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.

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