Considered one of the most illegally trafficked birds, about 21% of African grey parrots are poached every year, according to Canada-based World Animal Protection – an animal welfare non-profit organization.
Due to their long lifespan, extreme intelligence, and sociability, they are in great demand in Europe, America, Asia, and Middle East.
Conservationists believe that a recent Ugandan court order sentencing a Congolese national Bob Mbaya Kabongo to seven years imprisonment for smuggling 122 African grey parrots, within a month of his arrest has raised hope for the preservation of these parrots.
Kabongo was arrested after crossing into Uganda through the Bunagana border village, more than 300 kilometers from the capital, Kampala, with two cages containing 122 birds, according to authorities.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Andrew Mukalasa, a senior warden at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), said the poachers have been exporting fewer parrots due to strict mechanisms, as his organization is keeping an eye on the animal trade networks.
In 2011 UWA arrested a woman from DR Congo with more than 130 African grey parrots.
“A year later, we seized 270 African grey parrots from two places -- one at the border and another near Uganda’s international airport of Entebbe,” he said.
James Watuwa, a veterinarian at Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC), said three parrots had died and two of them injured, when they apprehended the poacher, Kabongo.
UWEC is the national designated Wildlife Rescue Centre and has the mandate for the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, confiscated, or orphaned wild animals.
Native to the rainforests of East, Central, and West Africa, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Fauna and Flora (CITES) declared these parrots an endangered species in 2016. Last year, however, the Kenyan government held a short amnesty, during which grey parrot owners could pay a fee to obtain a permit for their birds and facilitate legal ownership.
- Habitat in danger
Mukalasa said African grey parrots are in great danger from poachers as rich people are paying hefty sums to display them in cages as a status symbol.
He said one African grey parrot is sold for more than 1 million Ugandan shillings ($298).
“The African grey parrot is the most intelligent bird in the world. Ornithologists say that its intelligence is equivalent to that of a five-year-old child. Apart from having high mimicking skills, it also can identify colors,” he said.
Besides poaching, the parts face danger from their depleting habitat as well.
The 13th UN Biodiversity Conference (COP13) held in Mexico in 2016 had said that the destruction of forests in DR Congo, Central Africa, Burundi, Liberia, Guinea, Rwanda, Togo, and Uganda is affecting the population of parrots.
“Poaching, smuggling, and selling of African grey parrots is unacceptable, illegal and whoever is caught will be arrested and prosecuted in courts of law,” said Bashir Hangi spokesman for UWA.
The executive director of UWA, Sam Mwandha, said his country is determined to bring an end to the smuggling of African grey parrots and will not allow Uganda to be used as a transit.
He claimed that Uganda has built the capacity to combat wildlife crime and is now in a good position to detect and deter trafficking.