African grey seeing red
The African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus, one of the most popular avian pets in the world, is declining in most of the 23 countries in which it is found in the wild and may soon be added to the official Red List of globally threatened birds.
A meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) opens on July 7 at which the trade in the African grey will be reviewed.
It will be the third time the fall in the birds’ numbers have forced trading quotas to be reassessed. This evidence of declines shows that existing trade controls are too weak. Europe is responsible for 93 per cent of the trade in CITES-listed birds and consequently BirdLife believes that the solution is for EU countries to ban bird imports unless there is compelling proof that wild bird numbers are being sustained.
"There's no doubt that because of the trade, the African Grey Parrot is now on the way to becoming an endangered species." —Alison Stattersfield, Head of Science, BirdLife
Duncan McNiven, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), said: "The pet trade has been exploiting wild birds for decades, yet the trade goes on with too little thought for its sustainability.
"Local people rarely benefit when birds are exported from their countries with profits going to middle men and importers instead. A permanent ban would not stop pet owners keeping these birds. Parrots bred in captivity make much better pets and are better suited to life in a cage than birds caught in the wild. The UK government and the EU as a whole is playing a major role in the decline of these magnificent birds and should do all it can to initiate a permanent ban," he added.
The EU suspended the trade last year after imported wild birds died of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu in quarantine in Essex, UK. Seizures of smuggled birds have not increased since and the RSPB estimates that the ban has saved more than one million wild birds from life in cages.
The African grey is one of at least 3,000 bird species bought and sold to be kept as a pet. It is sought for its skill as a mimic and attractive plumage. CITES records show that almost 360,000 African greys were legally traded between 1994 and 2003. But these figures do not include smuggled birds and ignore the many thousands that die before they reach pet shops. For some species, this figure is as high as 60 per cent.