Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

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The wild bird trade, which is where exotic birds are trapped in their natural habitats and shipped away for pets, has devastated many types of parrot species. Thankfully this practice is now illegal in much of the world, however many parrot species have the unfortunate luck as to live in countries where these laws are enforced somewhat less that stringently. Up until now, African Greys have been spared this fate. However, recent data on their populations in the 23 countries in which they reside show their numbers rapidly on the decline. In fact, they may soon be added to the official ‘red list’ of endangered species.

This past July, the trade in African Greys was reviewed in the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This is the third time that African Grey’s status has had to be evaluated due to low numbers, suggesting that existing safeguards to prevent Greys from being caught are too lax.

The plight of the African grey reflects the state of the bird trade as a whole and as the world’s major importer of wild birds, the EU should now be banning imports of all wild birds.’

The CITES meeting comes as market research commissioned by the RSPB reveals that more than 90% of people in the UK and Germany disapprove of the wild bird trade.

A succession of questions has also been tabled in Parliament asking the government to support an end to wild bird imports into the EU.

From CITES online report on African Greys:

Recorded trade levels declined markedly after 1992, from an annual average of just under 56,000 birds for 1984-1992 to around 31,000 per year for the period 1993 to 1998. They increased again, to around 41,000 per year for 1999-2003, largely owing to increased exports from Congo and Côte d’Ivoire. The dip was partly due to the United States 1992 (effective 1993) import ban on all wild individuals of this and other CITES-listed bird species (1992, US Wild Bird Conservation Act), as the country was previously a significant importer. Currently the vast majority of reported exports go to Europe, around 80% directly and a further 13% via South Africa. Post-capture, pre-export mortality estimates for the species in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria average 30-40% (overall between 15 and 66%).

This passage is important for two reasons: first, it demonstrates that trade restriction on the import side of the business has been very effective in reducing illegal trade (which the EU should certainly adopt, its unbelievable that they haven’t); and the staggering mortality rate for wild-caught birds. People–take this into consideration when you buy that pet parrot. Could you live with yourself knowing that possibly 2 other parrots died so you could have your wild-caught bird? Only buy from breeders, its the only way to be sure.

Sadly, the last time the EU suspended wild-caught trade was when there was a bird flu outbreak last year, and imported birds were suspected. The wild-caught bird trade in the EU is unpopular, detrimental to wild bird populations, and possibly hazardous. Then, why is there inaction in Europe?

‘A permanent ban would not stop pet owners keeping these birds. Parrots bred in captivity make much better pets and are better suited to life in a cage than birds caught in the wild.’

‘The UK government and the EU as a whole is playing a major role in the decline of these magnificent birds and should do all it can to initiate a permanent ban.’


  1. #1 Jonah
    November 17, 2006

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. As a grey lover, I’m very upset about this sort of thing.

  2. #2 mjh
    November 18, 2006

    and on the consumer end, consider not buying a parrot at all, but adopting one from someone who did but cannot handle her/ him, of which there are plenty.

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    November 20, 2006

    Good advice, mjh. However, go into it with eyes open that many of these abandoned parrots may have been neglected and will take a lot of patience to make into pets. However, that patience will pay off in the end!

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