How illegal trade is wiping out the African Grey Parrot

Thursday February 14 2019

African Grey Parrot. What makes the parrots so attractive as pets is their ability to mimic people. Cute and caged, they make for amusing pets. PHOTO | COURTESY


When A flock of African Grey Parrots flew overhead in Kakamega Rainforest in western Kenya, we were elated.

In their natural habitat, the birds vanished into the canopy. It was split-second but fascinating sighting.

To then see the African Grey Parrot caged like a prisoner — or any other wild creature — is sickening to the core.

I have never understood people who keep exotic pets in cages instead of leaving them in their natural homes. I would love to cage these people and feed them with treats. Maybe then they would value freedom.

Unfortunately, the yen for exotic pets is on the rise — with tech-savvy traders finding that using social media is easy to market their illegal wares.

It is not limited to the African Grey Parrot but to anything from cheetahs to pangolins caught in the wild.


A report by World Animal Protection and World Parrot Trust titled “Illegal online trade in endangered parrots: A groundbreaking investigation” shows the horrific increase in the trade.

The population of the African Grey Parrot has crashed by between 90 and 99 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

In the international bestseller, Blood River — Into Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher, about his epic journey following the River Congo in 2000 in the footsteps of the Henry Morton Stanley’s 1874 expedition, Mr Butcher describes meeting a man in the forest, dressed in rags, carrying a flock of African Grey Parrot tied to a branch. They are for sale in the city, which would take him days to reach.

The African Grey Parrot is only found in the equatorial rainforest that belts across Africa’s waist.

Poverty-driven citizens in war-torn countries make the parrot and other creatures easy targets for trade that is illegal.

What makes African Grey Parrots so attractive as pets is their ability to mimic people. Cute and caged, they make for amusing pets.

Online to Sell

The report shows that the online trade is rife with social media used as a marketing tool. Some 84 per cent of the export is from DRC with Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire sharing the rest.

Importers are largely Pakistan, Turkey and Jordan in the lead with China, India, Thailand and others trailing behind, including the North African countries. With little enforcement and lack of tracking systems, it is easy to trade.

One post showed more than 150 African grey parrots for sale online.

The report calls for action by including airlines, technology companies and government agencies to disrupt this trade and implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Flora and Fauna regulations to protect the endangered parrot in its natural habitat.

The parrots are largely flown out on commercial flights in terrible conditions, packed as cargo in tightly squeezed cages. Needless to say, the mortality rates are high and many are dead on arrival.

In one incident, on 15 August 2018, a shipment departed Kinshasa, DR Congo via Istanbul, Turkey, arriving in Kuwait two days later.

Seized by Customs, the documentation listed a species of bird not on the Cites list. Under Cites, trade in the African Grey Parrot from the wild is illegal.

On the same dates, a shipment departed Kinshasa on Turkish Airlines for Beirut via Istanbul. Over 40 were dead on arrival. One cage photographed clearly shows the Turkish Airline logo.

The list is long. The mortalities high.

Law Enforcement

The finding in the report call for governments to strengthen the regulation of trade in wildlife, and for airlines to act on their commitments through agreements such as the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce, the United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, the International Air Transport Association and the Animal Transport Association.

Above all, it needs strong public awareness that life is not to be spent behind bars.