Paying the Traffic Cop for Parrots

Kin traffic_making it move
There’s always a way.

African Grey parrots, unlike dodos (above), are still alive and in the wild.  But corruption, as in paying off the “traffic cops”, is pushing them ever closer to extinction.   A little money in the right place is all that is needed to swing a parrot cargo around “traffic jams” caused by a few inconvenient legal texts.

We ended the last post by saying that Maniema’s minister of the environment held firm…no parrot trade in the province of Maniema.  There is now a wobble.

Theo parle avec Ministre
Maniema’s environment minister, in suitcoat, speaks with the parrot trader, Theo, in grey plaid shirt, in front of Theo’s cages.

In August 2023, the minister organized a government delegation with representatives of our P3-Maniema core group, to visit the “maisons” of the traders in Kindu.

It was revealing.

Theo with his PGA
Theo, parrot trader, in front of his birds in August 2023.

Parrots are stocked for export in and around Kindu – Mostly grey parrots and lots of them.  The same “maison” that ICCN raided in early March 2016, during a brief effective closure of Maniema’s parrot trade, was active again.   In 2016 it had over 400 living African Grey Parrots and many dead ones were strewn on the ground. More than 7 years later, on 28 August 2023 it contained, again, 421 living Grey parrots.  What payoffs allowed that?  Theo, the “maison” owner, was ready for the minister’s visit, so the dead parrots had been swept away. 

The same cages at Theo’s in March 2016 before they were emptied during an ICCN raid.
dead parrots at Theo's in 2016
Dead parrots in the trash heap next to Theo’s cages in 2016.

Did the 2016 raid have any impact??

chez Aimé_Kindu
Aimé is another parrot trader holding 130 parrots in Kindu in 2023.

Another “maison” in Kindu visited the same day, August 2023, contained 130 Grey parrots.   What’s more a group of parrot suppliers were present and between them they reported another 860 parrots being held in Maniema outside of Kindu.

photo famille traffiquant; fournisseurs et ministre
In the center back of this photo taken with the minister are a number of parrot suppliers who keep their stocks outside of Kindu.

The parrot traders were ready with a defense.  “These parrots should not be affected by the Governor’s Message banning the parrot trade,” said Theo, who is still their representative, “they have been in captivity since before the Annex 1 listing of Grey Parrots by CITES in January 2017 and they already belong to registered commercial companies in Kinshasa, Byart and Balka, that are waiting for the trade to be legally reopened.”

The Minister asked them to bring their permits clarifying the status of the birds to him and his services for verification. (Up to the present, no permits have been shown.) Minister also told us that he felt he could not confiscate these stocked parrots without the go-ahead of the national authorities at CITES and the ministry.

Meeting Sec Gen EDD
In Kinshasa with the Secretary General of the Environment and Sustainable Development (white cap) with the Coordinator of the Environment of Maniema in pin-stripe and core group members, Moise Imani (left) and Leon Salumu (right).

As quickly as possible we organized a trip to DRC’s capital.  Leon Salumu and Moise Imani represented our core group at the General Direction of ICCN, at CITES Management Authority, and with the Secretary General for the Environment.  A mixed meeting was called for all environmental authorities in Kinshasa.  In the minutes of the meeting, they congratulated Maniema Province on its message forbidding the parrot trade.  In their recommendations they also wrote that Maniema’s coordination should:

Procéder à la saisie de 531 Perroquets et traduire les deux sociétés en justice.

(“proceed with the seizure of the 531 parrots and take the two parrot trading companies to court.”)

photo famille_atelier
A diverse group of environmental authorities gathered in the capital, Kinshasa.

That would have been the end of it if someone was not paying the traffic cop.   In Kindu, the Minsiter wobbled.  None of the traders had come up with a single permit to justify their parrot stocks.  Nevertheless, without informing even his own cabinet, the minister issued a “communication” giving traders the right to evacuate their grey parrots:

official communication minister 1oct-dec
An official “communication” from Maniema’s environment minister giving parrot traders three months to empty their stocks without reprisal.

What was the price-tag for that??  The communication says the traders may  “vider” or “empty” their stocks of AGP.  It opens the door to “empty” all Maniema of Grey Parrots.  At least the 860 will go, along with all still being held by Theo and Aimé.

We are all back in Kindu now and trying to figure out what steps must be taken to have the communiqué withdrawn.  Thank goodness, the technical (as opposed to political) administration is strongly against the parrot trade, in both Kinshasa and Maniema.  We will follow possibilities to plug this “parrot leak” in our next post.

Nov 07 meeting to write note to gov
A group of the technical, “non-political”, environmental staff discussing how to handle the minister’s damaging “communication”.

In this post, I want to at least put down in black and white what we are learning of corruption permeating the trade from its lowest to highest levels: The roads of Maniema should be enough to discourage the parrot trade. 

Bikenge road conditions
The road to Bikenge a major “hot-spot” for parrots. (See bottom photo)

Almost none are accessible to 4-wheel vehicles of any kind.  Even motorbikes use them with great difficulty, and – what should be most discouraging – there are road blocks at every large town.  At road blocks military, police and border-officials look for illegal cargoes among other things.

Barriere de Kiyungi copy
A road barrier along a major road-way south of Kindu.
Agent des FARDC controle une feuille de route
Military officer inspecting a traveler’s documents at a road barrier.

To get around Road barriers: Law enforcement can be made a little friendlier with a few cigarettes, and then almost any vaguely pertinent document will get your parrots through.  Most barrier-officials are barely literate; the motorbike driver tells them what the documents say that he pulls from his back pocket to show them.  All the better if there are two or three documents…even if totally unrelated to each other. Here are some examples of hip-pocket, road-barrier, slip-around documents:

page 1 of DG Cosma's note technique
First page of a letter from a previous Director General of the Conservation Agency (left the post in 2022)
page 6 of DG Cosma's note technique
Last of page of the same six-page letter.

A letter signed by the Director General of the Natural Conservation Institute (ICCN) and addressed to the highest political authorities in DRC (the president and ministers) says the CITES decision to embargo trade in grey parrots from DRC is unfair and should have been illegal.  He calls on the national government to fight it diplomatically, politically, scientifically and judicially.  The country must and will do everything possible to open the trade…  signed by the DG in 2022 just a couple months before leaving office. Was this 6-page document ever sent to the intended authorities? or just distributed for use to parrot exploiters? It has been used at many road barriers as a license to let through parrots.

a national quota for green parrots used to justify grey parrots
This much copied referencen to a quota for capture of green parrots is used to assure passage for grey parrots who have a “0” quota.
Document for export of verts used for internal trafficing of greys -- signed by the management authority of ICCN
Or, bizarrely, an international export permit for green parrots is used to move grey parrots through road barriers in Maniema.

What we still don’t understand is how thousands of Grey Parrots continue to move out of Kinshasa to other countries.

That is top level, and requires more than hip-pocket greasing of the road-barrier gears.  Hip-pocket works where birds are worth $10 each, but something else is needed where they are worth $200 each and a CITES embargo is active. 

Below is from a petition presented at the CITES Permanent Committee meeting early November 2023 :

“Recommendations to improve compliance regarding trade in Grey parrots in the DRC have been made at almost every Standing Committee meeting since SC67 (2016) and we are concerned about the slow progress in their implementation in the face of a situation that is worsening…

……Commercial-scale shipments of Grey parrots are not easy to conceal or difficult to identify.”

We were pleased that this petition did not fault only DRC for corruption, it called out the receiving countries as well:

“….the laundering of wild-sourced parrots as purportedly captive bred, noting that the recent increase in trade in wild-sourced Grey parrots has coincided with the registration of over 200 facilities across several countries and a trade which now involves several thousand specimens annually.”

For Maniema, at least, we are working to get the wobble under control and the parrot trade firmly monitored.   It will not be simple; it will not be cheap….AND at the same time we must begin to chip away at other provinces…. (Sankuru, Tshopo, Kinshasa).

Ramazani with parrots at Annexe
Ramazani seized 16 parrots in Bikenge on the 7th of November that were collected during what climbers called a “3 month open period declared by the Minister” (!); on the basis of the governor’s ban, given precedence by Ramazani, he brought them 230 km, 2 days, over brutal roads on a motorbike. 14 survivors are now established at the P3-M annexe.

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