Mexico has a lot of problems on its hands: pollution, emigration, drugs, poverty, pollution, to name a few. But Mexico also plays host to many endangered species and habitats, providing a very dangerous home to the animals lucky enough to live there. And these endangered animals, including rare parrots, have price tags: what they can fetch at market.
At the Sonora Market, a bustling bazaar, traders illegally sell animals alongside exotic herbs and folk cures in the heart of Mexico City’s often lawless center. Inside its labyrinthine corridors, conservationist Juan Carlos Cantu shudders as a vendor stuffs a rare bird into a cage. Around him, stalls are packed with endangered yellow-headed parrots, boa snakes and squirrel monkeys.
Stall holders say they can get any animal and deliver it to your home, even young jaguars, crocodiles and eagles.
“It would take an army to stop this,” whispered Cantu as he edged his way through the stalls. A policeman seemingly unconcerned at the illegal sales stood just steps away.
It is the massive scale of the parrot trade that has Cantu’s U.S.-based group Defenders of Wildlife most worried.
Mexico, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, boasts 22 types of parrots, of which half are endangered and all but two protected. Some species have fewer than 10,000 birds.
Defenders of Wildlife estimates that up to 80,000 parrots were captured illegally in Mexico last year. Cantu says 80 percent die before they are sold.
Its a similar song and dance to many other countries, where the laws exist to protect the wildlife, but are rarely (if ever) enforced. Obviously, this is decimating the parrot populations of Mexico. At least the banning of Mexican-imported parrots by the US has stopped this cruel practice:
In the 1970s and 1980s, most of Mexico’s illegally traded birds were smuggled across a porous U.S. border, often tucked in cardboard tubes and drugged with tequila to stifle their calls.
However, it is still very important to never, ever buy wild-caught birds. Don’t take a chance with pet shop birds, only buy from a licensed, trusted breeder. Talk to a vet to get a list of such people, if in doubt. Make sure the breeder tags the bird, so it will be obvious to anyone (future owners too) that the bird was born and raised inside the USA.