Feathered Extinction: Habitat Loss and Illegal Trade Threaten Doom for Africa's Parrots, World Parrot Trust Africa to the Rescue!

Parrots have the largest number of threatened species of all bird families.  Over 100 of the 332 known parrot species are threatened with extinction in the wild, and the declines of about 78 of these are being fueled by habitat loss and fragmentation.  Roughly 39 are heavily pressured by capture and nest poaching for the wild-caught bird trade.

Photo credit: Chuck Bergman

Cavity-nesting forest specialists, like our African parrots, are particularly sensitive to forest degradation due to their reliance on large hardwood trees for sustenance and nesting opportunities.  Deforestation rates in Africa are the second highest world, claiming over four million hectares of forest cover every year.  Logging, wildfire, tree felling for use as fuel, the booming charcoal production industry, civil unrest, and conversion of land for agriculture and expansion of the human population are the primary forces driving the rampant destruction of critical African parrot habitat.

Deforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (photo credit: Daniel Beltra)

A recent review of the Meyer’s Parrot range revealed that 15 of the 18 nations this species inhabits had undergone significant losses in forest cover.  Deforestation rates of 15% and higher were not uncommon and several countries, such as Kenya and Malawi, have less than 1% of their original forested area remaining.  Unfortunately, a lack of records over the last 30-40 years prevents us from being able to assess the effects of deforestation on bird populations.  We simply do not know how well African parrots are adapting to their rapidly changing environment.

Meyer’s Parrot (photo credit: Cyril Laubscher)

The World Parrot Trust Africa seeks to coordinate a continent-wide survey of all African parrot species over the coming years to determine which species are of immediate priority for conservation intervention.  The goal is to secure healthy populations of all African parrot species and sufficient suitable habitat, while also providing them adequate protection.

Photo credit: Steve Boyes   

Unregulated trade in African parrots peaked in the 1980s and ’90s, and still exists today.  This lucrative black market industry is fueled by profiteering middlemen who exploit wild bird populations.  In 2005, the Senegal Parrot was the most traded bird on the CITES Appendix II, with over 45,000 individuals being removed from forests each year.  In Namibia, cross-border trade in wild-caught Ruppell’s Parrots in the 1990s resulted in their disappearance from many parts of this species’ distributional range where they were once abundant. Today, African parrots remain among the most traded in the world.

Wild birds are sometimes smuggled in plastic bottles.

According to the most conservative estimates, over three million African parrots have been snatched from the wild over the last 25–30 years.  As can be seen in Table 1 (below) there are, several species, such as the African Grey Parrot, have been almost exclusively sourced from the wild over the last few decades.  Immense and insatiable demands from China, Taiwan, Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia are driving international trade in African parrots.

In South Africa, a legal loophole allows these birds to be legally imported into the country, as long as they have been checked and approved by a South African veterinarian before leaving the source country.  This allows for thousands of wild-caught African Greys to be imported into South Africa every year, from sources like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and West Africa.  Most of these parrots then enter the local market, but the best specimens are re-exported to the fast-growing markets in the Middle East and, especially, in the Far East.

African Greys seized from illegal trade (photo credit: PASA/WPT)

There are three things we need to do to protect all wild populations from the devastating impacts of this trade.  First and foremost, we must minimise the number of African parrots being taken from the wild.  Secondly, we must also support captive breeders that adhere to strict guidelines and standards concerning the animals’ care and well-being.  Finally, it is imperative that we get out into the African forests and determine whether the continued removal of parrots from their habitat poses a serious threat of extinction or if it is, in fact, sustainable.


Jardine’s Parrot for sale in west Africa (photo credit: Greg Shaw)


Africa’s parrots are charismatic, colourful, and larger than life. They have found their way into the hearts and minds of private collectors, parrot enthusiasts, and aviculturalists around the world.  Most African parrot breeders that I interact with are extremely passionate about these birds and have specialized in raising our Poicephalus parrots, Agapornis lovebirds, and the iconic African Greys.  The connection fostered between bird-keepers and captive birds can be profound, and can provide us with insights that cannot be achieved through field research.

Lillian’s Lovebird (photo credit: Dominique Schreckling)

We need to use this resource to the birds’ advantage and draw on the keepers’ passion for these animals to stimulate positive change for wild populations of African parrots. Bird-keepers and aviculturalists must realize the important role they can play in the conservation and research of the forest icons.  I would like to call upon global birdkeepers to join World Parrot Trust Africa and become part of this constructive movement towards a future that holds healthy African parrot populations in the wild, attained with the support of a well-managed captive community of feathered ambassadors around the globe.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

We, on the African continent and around the world, are the proud custodians of a unique group of parrots native to the forests and savannas of this wild and primordial continent.  We must recognise our responsibilities as stewards of these “forest ambassadors”, and take action to ensure a bright future for them.  Please help World Parrot Trust Africa support them on this rapidly changing continent.

Photo credit: Cyril Laubscher

To join the World Parrot Trust Africa, and for more information on how you can get involved in or contribute to African parrot conservation projects (e.g. Cape Parrot Project), please contact me at: boyes@worldparrottrust.org or PO Box 149, Hogsback, 5721, South Africa.


Learn about Bush Warriors’ alliance with World Parrot Trust by clicking here.  Together we are on a mission to raise awareness about the plight of the world’s parrots, with goal of changing the future for these majestic creatures and preventing their extinction!

Bookmark    and Share


12 Replies to “Feathered Extinction: Habitat Loss and Illegal Trade Threaten Doom for Africa's Parrots, World Parrot Trust Africa to the Rescue!”

  1. Lisa

    Great article. So sad what is happening to all the amazingly beautiful African parrots. It’s hard to imagine how we can stop this.

  2. Tig Warne

    I think that the trade in wildlife is appalling and I do believe that the government should step up their efforts to stop it. We are shocked by the loss of our beautiful wild birds. We enjoy Cape Parrots in our area and will be very sad if our population diminishes. The poaching of our rhinos is heinous crime and those charged with the act should be punished very severely. Not only our planet and our beautiful nation need our wild life but we are responsible for passing our treasures on to the generations that will follow us. Maybe de-horning the rhino is an offence to the eye and an indignity to the animal but will render it useless to poachers. Good luck to everyone actively working against the evil people who are robbing us all for their own enrichment. Tig

  3. Rose

    Whilst bird lovers can assist in the funding and spreading the sentiments I believe the veternary institutions should also play their part in weeding out vets who profit directly or indirectly from the illegal export and import of endangered animals.

  4. drsteveboyes

    I agree with you Rose. Veterinarians are too often implicated in the trade in wild-caught birds. How do we combat this?

  5. david

    yes unscrupulous vets- like the ones involved in the Mesina rhino horn slaughters.

    great article Steve, thank you

  6. Monica

    Great article to raise awareness about this! What are the international veterinary associations capable of doing to dissuade veterinarians from participating in this trade? Let’s also not forget to highlight the role of parrots in their native ecosystems. I’d love to see more about that too.

  7. lorobolivia

    Advertisements like the following
    should be avoided and fought against because it misleads the general pubic of the nature of birds.
    We would love to see no difference being given to legal and ilegal trade, as the difference is only on paper….and paper sustains about anything.
    Birds should not be kept in captivity, under no circumstance.
    We don`t like the support you give to the ¨well-managed captivity community¨ what is just an excuse to keep, mostly parrots, in captivity.
    We know that it is not easy to let go of something we thought we own, no matter how well kept and managed. But you and us know, that any parrot kept in captivity is a slave and who keeps them is a slave keeper.

    • WildlifeWarrior

      Please anyone who is listening to this Loro person and wants to get rid of their bird… PLEASE DO NOT RELEASE YOUR BIRD INTO THE WILD! Many invasive bird population have started this way and have cause significant damage to the environment. If anyone is considering forfeiting ownership of their exotic birds, contact a rescue or make the appropriate arrangements. Whatever you do, please do not let them just go in the wild. This is potentially catastrophic.

      Loro— Some captive breeding may be necessary, as there are species on the very edge of extinction. Responsible captive breeding programs can save them from imminent doom. For example, the Mauritius Parakeet. Successful captive breeding was able to thwart what seemed like inevitable extinction of this species and bring them back from the edge! Of course, not all captive birds are treated well… which is why Bush Warriors is fighting the illegal trade.

      • lorobolivia

        You don´t explain what exactly you mean with ¨significant damage¨ and ¨potentially catastrophic¨.
        Oilspills, atombombs, pesticides…are catastrophic. Imprisoning innocents also is catastrophic.
        The word ¨invasive¨ doesn´t apply, because invasion needs an act of the invader to cause invasion. It is like if a country takes foreign troops hostage, drops them in their territory and than claim they have been invaded.
        You mentioned that not all captive birds are treated well. Of course not. Would you like to spent your life in a cage never been able to walk again free?
        Do you know why people are put in prison? It is because they committed a crime. Imagine yourself being imprisoned for life by responsible people in order to save you from imminent doom.
        Everthing we do has to be ethically acceptable or it will be doomed to fail. Saving/conserving birds in cages was NEVER ethically acceptable no matter how long it was done.
        Of course the Romans had done it already, all kinds of indian tribes have done it too and still do it….just look what happened to them. Rome fell and the indians are threatened everywhere. Bad acts always have a bad outcome.
        We all know that caging birds is not right, nevertheless there are all kind of justifications to deny them freedom. Once you learnt to justfy one bad act you are ready to accept and find excuses for about anything. Isn´t that the reason why our planet is threatened? Everybody has excuses for about anything.
        ¨Those who take Freedom from others deserve it not for themselves¨. Abraham Lincoln

    • Wolfmother

      OK Lorobolivia…so what exactly are you suggesting people do with the birds they have,those birds that have been captive-bred for so many generations???Surely you are not suggesting releasing them into the ‘wild’,are you???? That would be incredibly cruel and irresponsible!!!these birds do not know any other life.They are unable to forage as they have never had to do so…Birds have been kept in captivity for thousands of years,in one form or another – it’s not something that is going to go away overnight. Let’s be realistic – in an ideal world,there would be no such thing as a captive bird…but then,in an ideal world,there would be no habitat destruction,no poaching of endangered animals,no cruelty to animals, there would also not be wars,or hunger or sickness – let’s get real!!!What do you want people to do???Euthanase all their birds???? It’s not going to happen.
      let’s rather work towards ACHIEVABLE goals – creating awareness,putting pressure on governments and organisations to re-look at their wildlife import/export policies,educating the ignorant…

      • lorobolivia

        Sorry to answer your question with another question:
        When you leave your home, do you consider this a release of yourself into the wild?

        Birds have been around much longer than humans. They managed to survive climate changes and adversities we don´t even know off. They are extremely capable of adaptation.

        If you think that birds are not able to survive, because they have been captive bred, you may also have opposed the end of slavery, because many of the freed slaves have been ¨captive-bred¨ also. If you think that this is different, than I will tell you that birds have more inborn instincts than us. They are better equipped to survive. At least in my opinion.

        Do you consider human slaves being freed irresponsible or cruel?

        If you think that Euthanization would be a solution… some day we are going to be so many humans on earth that euthanization may be considered by some. Not by me with what I know now.

        Releasing birds, giving them back their freedom would be catastrophic to those who breed them, because only then would everbody been able to see what some of us have done.

        How many people don´t keep birds in cages?
        I tend to believe that it is the mayority. Many of those don´t keep them because they oppose it. Their opinion, expressed by not owning, is hardly considered.

        There was a war faught over the abolition of slavery, not only because everybody felt sorry for the slaves, but because it was unsustainable, because it was not right. Till today we suffer the consequences of this horrible trade in ¨Freedom¨.

        The business with the Freedom of birds is no different, evil only changed it´s face, like it´s consequences will show a different face, unrecognizable till it is perhaps too late.

        I am convinced that we can´t rape nature and getting away with it. By law of nature and many human laws the amount of wrongdoing equals the punishment.

        Of course most conservationists/petshops/breeders and birdowners oppose freedom. Just imagine robbery or rape being legal….who would oppose a law making it ilegal?

        If we would line up all the cages on earth with birds in them it would span the earth multiple times.

        Just put yourself into their position and imagine another species would do that to us.

Comments are closed.