Tarred Feathers of Peacock and Parrot in Central Congo

The congo peacock and the grey parrot are both in TL2 forests and, after two years, finally here is their first post.

The Congo Peacock (Afropavo congensis) exists only in the forests of D.R. Congo.  It should be emblazoned on national uniforms or pressed into official seals. Not so.  We are more often reminded of its presence by charred remains by campfires.  Killing Congo Peacock is not worth comment – it is only a bird.

In TL2: hunter with peacock feathers
Hunter in TL2 holding the feathers of a Congo Peacock that he cooked the night before.

Chapin, who was the first to describe Afropavo in 1936, said its closest relatives were the Asian peacocks.  Many later disputed this, giving it closer connections to francolins or guinea fowl that are, after all, African.  Not so – recent genetic studies agree with Chapin.     Afropavo, unlike the more flamboyant Asian peacocks is monogamous with both male and female caring for a small clutch of young.  Other than that, not much is known.

Chapin in what became Kinshasa
This photo we found pasted onto the front endpaper of volumn 2 of “The Birds of the Belgian Congo” that we acquired.  It was taken in the town that has become Kinshasa.

Even in TL2, Afropavo is in some forests and not other forests for no clear reason.  The vast forest area of northern DR Congo seems to have no peacock at all. Chapin, in the middle of last century suspected hunting as the cause.  In the fourth volume of the Birds of the Belgian Congo he wrote:

“It may well be that in those areas (where it does not exist) it has been extirpated by native hunters.” (p627)  We don’t know enough to confirm this.

illustration of Afropavo that appeared in Chapin's Birds of the Belgian Congo
The frontispiece of the “Birds of the Belgian Congo” volume 2, published in 1939.

Where it does occur it is given no particular status.  Fidèle writes that around the Maiko National Park  “they are sold like chickens.”

Fidèle with dead peafowl-opienge
Fidèle Amsini holder a poacher-killed Afropavo near Maiko National Park.

They are caught in snares.  Special barrier traps “lead” Afropavo and other mainly ground birds into the snares.

But there is still hope for Afropavo:
Jef Dupain who just camped some nights in Lomako forest (northwest of TL2) writes, “We heard them every second night.”

male and female congo peacock
Male and female Congo Peacock. Photos from Fidèle Amsini.

What gives the Congo Peacock its small margin of safety is that there is no specialized commercial market — in or outside of Congo; they are just meat for the pot.

The grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) , however,  is in a very different situation.  It has a large distribution, overflowing the borders of DRCongo into all the forested countries of Central Africa.  But there is also a large market for living birds, both in Congo and in markets of far more developed countries.

for sale in Kinshasa
These grey parrots are for sale at the “marché des voleurs” in Kinshasa. Canvases of local painters are visible in the background.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued export permits in 2006 that included 10,000 living birds from DR Congo, 12,000 from Cameroon, 10,000 from Congo-Brazzaville, and 3000 from Ivory Coast.  Alarm was eventually raised over the high mortality involved in the capture of parrots and the lack of real control over the number of birds exported.  Nowhere was control less present than in DR Congo.   In 2009 only DR Congo and Congo-Brazzaville still allow grey parrot exports, with the largest number, 5000, from DR Congo.  What is the real number that leaves? What number is dead before it ever reaches a border.

Grey Parrots --- vulnerable!
Grey parrots are most vulnerable in groups and on the ground as, here, in DR Congo. © Copyright Reto Kuster_kuster.reto@gmx.net.

Many different methods of capture are used in Congo (see Roger Fotso’s study below).  In TL2 we know of nest sites being watched and then the young stolen.  But in the Equateur Province a glue produced from tree sap is used on the ground or in trees along with decoy birds.  Nets are also used, being spread in mineral licks similar to green pigeon captures reported earlier.

six to a basket
Greys being transported through the Kindu airport.
baskets of grey parrots at Kindu airport
There were six parrots to a basket.

If the grey parrot has become so popular, from Long John Silver’s shoulder to many suburban sun rooms, it is because they are indeed good company.    Alex, a famous grey parrot who lived to be 31, not only had a large vocabulary, but would engage in simple conversations and could make decisions based on verbal choices.   Now, many countries including the United States have strict rules to assure that all grey parrots sold be captive bred.  It works.  Stopping the trade in wild grey parrots would not interfere in any responsible pet trade.  It should be stopped.

1954.  Chapin, James P  The Birds of the Belgian Congo, Part 4.   Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History,  Vol 75B  NY  846pp.

1996.  Fotso, R.C.  Examen du statut, Etude de la distribution et de l’utilisation du perroquet gris (Psittacus erythacus), au Zaire.  Rapport final.  CITES secrétariat, Projet S-60.


  1. Posted 2009-09-17 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    So all flagship species of DRC can be found in the TL2 landscape(bonobo.okapi,congo peacock) and the Grauers Gorilla is not far away.

  2. Terese Hart
    Posted 2009-09-17 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Grauer’s gorilla is across the Lualaba (congo) in Maiko national Park, Kahuzi National Park and Itombwe. The former two parks are partially in Maniema Province. I wish that all of this meant that it would be easy to develop a welcoming tourist environment.

  3. actibio Ong / asbl
    Posted 2009-12-13 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Chère Madame Terese Hart,

    Nous une Ong qui s’occupent du développement et de la conservation de Biodiversité.

    Nous avons un projet sur l’Etude de la distribution et de l’utilisation du perroquet gris ( psittacus erithacus) .

    J’ai fait parti du projet S – 60 conduit par Dr Roger Fotso au zaire en 1996 pour le compte CITES.

    Vu votre article sur le perroquet gris et de votre présence dans la partie oriental de la RD Congo qui est aussi la zone d’exploitation des perroquets gris( psittacus erithacus )

    je sollicite que nous puissions travailler en collaboration dans l’Etude qui commencera
    début juillet 2010 pour une durée de 60 jours.

    Pour l’instant je suis a Bruxelles et je compte rentrer a kinshasa au mois de février 2010

    Si possible vous pouvez me contactez par mail actibio2008@yahoo.fr

    Bien a vous

    Robert Itengo

  4. Posted 2010-08-07 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    How can I one person, help? I want to do something to help. joanne

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