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Meyer’s Parrots in the Okavango Delta

By Steve Boyes
Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Photographs © Steve Boyes

Most of the Meyer’s in captivity are specimens of the subspecies in Tanzania (P.m. matschiei), some P.m. saturatus, and a few crossbreeds in between. However, some specimens have been found in European collections with no yellow markings on the crown, thus indicating the presence of the subspecies in the Okavango Delta (P.m. damarensis) or the subspecies to the north of Angola (P.m. reichnowi).  These birds are of unknown origin, possibly from early 20th century colonists.

If hand-raised, the Meyer’s Parrot becomes an amazing pet, and can be allowed to fly freely -always to return to feed.  Like the African Grey, the Meyer’s can be taught to talk, and is able to mimic other birds, human laughter, tunes and domestic animals.

Poicephalus parrots are becoming more and more popular, as more and more enter the European and American markets.  The Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is the most common pet Poicephalus parrot in the United States, due to high trade levels, and has functioned to spark interest in other African species, such as the Meyer’s, thus encouraging the exports that were seen from Tanzania in 1987.  This growing demand for live-caught parrots and hand-reared nestlings is such that we need to look at controls to ensure sustainable and humane harvesting of wild Meyer’s Parrots.

Recently, on a field trip up into Zambia to the South Luangwa National Park, to investigate the interaction of the Lillian’s Lovebird and the Meyer’s Parrot in the region, and to spend some time with the subspecies of Meyer’s Parrot present in the valley, we found that Meyer’s Parrot was not as abundant as it used to be in the region.  Why?

South Luangwa is situated in the Luangwa Valley, formed through the extension of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa millions of years ago.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of human encroachment around the park, and levels of poaching in the 80’s and 90’s were such that approximately

85,000 elephants were shot by the end of the genocide.  Removing elephants from the ecosystem has resulted in massive changes to the vegetation in the valley, thus changing the dynamic in the park.

In the two weeks in the park we sighted only two breeding pairs of Meyer’s in the late evening, while thousands of Lillian’s Lovebirds were sighted.  Upon leaving the park, we found three live-caught fledgling Meyer’s Parrots for sale.  These birds were in poor condition and were surely going to die.  Agricultural lands surround the park and the Meyer’s has been seen on the grain fields, thus encouraging the local community to catch and brutally kill them.

Based on the limited sightings, the species may be in trouble in the valley, and assistance is required.  Similar scenes were observed upon visiting the villages to the north of the Okavango Delta, towards the “Panhandle”, in December 2004, however there has not been a noticeable decline in the numbers of parrots in the Okavango Basin over the two years the project has been running.  Nowhere in the Okavango Basin did we see parrots being offered for sale, possibly due the fact that a market had never been set up.


So, as is the case with most parrots, our growing love and interest for a species creates a market that could possibly threaten wild populations.  We need to find viable solutions that invest local people in conservation, and, on a sustainable basis, supply the pet trade with wild genes for the captive breeding programs.  The 2007 fieldwork on the breeding program will provide us with the data we need to produce a manual for breeders of the Meyer’s Parrot.

As is apparent, intervention has become essential, but to do this we need a solution.  The Meyer’s Parrot Project proposes to design (according to specifications from the field observations, nest temperature data and wild nest hole dimensions) and test nest boxes that could be used by local communities for use in the sustainable harvesting of fledglings or eggs (depending on the availability of electricity and resources).  Nest boxes could be used to harvest one or two eggs from each clutch, always allowing two eggs to remain.  These eggs could then be hand raised, providing for a tame and pleasant pet, and a bird from a wild, traceable gene pool for the breeders.

All of this could be achieved without the live capture of adult or fledging birds, which could have been tending to nests, and will turn into unpleasant houseguests.  Projects such as this, if nothing else, create awareness for the species concerned, and protect them indirectly from persecution due to misconceptions and unnecessary actions.

It is often the case that we intervene too late to save species, and thus I call for us to secure this parrot species for future generations.  Now, while the parrot is still stable, is our opportunity, and the Meyer’s Parrot Project is the forum and driving force.


If any person or agency would like to contribute as a donor or provide technical assistance (eg DNA sequencing) to the Meyer’s Parrot Project, then they can contact me on  [email protected] or Prof Mike Perrin on [email protected].

The Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is a registered non-profit organisation to which tax-deductible donations can be made, and is experienced in administering research grants and donations to the fund.  For assistance in providing a tax-deductible charitable donation, please contact Amos Eno of the Resource First Foundation on [email protected].

For further information on the Meyer’s Parrot, and notification as to when the findings are published, please contact me via e-mail at the above address.

Dr Steve Boyes obtained a Masters degree in Environmental Development (Protected Areas Management) at the University of Natal, South Africa, in 2002. His passion has always been wilderness. As a result, the call of the bush was too strong and, after a few years working as a biodiversity consultant, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to move to the Okavango Delta, Botswana, to work as a safari guide and camp manager.

Shortly after arriving in Botswana, he set up the Meyer’s Parrot Project and began data collection for his PhD Zoology, which he recently completed with no corrections. Steve’s passion for African parrot conservation is contagious and he has conducted seminars and talks at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, California (Berkeley) and Colorado, as well as the Bronx Zoo and several local and international conferences.

He spent the whole of 2006 in Prof Steve Beissinger’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, where he established a strong working relationship with the US parrot conservation community. Steve is currently taking up a DST/NRF Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. His postdoctoral research will be on the conservation biology of the Critically Endangered Cape Parrot in South Africa, his home country.

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