildlife campaigner, Edith Kabesiime, of World Animal Protection, warns that “once they are trapped in people’s homes there is no way to replicate the pace and freedom the birds enjoy in the forest” -- their real home.
And because the birds come in pairs, once you capture one from the wild, the other half may end up dying due to stress.
Moreover, separating the birds affects breeding, which has led to rapid population decline.
In Kenya, the exact population of parrots in the wild and in people’s homes remains unknown, as no census has been done, says Kenya Wildlife Service Assistant Director Wilson Korir.
Usually, one needs a permit from KWS to domesticate wild birds such as parrots, pigeons, quails or peacocks, but Mr Korir says that the domestication of African grey parrots cannot be permitted because they are under the threat of extinction.
“We only allow wild birds such as Guinea fowls and quails, which are treated as emerging livestock, and people can be licenced to rear them after we establish where they get their stocks,” said Mr Korir. He urged Kenyans who live in the areas where the birds are found to protect them.
Wildlife ecologist Brian Waswala, who is conducting a study on the African grey parrot, says the declining numbers present an opportunity for proper conservation to enhance the birds’ population.
“There is need for awareness to support conservation of the birds, to enhance birdwatching and tourism in areas where they are found,” said Mr Waswala.