Strict regulations requiring that all parrots sold within the USA be captive-bred have been very effective in controlling the trade in wild-caught birds, and in spurring captive breeding efforts in this country. So it came as quite a surprise to learn that both legal and illegal collecting is still taking a significant toll on wild African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Studies showing declines in most of the 23 countries in which this magnificent bird occurs have sparked a review of its CITES and IUCN listings.
The Continuing Trade in Wild Parrots
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) statistics show that 360,000 African gray parrots were legally exported from Africa between 1994 and 2003, 93% of which went to Europe. This is also surprising, given that adults trapped in the wild make poor pets, and chicks are difficult to ship safely.
These figures do not take illegally collected birds into account, and there is no way to access the environmental havoc caused by the felling of nest trees (a common collecting technique).
Proposed Conservation Initiatives
In view of the fact that current quotas have failed to protect the African gray parrot, CITES will review the matter when its members meet in July of 2009, and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) may reclassify the species as “endangered”. One nation within the parrot’s range, Angola, is not a CITES member and hence would be unaffected by any decisions rendered.
Leading conservationists are calling for a ban on all exports of wild-caught African gray parrots. European Union nations temporarily suspended the importation of African gray parrots in 2008, after several wild-caught individuals were found to be infected with a lethal form of avian flu.
Please see my article on the Natural History of the African Gray Parrot for further information on this species in the wild.
You can read the most recent CITES report on the status of wild African gray parrots at http://www.cites.org/eng/com/AC/22/E22-10-2-A1.pdf.