The export of Congo’s African Grey parrots was first recorded in the 1980s and exports rose sharply in the 1990s (CITES and Birdlife Int’l). In the 21st century the exports have far surpassed the CITES quota of 5000 birds per year. That is living birds, legally recorded. Actually many more parrots are caught, but die in captivity or are exported illegally and never make the export statistics.
The parrot capture-campaigns started in the west of Congo hitting hard the forests of Salonga National Park. Now captures are moving further east. The seasoned trapper, from Equateur Province looks for better capture grounds in Orientale and Maniema Provinces.
Parrots at Mehwa opening in the Ituri Forest (Orientale Province). Five years ago these populations were not exploited. Now? Insecurity makes it impossible to check their current status. Reto Kuster copyright.
Traders are now on the borders of TL2. Parrots for export are still primarily sent west through Kinshasa, but shipments have picked up in the east as well. What do we see of this parrot trade in the TL2 forests ?
In TL2 John came across capture teams on the Lomami River, “Parc Perroquet”, and Bravo and others visited a capture team near our Katopa camp, Bamanga opening. In both cases the trader’s collection permits were bogus. Salumu documented grey parrot shipments from the Kindu airport. All we needed was a nudge to pull our information together and to fill in some of the holes. Birdlife International provided the push – they wanted to know what was happening in DR Congo for their September meeting in Monrovia.
NOTE-the field team: a few words about our TL2 parrot team at the bottom of the post.
Gilbert and Bravo made expeditions to various forest openings in central Congo frequented by parrots. Robert ferreted out the climbers, the buyers, and the authorities in Kisangani. And he visited a village, Bananguma that profits from a nearby capture site. Willy made inquiries in Kinshasa: “who were the national buyers behind the trade?” That latter was where we met a brick wall.
John took the information and put it together. We are still receiving more information, but here is some of what we had to say in Monrovia:
Capture Methods and Parrot Mortality:
We found several methods being used in areas of parrot aggregation around TL2:
(1) Pre-dawn glue covered sticks are fixed in a likely perching tree. A captive bird can be tied to a branch to lure in wild birds;
(2) On the ground where birds come down, presumably for minerals, nets are set up and again a live bird or decoy can be used as a lure;
(3) Nestlings are pulled from nest holes before fledging but old enough to eat independently.
All middlemen in Kisangani who bought from the trappers, shipped the birds out by plane to Kinshasa….
Information for three Kisangani middlemen and the trappers with whom they work.
A holding cage from a previous trapping expedition in Parc Perroquet on the border of the park.
Total Mortality of captured birds:
(1) Mortality for Kisangani trappers averages 25 % before sale;
(2) Local buyers declare 10-40 percent mortality before shipment;
(3) Air Transport has average mortality of 10 % per shipment.
Probable range of mortality from capture to Kinshasa buyer is 45 -65 %.
Camera-trap photo of Hippo at night in the same opening.
Total Number being Captured:
Exports out of Orientale Province indicate captures of probably 1000 to 1500 birds per month even during the closed hunting season.
Annually we estimate 12,000 to 18,000 birds are captured every year in Orientale province.
Orientale is a major province for parrot trapping but we know that trappers frequent other provinces including Kasai Oriental and Maniema and almost certainly the Kivus. It is likely that Equateur province is still involved, as well, even if resident populations are greatly reduced.
How much profit and for whom?:
Trappers receive from $15 to $25 per bird.
In Kinshasa the buyers will pay $50 to $100 per bird.
How many are left to exploit?:
A disturbing comparison is at Bamanga. We know that at least 100 birds were removed in 2010; only 14 were counted in 2013. Although parrots continue to roost at Bamanga, very few are left. Is this a harbinger of what will happen at site after site as the trappers from Equateur move east?
How can the grey parrot trade be controlled? CITES quotas are not doing it.
Regulations that exist:
(1) Capture permit is required, but rarely acquired,
(2) Government tax of $0.50 per bird is not a deterrent,
(3) No-hunting season not observed by trappers and middlemen.
Conclusion: lack of appropriate rules and lack of enforcement of any rules, permits over exploitation with rampant parrot mortality.
Robert and John both felt that the authorities were open to tighter controls; however, local authorities felt powerless. As with so much in Congo: someone is making a profit somewhere else and – even without outright corruption – effective controls mean mastering a system that is far larger and far more diffuse than we can fully grasp.
NOTE the field team:
John Hart - Scientific Director for the TL2 project. Designed the parrot study, assembled and analysed results;
Robert Abani – Country Director of the local NGO, SOSNature. Collected and summarised trapping and trade information from Kisangani and Bananguma;
Willy Mekombo - Financial and Personnel Director for the TL2 projet. Made inquiries into Kinshasa trade and represented TL2 project at parrot meeting in Monrovia;
Bravo Bofenda – A field worker with the TL2 project since 2008, camera traps and forest scoping for the grey parrot;
Gilbert Paluku – A field worker with the TL2 project since 2008, inventory and forest scoping for the grey parrot;
Léon Salumu – Project TL2 point person in Kindu, interviews and observations;
And thanks to all the support crew!