14 Aug 2020

How pet owners are key to making the parrot trade sustainable

New research reveals the social factors driving demand for parrots in Singapore. Lead author, Anuj Jain, discusses how international trade and domestic demand interact in what he refers to as the ‘ecosystem’ of the parrot trade.

The Chattering Lory, a popular pet © Alan Tunnicliffe / Shutterstock
The Chattering Lory, a popular pet © Alan Tunnicliffe / Shutterstock
By Cressida Stevens

What inspired this study?

Through involvement with Burung Indonesia’s parrot trade work in Wallacea islands, I have witnessed incidents of Indonesian parrots being poached from our field sites and transported to demand centres like Singapore and Hong Kong through complex transit routes. These parrots go through an arduous journey in very poor welfare conditions, and many die on the way. This makes me sad! Based in Singapore, I have seen the memberships of parrot hobbyist groups grow over the years. Our past work has shown that Singapore still imports wild-caught parrots, so I wanted to connect the dots and see what we can do in Singapore to make the parrot trade more sustainable.  


What were the first steps you took towards achieving that goal?

Working with BirdLife Partner Nature Society (Singapore), along with Wildlife Reserves Singapore and local universities, we conducted questionnaires and interviews with parrot owners here. We hoped to gain insight into why people keep parrots in Singapore, their preferences on species and traits, the social contexts, whether they realise the impacts of parrot keeping on wild populations and whether they were open to owning sustainably sourced parrots.


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What were your most significant findings?

We found more than half of our study’s participants were in parrot hobbyist groups, and two-thirds agreed that their participation in such groups had encouraged further purchases. It was heartening to see that over 70% of the parrot owners were concerned about poaching. They love their parrots and prefer to keep captive-bred, sustainably sourced parrots over wild-caught ones, even if that means paying more and waiting longer.


You refer to the parrot trade in Singapore as an ‘ecosystem’ – why is this a helpful concept?

Our study taught us that parrot keeping in Singapore is a highly social phenomenon. Parrot owners are influenced by the hobbyist groups they belong to. Many meet in person with their parrots regularly, as well as online through social media groups and forums. Because of Singapore’s position as an important (legal) parrot transit hub, there are many breeders and suppliers of international repute here. Some also supply to the domestic bird shops. Then there are home breeders and support services like professional parrot sitters. This is an ecosystem with many actors supporting and helping each other.    


What implications does this have on the conservation of parrots in trade?

Most studies and interventions that address the demand of wildlife trade focus on individual consumers. Understanding the importance of hobbyist groups will put us in a better position to make the trade more sustainable. The positive thing is that parrot owners are supportive of conservation, but Singapore doesn’t have the infrastructure to ensure parrots are sustainably sourced. Fortunately, the government is proactive and keen to implement new licensing and tracking measures to make that possible, and this can only be done effectively if we work closely with the community i.e. hobbyist groups. In the future, we hope to scale up this work across the BirdLife Partnership to apply it to other demand centres in Asia.


Flying into extinction: Understanding the role of Singapore’s international parrot trade in growing domestic demand is published in Bird Conservation International.


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