By Steve Zack
In Central Africa, on the edge of the immense Congolean rain forest, I recently convened with colleagues from WCS and BirdLife International to discuss how best to conserve the African Grey Parrot, one of the most popular birds of the pet trade worldwide.
Thanks in no small part to Alex, the subject of intensive studies by my colleague Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the African Grey is also one of the best-known species to demonstrate intelligence. Irene's studies revealed that Alex could make accurate use of human speech and syntax, and seemed to convey thoughts and feelings.
Two paradoxes to explore. First, the very popularity in the trade of this bird may place it in jeopardy. It is now listed by IUCN as Vulnerable due to declines in its range and numbers. While imports of wild parrots are now illegal in the U.S. and in Europe, the trade continues to grow in Asia and the Middle East.
Possibly as many as four to eight million of these parrots have been captured from Central Africa's rain forests in the past 40 years. Such trade is a complicated mix of legal and illegal activities, and the capture in the field and transfer to ports for export is fraught with mortality.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES, is an intergovernmental treaty designed to ensure that this trade does not threaten the survival of species in the wild. With respect to the African Grey, we don't know because we don't have baseline numbers from these forests.
We are now trying to figure out how best to establish that baseline for the first time, and add these parrots to ongoing surveys of other important wildlife done by WCS and partners in this incredible part of the world. More....