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Home » 2010 - Issue 1, In the Wild, Issue

Recent capture and trade of wild African Grey Parrots - with special reference to Cameroon

By David Waugh
Loro Parque Fundación

African Greys awaiting exportation © Simon Tamungang

In recent decades a high level of capture and legal trade in wild African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) has occurred. A major exporting country has been Cameroon, with official statistics from 1981 to 2005 showing that it exported 367,166 individuals, with a yearly average of 15,299.

From 1990 to 1996, it exported 48% of the African Grey Parrots of all countries in Africa. From 1993 to 2006, the official CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) annual export quota for this species from Cameroon had remained 12,000.

The high volume of trade and consistent exceeding of the quota, led to concern over the impact on wild populations, which led the Animals Committee of CITES to call for scientific-based field surveys of wild populations, and the development of National and Regional Management Plans, before resuming any trade.  This was in line with its recommendation to institute a moratorium on exports of P. erithacus from Cameroon for two years, from January 2007.

Confiscated heads of African Greys destined for traditional ritual © WWF Jengi Project

Restrictive measures were also recommended for certain other exporting countries within the natural geographical range of the species.  In 2006, to help with the assessment of the situation in Cameroon, the Loro Parque Fundación commenced its financial support to a sustainable trade and conservation project, led by Dr Simon Tamungang, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Wildlife Management at the University of Dschang, Cameroon.

During the period in question, as a protective measure for livestock and human health, the European Union decided to prohibit the importation of wild-caught birds, effective from 1st July 2007.

In relation to these restrictions, what is happening now with capture and trade of African Grey Parrots?

I analyzed the official figures (the CITES figures reported by the member countries) on international trade in wild-caught live specimens, and the results are presented in Tables 1, 2 and 3. These figures exclude quantification of numbers of specimens trapped, traded with other countries illegally, and traded or exploited in other ways within national borders.

From the figures in the tables (right), several comments can be made. There is an overall decline in the legal wild-caught African Grey Parrots in international trade, both in terms of numbers of countries exporting and importing (down to half the number), and in terms of the number of parrots exported and imported (more than a 4-fold decrease).

There is an almost 7-fold decrease in the imports into Europe. The figures do not support the hypothesis of an increase in legal imports into Asia and the Middle East corresponding to the decrease in imports into Europe.

Some additional specific comments can be made. In these figures, South Africa accounts for 92.7% of all imports into African countries, and accounts for 99% of the higher re-export figure in 2007. Of the continuing imports into Europe in 2007 and 2008, 99.1% are accounted for by Serbia, a country not directly affected by the EU prohibition. The Asian and Middle Eastern countries still showing signs of substantial imports in 2007 and 2008 are Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan and Singapore.

The downward pressure exerted by CITES on export quotas appears to have had an effect, with a notable drop, even in 2006, of African Grey Parrots legally exported from Cameroon. Establishment of the quotas for 2007 and 2008 are noted as being in preparation, but Dr Tamungang reports that, as a result of Cameroon not submitting the management plan to CITES, the annual quota was first reduced to 6,000, and to zero in the following year. The quota remains at zero pending the production and submission of the document by the Cameroon government.

Dr Tamungang also reports that the restrictions have caused varied reactions among trappers and exporters in Cameroon. Some of the traders with good international connections apparently have found ways to export their birds to Asian countries. Others have auctioned birds locally, while others smuggled their birds to neighbouring countries, where they are sold to parrot traders now at a better price than in Cameroon.

Research confirms that the parrot trappers receive the smallest economic share from trade, but, given their minimal economic base, the financial threshold to switch to other exploitation is also low. In this context, the project reports that trappers are turning to killing the parrots and trading their body parts, which will now fetch a price as acceptable as trade in live birds.

Obtaining sufficient information of this kind, to make reliable estimates and reveal trends, is risky, and takes time to accumulate. Meanwhile the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife in Cameroon is still in the process of issuing a public tender for the work to result in the required management plan.

TABLE 1. Gross exports of live wild-caught
African Gray Parrots (click to enlarge)

TABLE 2. Gross imports of live wild-caught
African Gray Parrots (click to enlarge)

TABLE 3. Live wild-caught African Grey
Parrots from some exporting range countries:
CITES export quotas and official actual numbers
exported  (click to enlarge)

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