The Parrot in the Room

September 26, 2016

Why is the African grey parrot in such danger?

Photo Credit: ©Emma Stokes/WCS

As the world gathers at the CITES Conference of the Parties meeting in South Africa over the coming weeks, the fate of the African grey parrot will be a hot topic.

Why the alarm? A highly sought-after pet, the African grey parrot has suffered startling declines. Today, it's considered rare or locally extinct in many parts of its historic range. In Ghana, for instance, where African grey parrots were once common, populations have dropped 90–99% since the 1990s.

1. A Gift and a Curse

Reports say more than 1.3 million African grey parrots have been exported as pets since 1975. When you factor in the number that die in transit, and aren't reported, the number is likely in the two to three million range. In part, these birds are popular pets because they're smart—they learn, imitate, and vocalize human language very well.

2. Extra Vulnerable

African grey parrots only reproduce at 3–5 years and then only produce one or two chicks a year. That makes them vulnerable to overexploitation, as it takes populations a long time to recover.

3. Sitting Ducks

It also doesn't help that the birds are social, gathering together in groups to roost or feed. That makes them easier targets for trappers.

4. Needs Repair

The current protections aren't working well enough. The existing export quotas meant to manage the trade aren't based on the actual science. Plus, the quotas are frequently exceeded anyway.

During the CITES meetings, keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates on this and other issues.

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