Friday Grey Matters: Mexico Disregards Illegal Parrot Trade

i-f65b6ae90374d3986027963cb9333313-grey 1.bmp 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.

Also, listen to this interesting podcast about New Zealand's flightless parrot, the kakapo. It features an interview with Paul Jansen of the Kakapo Recovery Program. There's only 86 Kakapo left!


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Another plug for hand raised instead of wild caught birds is the disposition of the bird. We have two birds, Goose was wild caught (came to us by way of an animal shelter where his first family abandoned him), the second Cleo came from a breeder. Goose is a very neurotic parrot.

It took a great deal of work (mostly by my girlfriend before we meet) to get him at comfortable with people. Caught too young to know how to survive in the wild and too old to feel fully at home with people he plucks his feathers. He is a loving bird but he is still a broken bird despite all our efforts.

That is so sad. :( Snorgles to Goose.

Pepper goes through bouts of feather-picking too, its really common for the species (Greys) and isn't always indicative of mental distress. So my vet says. But I've noticed that he tends to do it out of jealousy or because I'm out of town or something. Its a bad habit they pick up and hard to break them of it. Alex (Irene Pepperberg's famous parrot) is the same way: picks when she's out of town. So, sometimes that strong bond they form when being hand-raised is a double-edged sword. They imprint on you for life so you gotta be sure to be around forever and spend as much time as possible with them. Pepper's a very happy bird otherwise, but that bad habit seems to surface whenever he's a little stressed.

It's sad that despite the successes of captive breeding (which also makes for fewer neurotic birds prone to screeching and biting), people still go for wild-caught parrots.

Oh, and thanks for the comments. I miss Sabah terribly. =(

Not that I wish to be annoyingly pedantic, but African Grey Parrots are not native to Mexico. :)

Well, of course. Their name suggests as much. :) The two subspecies of Greys are Congo and Timneh (some suggest there is a third or fourth even) which originate in the rain forests of Africa.

Grey Matters reports on conservation issues for all parrots, not just Greys. Illegal exporting affects all (pet) bird species as it is the receiving country (like the US or EU) that can affect the most good to stop the poaching. Increasing awareness of the illegal bird trade in consumer countries will have downstream effects on all countries which are the suppliers (hopefully).