Home | Bird Conservation | Good News for African Gray Parrots – A Conservation Milestone

Good News for African Gray Parrots – A Conservation Milestone

Adult in wild

Image uploaded to Wikipedia by Snowmanradio

Despite clear evidence that African Gray Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are declining in the 23 countries to which they are native, conservation horror stories continue to mount.  Recently, for example, 750 parrots died on board an airplane in South Africa, and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo returned 500+ wild-caught birds to smugglers.  So it was a pleasure to read that Uganda has recently taken a giant step forward in parrot conservation.  For the first time ever, African Gray Parrots seized in Europe have been returned to the wild.  The historic 3-year effort also illustrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation between governments, zoos, airlines and conservation organizations.

Can 32 Birds Make a Difference?

Conservationists estimate that at least ¼ of the adult population of wild African Gray Parrots are trapped each year. The return of 32 birds to the wild in Uganda may, therefore, seem to be insignificant.  However, I believe that the operation’s value goes well beyond the number of birds that were rescued.
For too long, wildlife criminals have operated with near impunity once they managed to get parrots and other African wildlife out of the continent.  Cooperation with unscrupulous officials in Africa and abroad, and the inability of under-funded law enforcement agencies to compete, have kept convictions low and penalties inconsequential.  Uganda’s dogged determination to see justice done has recently broken new ground, and has hopefully set a standard for neighboring countries to follow.

A Conservation “First”

The parrots in question were illegally trapped in Uganda in 2010.  They were routed through Lebanon and were eventually seized in Bulgaria.  Uganda has a history of releasing confiscated wildlife, but no African country has ever been able to locate, seize and return to the wild parrots that have been shipped to another continent.  The costs are prohibitive, and expertise in the laws of several countries, and in international law, is essential.  In addition, a core group of people must be in place long term, as even where there is no question that the birds were illegally removed from the wild, the process usually takes several years (over 3, in this instance).

In this case, everything came together in a way that has not been seen in the past.  Financial assistance was provided by Qatar Airlines and the World Parrot Trust, and the government of Bulgaria cooperated with that of Uganda throughout.  The Sofia Zoo held the parrots for a time and screened them for diseases before the release was approved. The parrots were re-habituated to the wild at the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary and then released on Ngamba Island.


Continuing Threats to African Gray and Other Parrots

Despite the fact that wild-caught adult parrots make notoriously poor pets, demand remains high.  In addition, numerous chicks are collected, often by felling nest-bearing trees. Nesting hollows are a scarce commodity in parrot habitats, and their destruction seriously impedes the breeding success of the resident parrot population.  Other African Psittacines, including the Red-Fronted Parrot (Poicephalus gulielmi, please see photo), also remain at risk despite local and international protections.   In recent years, Uganda has confiscated many parrots destined for European markets; 204 African Grays were released to the wild in 2011.

Red Fronted Parrot

Image originally posted to Wikipedia by Poicephalus_gulielmi_-Birds_of_Eden_-South_Africa-8a.jpg: Graham

You can read more about African Gray Parrot conservation and natural history in the articles linked above and below.  Unfortunately, bad news is still the norm, and many people here in the USA are unaware of the scope of the problem (as wild-caught parrots have long been illegal to import or own)…please post any information you may come across below.



Further Reading

African Gray Parrot Natural History

African Gray Parrot Declines


  1. avatar

    Hello Frank: Do you have a reference for the claim that 1/4 of adult population of African greys are captured each year? I would love to see that. I’ve been searching for info like to show the high probability of African greys going extinct in our lifetimes. Michael Ostrogorsky

  2. avatar

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your interest; figure is from an IUCN assessment; scroll down to Conservation Status here.; Further IUCN info


    Good luck, pl keep me posted, Frank

  3. avatar

    Thank you Frank! Exactly what I needed.

  4. avatar

    I don’t hear that so often! Glad it was useful, pl keep me posted on your efforts..

  5. avatar

    Dear Frank, thank you for sharing the story of this project that was initiated by the World Parrot Trust over 3 years ago.
    I would just like to clarify that it’s not known where the parrots had been trapped. Most likely in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Nigeria, but nobody knows for sure. The Uganda authorities have been extremely generous in accepting to rehabilitate and release these birds. We are hearing that they are doing very well and have already been visited by wild Greys passing by Ngamba Island.

    It is also important to point out that it’s not just the illegal trade that it’s threatening this species, but also the legal trade allowing export quotas that are not scientifically justified and are often exceeded.

  6. avatar

    Much appreciated, Christina, thank you. Best regards, Frank

  7. avatar

    I love parrots and I had an African Gray which I adore. I agree with the release back into the wild but I also have to say that, injured birds that wont survive in the wild should be put up for adoption so they could have a second chance in life with a good love and care, they are very affectionate and funny.
    High fines should be place for all those who are involve with the smuggler situation as for airlines, governments, buyers all the chain that goes with it and not just for parrots but for all our precious wildlife.

  8. avatar

    Hi maria,

    Thanks for your interest and concern, Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for your thoughts and concern,

    Enjoy, Frank

  10. avatar

    Heartbreaking but at least there are a few rays of sunshine. As much as I love birds, I really don’t think they should be kept as pets. They deserve to fly free and not shut away in cages.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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