A Message – Its Consequences

Theo's birds
This Kindu “maison” had over 400 African Greys in its aviaries at the beginning of September 2023.

Someone telephoned the governor.  He proposed a 10,000 dollar bribe.   “Just let our ‘maisons’ keep the parrots we have now.” 

But it was too late. The governor’s message was already public, since August 9th.  It was too late – or was it?

Kisangani_in plane for shipment
Parrots already loaded in a cargo plane in Kisangani, destination Kinshasa.

There is a lot of money in a half-hidden parrot trade.  Far more than we imagined.  DR Congo is the world’s number 1 supplier of African Grey Parrots from the wild;  all indications are that the trade is increasing not decreasing.

case for shipment in Kisangani
Destination written on top of a crate of African Greys awaiting air shipment to Kinshasa.

The goal of our parrot protection project (P3), is to stop the commerce before all the Congo populations crash.  Some already have.  But that does not stop the push back from money inside the trade.

Parrots in 2014_no more
Parrots used to always be in the park Kiboko on the edge of the Lomami River, but after constant captures, they have been absent for five years.

A first step was made in Maniema Province:
There must be enforceable laws.   The governor’s message is enforceable and simple:

“Formal interdiction of parrot capture, traffic or commercialization throughout the Province of Maniema. All parrots currently held by climbers, transporters or buyers must be turned over to authorities.”

230809_governor Mangala's MESSAGE
The governor’s message.

We Celebrated!  Many meetings were needed to push through the announcement; all made possible by enthusiasm from the minister’s office and governor’s cabinet.  The officials insisted we need not wait for the national authorities to act first, the province of Maniema, in de-centralized Congo, should take the lead.

230713_government officials behind the message
The team from the Governor’s and Minister’s offices with the P3 core group.

The national level has been silent.  Even though the African Grey parrot is considered an Endangered Species by IUCN since 2016,  and was also put on Annex 1 of the international convention, CITES, in 2016 thus allowing no international trade, And although, there is an international embargo on all African Greys from Congo,  And although CITES specifically called for national legislation within Congo to support these international decisions;  And although DRCongo is a national party of CITES — despite all of this — there is NO NATIONAL LEGISLATION that corresponds to and supports the international rulings. 

John with minister at Dingi
The minister visited the P3 Parrot Conservation Center at Dingi to see what happened to confiscated parrots.

The illicit international demand has soared; how else account for increasing extraction of Grey Parrots from the wild, despite all these international rulings.   Still, the DR Congo national level is silent.

But now, with the governor’s message, there is one province, the province of Maniema that has jumped ahead of national inertia and international criminal demand!! 

So, we celebrated the courage of the governor’s message, even as unnerving follow-up began to multiply:

On August 18th; the minister held a meeting on government hill to inform and prepare the parrot traders.  One of the main traders, Aimé Mwaso, brandished the recent ruling by the US government:

USA designation_part
Part of the US embassy statement making 3 congolese authorities Persona non grata in the USA.

He asked why the government was coming after the traders?  “Look, the US accuses three Congolese authorities, whose job is to protect rare species”  and here Aimé did not disguise a smirk.

Aimé with USA notice
Aimé displays the french version of the US notification.

The names were all from ICCN, the conservation institute, that is also the organization we work for and that hosts the parrot rehabilitation center, “in Kinshasa, they turned rare species export into a cash-earning business.”  All three of the named Congolese authorities are henceforward denied access to the USA. Among them are the past head of the ICCN (Congolese nature conservation institute) and two national CITES representatives.

Corruption to keep the parrot trade moving at lower levels is just as prevalent:

Parrots on train at Kibombo station
A crate of parrots on Maniema’s train on 25 August in Kibombo station.

In the third week of August, our information network alerted us to parrots waiting to be boarded on the train.  The small local train was preparing to depart towards Lubumbashi; it chugged up and down the old track system, collecting cargoes.  It was at night that the call came. A parrot cargo was loaded at 37 km.  It was impossible to do anything until the train arrived at its stop in Kibombo Center 150 km from Kindu;  P3 (our Parrot Protection Project) had organized the police, the DGM, the assistant environment supervisor, they were all at the train station.  When the train master and traders resisted, they called the army colonel and printed a copy of the Message sent by WhatsApp; The train and transporters offered no more resistance.

parrots being spirited away from Kibombo station
Corrupt officials allowed the majority of parrots to be spirited away from the train station in cardboad boxes and makeshift cages.

The colonel announced by phone to the Minister that there were 72 parrots.  Then the number dropped to 30 and it was only 21 parrots that were finally brought to Kindu, with one dead in the crate.  The parrot traders had bought off the Kibombo authorities.

Core group with minister
The minister in his office with 4 of the 6-person P3 core group.

But, so far, the authorities in Kindu are holding firm, they are not shrugging off corruption.  It is not just us, the P3 team that is revolted.  The governor refused the bribe of $10,000 because he said his reputation was more important.  Maniema’s minister of the environment was furious with the corruption in Kibombo.  This weekend he, himself, with members of his cabinet and two P3 representatives will go to Kibombo to reprimand top army and provincial administrators.  To stop the corruption, he is willing to take a motorbike 150 km south as the roads rapidly deteriorate with the rainy season.

Brutal for Red-Fronted Parrots, too.

Photo of Greys and Greens flying through a forest clearing – photo taken by TL2 team crossing the Lomami National Park in 2017.

We had just rescued a “motorcycle cargo” of African Grey parrots.  We opened the basket –One, two left the basket for the cage, but they were green.  Three, four, five… all green.   In all 51 red-fronted green parrots (Poicephalus gulielmi) left the small motorcycle basket tilting, stumbling, waddling into the larger holding cages.  One already dead parrot was left on top of a heap of shredded sugar cane and stripped palm nuts. 

Green parrots stumble out of the carrying basket.

On the 16th of July the Environmental Coordination had received this message form our community contact officer:  “This morning at Lusuna a motorbike will leave with 30 Grey parrots for Kindu.  Lusuna is 140 Km from Kindu.  They are coming from Kibombo.  Alert your colleagues at the check-points along the road.”

The red-fronted parrots at the check-point where they were confiscated.

The Coordination sent an OPJ or Judicial Police Officer to make the arrest.  Seizing cargos of grey parrots is straight-forward.  There is an 8 year old message from a past governor stating no Greys can be caught in Maniema. 

It wasn’t until after the birds were in Kindu that we realized, these weren’t Greys.  But coming all the way from Kibombo!!  They travelled 300 km or more over terrible roads…at least two nights. 

They spent at least 3 days in this closed cage on a motorcycle.

The Coordination did not hesitate:  It is the no hunting season;  trapping is hunting.  These parrots were illegal.

The first problem was where to keep them?  The conservation agency, ICCN, is responsible for birds once they are confiscated, but at their new building in Kindu, they have nothing but a narrow cement compound, barely enough to store their motorbikes.  The ICCN’s aviaries for confiscated Grey Parrots are 60 km away in Dingi.  World Parrot Trust and Lukuru Foundation, who contributed to create the Dingi Parrot Conservation Center, wanted it to be in the heart of Parrot habitat and away from the insecurity of the town of Kindu. But where could these red-fronted parrots recover before being moved to Dingi?

The holding cages with 51 green parrots in our yard as of the third week in July 2023.

We agreed to have them come to our house on the edge of Kindu with a large quiet yard. 

They were so thirsty when they first arrived. And most were missing feathers and had glue in their wings.

Several parrots arrived with broken legs, one had lost an eye. How were they captured?

Still we could not keep them long at our house….already there were rumors started  by the “enterprise” that had guaranteed these parrots to a trader in Bangladesh.  The rumors were that the Harts were “in the business”;  “the Harts were taking someone else’s parrots on the pretense of law, but planning to resell them at a huge profit.”

One of the ICCN rangers sent to protect the birds.

ICCN sent two rangers to watch them…but it did not alleviate the situation.  We kept them barely two weeks before taking them north toward Dingi in a rented dugout.

Carrying one of the holding cages down from our house to the Lualaba where a dugout waits to carry the cages up to the port near Dingi.
The first Red-fronted Greens enter the aviary at Dingi. An African Grey watches. With alarm? With curiosity?

How many green parrots have been caught and trafficked out of Maniema?  Looking at the incomplete records in the Environment Coordination there have been 3 permits for export of green parrots from Maniema Province in 2023, each for 20 parrots.  They were certainly written without ever witnessing the birds and there is no agent of the Environmental Coordination at the airport to check shipments. If, as in this basket of trafficked parrots, there were 50 or more each, 150 red-fronted parrots, at least, already left Maniema.

Congo has a CITES quota to export 450 green parrots per year.  (CITES is the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) This quota is obviously not being rigorously followed!  Maniema is one of 26 provinces and at least 6, maybe 8 have green parrots. 

What must be done :  Develop a new message to be issued by the current  governor making it illegal to catch and traffic green parrots as well as grey parrots.  Then, if possible, we should get this message backed by more permanent legislation.

Marking the Border

The problem is there, on the map – if a map could speak, it would be screaming. It would point to its northeastern side and say, “Here there will be anger and divisiveness.”  Even if most of the poaching is in the south, even though the map was created as a collective effort, with back and forth between technicians, parks (ICCN), state administrators and chiefs, still, the northeast is not at rest:

Lomami National Park dugouts on the Lomami River.

In the southwest, the park border is clear before our eyes:  One river, Lomami, marks the park limit (see MAP 1 below);

In the southeast, the line is mostly obvious:  a single river, Loidjo, covers most of the distance.

Crossing the Loidjo bridge into the park at high water.

Even in the northwest, there is a series of rivers that are connected with only short empty lines (Annex 1), BUT in the northeast the rivers aren’t there; most flow the “wrong way”.  The only long north-south river, Lilo, is too far from the Lomami.  If it had become a border, villages would be included in the park and no one wanted that.

MAP 1: The Lomami National Park is fortunate to have many natural limits, but the straight lines (red) are certain to be problematic.

Result:  in the northeast the borders of the park are a series of points, immovable coordinates on the globe, connected by straight lines on the map (Annex 1 below).  These lines are invisible in the forest.  How do you explain to a hunter leaving with his gun and traps:  you can hunt there, but not there. 

A hunter from Mituku-Bamoya (northeast buffer zone) being arrested in the park.

From the beginning, we concentrated patrols and outreach in the south where there were bigger bushmeat markets and more poaching.  But once, after a community-conservation workshop at the patrol post of Bafundo, I was approached by the chief from Kalindula.  Was it in 2014?

Kalindula is a village farther north, in Mituku Basikate sector.  The chief had come more than 60km, walking inside and outside the park, following the one winding path that avoids flooded forest during high waters (at least half the year). 

Large areas of flooded forest are very difficult to move through.

He had important questions:

“How do our boys know where the park begins?  Our young hunters were arrested in the park and they did not even know they were in it. We want to work with you, but we need to know the park borders.”

MAP 2: The Lomami National Park is fortunate to have many river borders, but the borders that are not defined by a natural feature (red lines) were likely to become flashpoints.

Such an obvious request. But it had to be asked again before we would begin to respond and then the solution was far more complex than we imagined

marking Balanga border
A border marker in the southern Balanga sector set by community elders, TL2 staff and park guards.

The second time was when Maurice Emetshu, in 2015, completed border markings in the Balanga sector (A and B on the MAP 2 above).  This is north of where the Loidjo River dumps into the Lomami River.  He wrote this: 

“Hunters take off from the Bafundo-Kalindula path. The Balanga say we must finalize border marking there too.  Both Balanga and their Mituku neighbors hunt inside and outside the park, without knowing the difference.”  

Maurice joins singing and dancing in a Mituku village.

We sent Maurice up to the two Mituku sectors, Mituku Basikate and Mituku Bamoya, in July 2016.  It had been four years since there had been any TL2 presence in the northeast, so his first mission was “outreach”.  What do the villages know about the park?  Do they see how conservation is important to their lives as hunters and cultivators?

In Maurice’s month-long trip, he only visited one groupement (or cluster) of villages in one of the sectors, Bamoya.  People were receptive, but knew little about conservation or the park.  And they asked for more security because the very bandits that were chased from other parts of the park were now in their forests.  They had no policemen or other law enforcement authority in their sectors.  They also asked to know the limits of the park.

MAP 3. The villages in the northeast are connected by winding paths, some can be used by motorbike, others only by bicycle and some only on foot. The villagers identify as hunters.

We should not have been surprised by the lack of information about the park.  Ten years into the TL2 project there were 6 camp bases/patrol posts around the southern part of the park and only two in the north, neither of these was in the northeast.  Park bases become vibrant social and economic centers.  The posts buy food for patrols in the park and hire local guides and porters.  The posts are in the villages closest to the park, so there are constant exchanges about conservation, the park, and everything else.

Maurice explains his message and the Park to the sector chief of Mituku Bamoya.

Maurice returned for a second outreach visit to different Mituku villages.  Like the first time he and a group of four others, including 3 Mituku moved around by toleka taxi: 5 bicycle peddlers (=taximen) and 5 passengers with rations and basic change of clothes. 

Toleka taxis or bicycle taxis are common in Kisangani (this photo), but are often the only way of moving “quickly” over distant rural “roads” and paths.

Alas!  Between two remote villages on an empty stretch of path they were hi-jacked by “highway” robbers at gun-point.  But it was more than just robbery…it was a thorough punishment by masked men, a “don’t come back” message.  They were tied with cords and then again with thorny lianas.  They were whipped and the bicycles were destroyed.  Everything was taken: shoes, telephones, their only computer, bicycle tires, food, and, of course, money.

It took a week for Maurice and his team to make it up to the TL2 Kisangani base where they could be treated. They were still wearing the same bloody clothes.

Maurice preferred to interpret it as a simple highway robbery.  After treatment in a hospital for internal hemorrhage and then recovery at home in Kisangani, he returned to finish his mission in Mituku, six months later.  It was without incident, but we learned that one of his trusted Mituku collaborators had engineered the robbery.  In fact, the stolen computer, a telephone and other stolen goods were in his possession. That added a confusing element, as this person, Portugai Mwinabi, was supposedly giving a conservation message. Who could we trust?

Portuguai was arrested in 2017.

Portugai was denounced, arrested in March 2017 and sent to Kisangani, where he was almost immediately released by a high-level Mituku politician (a national minister!) and returned, emboldened to Mituku Bamoya.

Robert Abani, a TL2 community-security agent, joined Maurice in December 2016 where they held a meeting with leaders at Mutchaliko village (see Map 3 above).  The spokesperson for the gathered chiefs said they needed more outreach, more representation of the Mituku at high-level meetings AND he insisted on the border markings.

Henry Boandja, in red shirt, with Robert Abani. Boandja was often the chosen spokesperson .

Maurice left the Mituku and went to the northwest of the park to help with a community-TL2 bridge building project .  Robert stayed to understand the different political and clannic tensions that seemed to seethe through the Mituku villages. He set out in July 2017 to negotiate land for building a TL2 base.  We decided that the village of Bimbi was centrally located and a good base for sending patrols into the park (MAP 3).  The main chief for that cluster of villages, Bantu Olambolambo, was favorable and the village agreed.

The village, with approval of surrounding villages, the cluster-chief and the sector-chief, officially ceded land to ICCN to put in a base/patrol post.
Robert, in white shirt, in the village of Bimbi after an agreement was reached to accord land to TL2 to build a base/patrol post.

But Thoms, a renowned elephant poacher/bandit, set up in the hinter lands of Mituku Bamoya, near the park border.  Thoms was furious about the presence of TL2 near-by.

[for information:  Thoms was not only an elephant poacher, he was a prison escapee having been imprisoned after his band enslaved the men and systematically gang-raped over 100 girls of the Mbole ethnic group (where Maurice was now putting in a bridge).  Thoms has committed many more atrocities than the ones recorded here.]

After Robert left, in September 2017, Thoms attacked the chief’s family in Bimbi, seriously tortured several people (breaking bones) and charged enormous fines saying that the chief’s family had sold the forest and would pay it back (although the money was taken personally by Thoms).

Thoms marked his presence in nearby forests, along regularly used paths.

Later Robert was told that the lesson the villages learned was: cooperate with the TL2 project and you will bring bandits and harm to the village.

We learned that Thoms’s rhetoric was simple: we were liars.  TL2, according to Thoms, was planning to stretch the park all the way to the Lualaba (Congo) River and all the Mituku villages would be forced to evacuate.  The youth heard and joined local Mai-Mai bands (see Annex 2 below) to protect their homes.  Thoms continued to recruit.  Portuguai and his group joined Thoms; Sembele and his group joined Thoms…and so forth through all the major villages.

Robert shows military officers the Mituku region on our TL2 map as good government maps of the region do not exist.

After the Bimbi attack by Thoms, military arrived to do a sweep through the sectors and create a “law and order” presence in Lowa.  A first armed confrontation between military and Maimai happened in Bimbi on the 13 March 2018: 2 military killed and at least 18 Mai-Mai.  In July 2018, Thoms attacked a military outpost at Mayunga with 300 Mai-Mai:  1 military  and 41 Mai-Mai are killed, but many more Mai-Mai were wounded and may have died later.

The village of Mayunga as it usually looks.
Milling Mai-Mai in Mayunga after the confrontation of July 2018. This photo shows the savagery of such battles. An off-camera Mai-Mai is holding cut-off hand of dead military.

Official efforts to bring peace were remarkably light handed.  The Mituku minister for education who had freed Portuguai, came to Lowa and seemed to sympathize with the Mai-Mai.  The Catholic church sent a delegation to Mayunga, but came back with very few arms and no clear agreement.   Thoms insisted the state should pay the families of those killed, even though it was he who sent them to battle!  The Mai-Mai continued to control a large block of Mituku Bamoya.

Photo from August 2018, second from right is Abbé Déon who represented the Catholic church in Mayunga. The other three are military concerned with controlling Mituku uprisings.

There was no peace and no dialogue.  With agreement from the military and the Catholic Church, Robert called a meeting of chiefs at Lowa (December 2018) including Mai-Mai leaders (but Thoms did not come).  The Mai-Mai said they were ready to seek a reconciliation with TL2 and with the military.  Robert tentatively set a date for a ceremony at the end of January.

Robert (gesticulating) was accompanied by military for almost all peace-seeking missions as the military had to agree to the conditions.

Unfortunately, an internal, bloody struggle for power among the Bamoya (that had nothing to do with the park), started at the end of 2018; it led to various attacks against the military who only regained control after another battle with severe loss of life among the Mai-Mai.  On 28 March 2019, a letter was brought to the military commander in Lowa, by two women saying that the Mai-Mai want to surrender and turn over their arms to the military.

Letter signed by seven Mai-Mai leaders saying that they not only want peace, they also want to work for ICCN and its partners.

Mai-Mai groups surrendered independently, each group representing different villages or groups of villages.

The first Mai-Mai leaders to surrender, each representing a village and a following of young men.

Here, events started to turn around and we also saw a clear division in the Mai-Mai.  The Mai-Mai who did not surrender were Thoms’s group and some from Mituku Bamoya, Portuguai and Alpha, who, like Thoms, were responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities.  Between them: tortures including of the TL2 team, killing of military, organizing ambushes… 

But finally, Portuguai and Alpha (not Thoms) did surrender on 29 June 2019, which again allowed Bimbi to be considered for the next base camp.

The Mai-Mai troops that Alpha and Portuguai brought before the military when they surrendered.

But over the next year, there was still no peace among the Mituku Bamoya, there were still inter-family power battles.  By mid 2020, we decided that the first base camp should be in the least roiled sector, Mituku Basikate.

Maurice’s return among the Basikate was seen as the beginning of peace and progress.

By November 2020 Maurice rejoined the Mituku TL2 teams again.  He worked on several fronts: overseeing road clearance, putting in small bridges and opening up the new site for construction.

Construction of a new permanent Base Camp/patrol post in Mbolose (Mituku Basikate) was underway as of December 2021.

Each village along the path contributed to opening the path from Mayunga to Mbolose and beyond.
Making window frames in front of one of two partially completed houses at Mbolose Base.

As happened other places around the bufferzone, when the advantages of a patrol post become obvious (employment, local market) other villages and sectors ask for one.  Not only Kalindula, but Yesse and Chef Vingt of Mituku Bamoya, all requested a patrol post.

One of two houses completed at the Mbolose base and patrol post.

At the end of 2021, Henri Silegowa, a TL2 technician, came to Lowa to oversee the border marking.  A major multi-sector meeting at Mayunga launched the operation which started with the Mituku Basikate and the Lengola Lowa park borders. 

At the Mayunga meeting that preceded border marking all the northeastern sectors, even the Balanga were invited.

Inclusivity was the only way to operate.  Our lesson-learned is that the Mituku are extremely independent in their separate villages and families, in a way that makes standard “democratic representation” problematic.  What seems representative one day, has lost legitimacy in most everyone’s eyes the next.  Furthermore, with low literacy, no internet and no national/regional radio, the far-flung communities are susceptible to rumor and to false interpretations of events. 


Solution for the Lomami National Park —  Create a permanent presence of the Park in the Mituku sectors that is always visible, available and listening to everyone ;

Solution for border marking — include everyone, all Mituku villages, whether their land abuts the park or not.

Henri trains two ex- Mai-Mai, Edingwe and Evariste, in the use of a compass.

Because of problematic “democratic representation”, before moving out on the ground, Henri trained influential people of many Mituku villages, mainly ex-Mai-Mai in the use of the GPS device and the compass.  We wanted them to understand the non-arbitrariness of the marking.  Also, for that reason, the first team that moved out to open a border path and put-up placards included 127 people even though they had to walk three days just to reach the park border.

The border-marking team walking through the last village.
The border-marking team crossing a flooded stream. The team included security and elders and chiefs from five sectors even though the border of only two sectors were marked. Every concerned village had representatives on the team.
Signs were placed at every path, no matter how small, that crossed into the park.
A three metre wide transect was cut along the border to assure that no one can enter the park without realizing it. Unfortunately patrols must regularly reopen the transect.

Flooded forest kept the teams from completing the Basikate-Lengola segment. The operation was taken up again during the dry season of May-June 2022, this time with “only” 57 people on the border-marking team.

Flooded forest made progress impossible after a point.
Henri completed segments 1 and 2 covering the straight line border in Mituku Basikate and Lengola Lowa. The next area proposed was immediately north, “3”, in Mituku Bamoya.

But we were not done with the difficulty of “democratic representation”;  the third border segment in the Mituku Bamoya forest failed. 

The process seemed inclusive.  An inclusive meeting with representation from all the Mituku Bamoya chiefs, as well as representation from Basikate and Lengola groups, occurred in November.   The first danger sign was that a couple of the Mituku Bamoya ex-Mai-Mai did not attend.  Afterwards, the chiefs agreed to return to their villages with the explanation of the process and to select the persons to represent the village on the border-marking team.  BUT, the new chief from the Bimbi groupement did not return to Bimbi.  Henri was waiting at Yesse with a group that already numbered fifty, but the Bimbi group did not join them. Finally, Henri sent a delegation of six to go to Bimbi and retrieve the Bimbi team.  The delegation included four Mituku that either came from Bimbi or had in-laws in Bimbi. 

Henri waiting with an already gathered delegation in the village of Yesse for the representatives of Bimbi to arrive.

The very night the delegation arrived in Bimbi, they were attacked in the dark, their telephones stolen, and they were beaten.  One Mai-Mai leader and a group of young boys were responsible.  Families of the delegation and another ex-Mai-Mai intervened.  The delegation sent by Henri was escorted to safety and sent on its way, traumatized, limping and without money.  They were fed by sympathetic villagers several km away.  But the continuation of border marking in Mituku Bamoya was called off.

The decision was made to skip Mituku Basikate and move the border-marking to “4” (above) , in the Lengola Bira Sector.

Henri will now skip Mituku Bamoya and move north to Lengola Bira; but, Henri, Maurice and Robert realize that they must come back.  The requests for a clearly marked park border for Mituku Bamoya are real and they come from people with important backing:  the  new sector chief Baondja, the past sector-chief Vingt, the local ex Mai-Mai Machine and from the chiefs of almost every village.  Those who continue to undermine have allegiance to illegality and many are wanted by the law: Thoms, Portuguai and Alpha.

The concerned village chiefs and leaders all signed their agreement to the marked borders after the first two missions.

This was a long post- thank you for reading it through. I include here two annexes to help explain a couple of terms:

Annex One concerns an explanation of straight lines on the map.

Annex Two is a definition of Mai-Mai.

African Grey Parrots _ a history of loss

African grey on top of the release cage at the Center for Parrot Conservation in Dingi, Maniema.

Grey Parrots belong in Maniema.
There is a river called Kasuku (parrot in Swahili).
There is a Kasuku quarter in the provincial capital, Kindu.
Kasukus have power beyond other birds.

Chief Pierre Lukusu of the Matapa chiefdom has parrot tail feathers in his cap of office.

“In our Kusu dialect we call the parrots, KOSO, that means Talker. A Talker has power. People listen.”

Chief Pierre, who is now 65, told Salumu that there weren’t any parrot traffickers in Maniema Province in the 1970s and 80s.  Even with the arrival of Indian merchants, there was only a small local demand.  The merchants used parrots to guard the shop.  If a client arrived after the shopkeeper stepped behind for a cup of tea, the Parrot would announce loudly : “Client anafika. Patron atarudia sasa” “A client has come; the boss will return now. ”

parrots at guest house
Parrots kept at an Indian shop and guest house in Kindu.

During the 1970s Chief Pierre worked for the Kindu railroad.  He told Salumu that one Greek merchant, Mr Salvambas, would occasionally send parrots by railroad to Lubumbashi.  It was the only town that sometimes sent a request to Kindu coming from the Indians and other foreigners working in the mining sector.  The only direct way to send parrots from Kindu was by railroad.

Recently captured parrots in cage at capture site.

Putting the parrots on the train for Lubumbashi was not simple. To have a spirit bird on the train was considered an invitation to disaster by the railway crew. But the money was good;  Parrots were bought in Maniema for 1 Zaire each (2 dollars at the time) and sold in Lubumbashi for 50 Zaires each. 
Commonly 20 were put on the train at one time.  And frequently half or more would be dead on arrival, but still the profit was good.

These birds died while being held before transport at a village near a major capture site_the first stage where mortality occurs.

Salumu went to the Environment Coordination in Kindu to see what more he could learn about the history of parrot export from Maniema.  The interim coordinator confirmed that during Mobutu Sese Seko’s era, up through the early 1990s, there was little parrot commerce. The reason: strong, enforced national restrictions. Permits were needed to obtain and to keep parrots; the Coordination issued most permits for domestic not commercial use. 

A parrot capture permit from 2002.
A 2007 permit to Byart to hold parrots in Kindu before shipping them.
A 2005 permit to export grey parrots from Kindu.

International export of parrots out of Kinshasa, the environmental coordinator said, only started in the 90s, when Mobutu’s regime began to fall apart.

Shipping crates with grey parrots at the airport in 2016.

Import records from South Africa support this.   Through the 70s and 80s grey parrots came from West Africa; it was a different species, Psittacus timneh, not our Psittacus erithacus.   Then in 1992 and 1993 the numbers went up from Zaire (pre-war name of Congo).  They shot up over 1000 annually sent from Zaire to South Africa. 1

In 2016, parrots for export at a holding cage in Kindu.

During most of Mobutu’s era it was Congo’s own laws that put a clamp on the parrot trade, these laws were never reinstated after the long civil war that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko and replaced him with Vieux Laurent Kabila.


Here is an example from one importing country:  Singapore officially reported imports of 41,737 grey parrots between 2005 and 2014.  Half were wild caught and, of those, over 90% originated in DR Congo.2

The graph below takes records from importers in many countries to show the origin of  African Greys on the international market between 2007 to 2016.3

The graph shows records of the country of origin for wild grey parrots received by various importing countries.


There are many ways parrots leave Maniema for Kinshasa : boat to Kisangani, motorbike to Lodja, train to Kalemie  or directly through the airport in Kindu.

Records were kept at the Kisangani airport of the origin of parrots sent to Kinshasa. All Maniema parrots recorded came on boat or barge down the Congo River to Kisangani. These are only one part of Maniema’s parrot export.

Between 2017 and July 2022, 68,542 African Grey parrots were shipped by plane from Kisangani to Kinshasa. Maniema province was the source of 53,113 of these birds.  Map by John Hart.

International pressure through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) became more insistent: A ban on all trade in African grey parrots originating in DR Congo was put in place in 2016 and renewed in 2018.   In 2017 the African Grey parrot was put on CITES appendix I, basically forbidding all commercial trade of wild caught parrots 3.  Officially DRC seems to be following the CITES recommendations4: permit delivery for parrot trade ceased.  Salumu learned from Maniema’s Environment Coordination that the national environmental authority informed provincial offices that, as of 2017, that CITES forbade permits. Maniema’s Environmental Coordination no longer issues them.

What is the impact in Maniema?  Salumu spoke with one of the biggest traffickers of grey parrots in Maniema, Theo, who works for the company ‘Byart Birds’.  Theo has been operating since 2002.

Leon’s question was “how does the international ban on parrot trade affect your work.”  The answer:  “Not at all.  Byart tells me,  ‘Send them’ so I send them. Demand is high.”

Apparently, no permits, does not mean no trade.

Dead parrots found at a Byart collection facility during a 2016 raid – this is mortality at the second transport stage and there are many more stages.

Our big advantage in Maniema is that the province put its own regulations in place.  No other province has done so. Maniema understood that the CITES ban on parrot commerce from DR Congo needed matching, unambiguous in-country regulation.

In 2016 the governor also stopped captures altogether. The provincial decision was only pertinent until national legislation was put in place. This was expected to follow the CITES ban.  We are still waiting for national legislation; Maniema’s provincial ban on parrot trade is still in effect.

The governor announced that all parrot captures must cease in Maniema

Despite this, many parrot operators are capturing and shipping out parrots from Maniema.  They are relying on payoffs, on clandestine transactions and multiple transport options.  They are relying on the fact that political turmoil, MaiMai activities, kidnappings and continuous crisis keep Maniema’s underpaid law-enforcement otherwise occupied.

a flat bed of open slat parrot boxes
Crates ready for shipment at Kindu airport.

We, at Congo’s conservation institute, ICCN, believe this can be changed.  Even now there are professionally dedicated wildlife agents scattered through Maniema’s countryside that confiscate parrots at the point of capture.  We are starting at the very bottom of the parrot trade chain.

Parrots in trees next to a major path near one of Maniema’s larger capture areas : Bikenge.

Once parrots are confiscated, then what?  At the point of capture, the climber clips the parrots’ wings or “braids” flight feathers so none will escape.  It takes months, possibly a year for new feathers to grow in. 

parrot with glue on wings
Damaged feathers from a glue stick method of capture.  For other methods of capture, birds are ‘grounded’ by clipping or twisting the flight feathers.

Together with World Parrot Trust, and with advice from the Lwiro sanctuary in the east, we set up a site for rehabilitation and release 55 km north of Kindu at Dingi.

Here is a short video of progress.  At the time of writing more than 70 parrots have flown back into the wild, but more confiscated African Greys are coming in.

We will write more about African grey parrots on this blog and our progress to help them.

LEON SALUMU is the point person for ICCN Maniema.

1 Mulliken, T.A.  1995. Trade Review: South Africa’s trade in African Grey Parrots. 43 pages. TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa.

2  Poole,C.M. & C.R.Shepherd. 2016.  Fauna and Flora International. Review Article. 7 pages.

3  UNODC. 2018. West and Central Africa Wildlife Crime Assessment. For CITES. COP18 Doc 34, Annex4.

4 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wide Fauna and Flora (CITES)  Notification to the Parties, 1 November 2018.  No 2018/081.  Concerning: Application of Article XIII in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reissue of a recommendation to suspend trade in African grey parrots (Psittacus Erithacus).