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).

A Wonderful, Impossible Year

At Ngombe_on Lomami
Is this my office? __ half way down the Lomami River in the Lomami National Park?

I stepped out of my comfort zone in September 2021 and stayed there until the end of December 2022.  It was not, thank goodness, 100% dismal:

I was never more immersed in the Lomami National Park – that I love;

LomamiRiver_©Daniel Rosengren_FZS
The Lomami River cuts through the forest and past small included savannas (in distance).

I was never closer to my husband – whom I love;

with Gov of Tshopo and Rusina LAB
John and I sit on either side of the governor of Tshopo Province. Koko (FZS – head of inventory and biomonitoring) is in back and Rusina (ICCN – head of park guards) next to John.

I worked closely with all the people dedicated to the Lomami wilderness with whom I have worked for years – that was wonderful;

stop on dugout trip
Just a few of them.

And I felt welcomed in my new position by the villages surrounding the park.

The women of two villages laid down a multicolored carpet and sang my welcome…catching me very much off guard.

But the position of Head Warden of Lomami National Park, “Directeur, Chef de Site” has heavy, almost impossible responsibilities.  In Sept 2021, I was made commander in chief of ICCN’s 70+ armed park guards and 50+ local administrative and project staff.  As Leader of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) Project in Lomami, I was the person to make co-management between Congo’s Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN) and FZS effective on the ground.

In that, I was not successful.

meeting at JAY Kin
An FZS-ICCN meeting at Jay Hotel. Notice the incongruous art replicates on the wall. There was plenty that was incongruent below as well.

To have effective co-management, two workforces with different backgrounds, different pay scales and redundant job descriptions need to be merged.  The park guards were not a problem. FZS did not have their equivalent and has been working with them in the field for years.  But all administrative jobs, community conservation jobs, outreach and training jobs – were duplicated. 

ICCN building in Kindu
This is the second ICCN building in Kindu — larger than the first, but still too small for all the desk positions.

The merger could not be easy. 

The TL2 project (that became FZS) grew its workforce slowly, ever since 2007, as we covered more geographic ground, or met a new need.  ICCN grew quickly after 2014 with a single grant and a neophyte head warden.   His job was apparently accomplished by surrounding himself with staff holding the right titles: researcher, community organizer, public relations expert.  ICCN headquarters, 100 km from the nearest park border, was filled with sedentary experts.

ICCN and FZS work together in limit marking
FZS biologist, Henri Silegowa (blue shirt), worked with other FZS staff, ICCN park guards and villagers to mark an important part of the park border in 2022.

Most new park guards were sent to the field, their job was known, park protection.  But, ICCN had no funds for the operations of their non-guard staff.  In Sept 2021, I found over 50 employees still sitting at ICCN headquarters in Kindu.  Many of them sitting there for more than 6 years.   

I moved in with them.

It was not fair; everyone employed by ICCN needs a chance to show what they can do.  It does not sweeten the situation for ICCN to see their FZS counterparts working in the park and getting paid much higher salaries.   A critical complication is that ICCN workers are state employees; FZS, even as the co-management partner, does not have the final say in their employment fate.  The Direction of ICCN in Kinshasa is the employer.

FZS-ICCN guards head south with suppolies from halfway point along Lomami
FZS with ICCN park guards carry rations south along the Lomami River in three dugouts lashed together. One ICCN non-guard was integrated at a high level into the monitoring teams along the Lomami, another was integrated in the eastern buffer zone, but most other ICCN staff presented too many conditions before they could be moved out of the office to the field.

That was my frustration during the “Head Warden Year”: I could not slim down, integrate and stimulate a single Lomami work force.

Troop review Biondo_rotational camp
Reviewing the guards at Biondo, a rotational camp on the Lomami River, in the park.

But there were definite glimmers of light:

The top guards are truly dedicated; We moved through the park together to review guards at all the posts. It was strange, as the daughter of a pacifist, who was a conscientious objector during WWII, to be accompanied by bodyguards and saluted by armed park guards, but the leaders of the guard force understood well the importance of discipline and well-defined objectives.

justin event_with chef and lab
In the center, Joseph Rusina, the head of Lomami park guards with a local “groupement” chief discuss how to pay back villagers for inappropriate confiscations during a park patrol. Below Rusina is talking to the villagers about the mission and role of ICCN guards.
Justin event_village near entrance parc pigeon

The problems of headquarters did not reach the park.   Park protection is a joint effort – Park guards and FZS staff watch each other’s backs -literally — and they sweat, trek, and arrest working as unified teams.

Nguzo and Leon with ZED et BB
John Nguzo (on left), Rusina’s assistant, and Leon Salumu (in blue striped shirt), FZS buffer zone supervisor, at Bangaliwa patrol post, discuss collaboration with the ICCN head guard and the FZS base camp leader.

During the year 2022 we grew from 8 patrol posts to 10, making the park more secure and integrating more of the bufferzone villages into our efforts.  We marked the park border through an important area, and created a community reserve outside the park.  More about these incremental successes in the next posts.

Liekelesole construction underway
Building two permanent buildings at the Liekelesole patrol post.

With a mixture of satisfaction,frustration and –I admit it — relief, I ceded the twin posts of FZS project leader and head warden of the Lomami National Park to a another, very experienced chief.  Radar Nishuli comes in with a background in ICCN and even in Lomami; He was welcomed back by ICCN and FZS, both.  He brings a Congolese orientation and an ICCN understanding.  We wish him success and remain ready to help in any way possible.

MAKING coffee in dugout
There are some rituals I will miss: Like making good coffee in the bottom of the dugout and sharing it with whatever colleagues were traveling with me.

Daniel’s Intimate View of Lomami

Notes, photos and videos by Daniel Alempijevic

The far south of Lomami National Park is nutrient-poor, seasonally flooded grasslands dotted with tree islands, or bosquets. Gallery forests project into these prairies, creating a fluted but, abrupt end to the rainforest blanket covering most of the park and most of the Congo Basin.

landscape photo
A forest gallery juts out in the Luzaka Prairie.

The Luzaka prairie and surrounding forests are TL2 “hotspots” where patrols frequently encounter bonobos. David Fasbender spent a year in Luzaka studying the bonobo-rich forest with terrestrial camera traps. 

Davids team
David wading through the flooded southern forests.

But what about the arboreal mammal community?  Which species occur in the forest fingers, or galleries? How many of these mammals leave the trees to cross prairies and colonize bosquets?

Distant bosquet
A distant bosquet in the Luzaka prairie.

I am a PhD Candidate from Florida Atlantic University.  This was my third trip to the Lomami National Park.  Earlier I used multi-strata camera trap “columns” to study Inoko in the courbure sector. These columns increased our knowledge of mammal diversity in Lomami National Park (LNP), and revealed the preferred heights of different species in the canopy. Since these surveys, one Inoko was killed by a hunter in the Luanga gallery, on the east side of the Luzaka prairie.

Joined by a fellow FAU student, Charlene, and a TL2 team, I set 30 columns, 2 km apart, covering forest interior, forest edge, and bosquets to determine the occurrence not only of inoko but all mammal species in the southern LNP ecotone. 

CF & BM set CT
Martin sets a camera trap while Charlene records site characteristics.

The thirty camera trap columns, spanning 172 km2 at the southern tip of the Lomami National Park.

There were some surprises working in Luzaka.  At some camps, it was the bee swarms. Honeybees craving salt would swarm us at camp, covering our skin, entering our clothes. They are not aggressive but, it is easy to pin the bees under your clothes, resulting in a sting. There were times when it was unbearable, and we would have to take refuge in our tents. Once, with bees in my ears and mouth, I had to submerge myself in a nearby stream.  I have been stung almost daily in Luzaka.  

Bee assortment
Three species of “honey” making bees are attracted to sweat; only the largest, the “common” honey bee can sting.

Honey bees attracted to a sweaty back pack.

At another camp, it was the termites. Charlene was their first victim, waking in the middle of the night with the sensation of insects crawling on her. They had chewed through her tent from below. We thought it was an unfortunate coincidence, and patched up the holes with some duct tape. A few nights later, I woke flat on the ground. The termites chewed through my tarp, then my tent, and finally my inflatable sleeping pad, and I was only three weeks into a 6-month trip. Over the next few visits to this camp, wherever I set up my tent, the termites would emerge. Over the next few months, other insects chewed through the rainfly and mesh from above. Brand new camping gear, all bug food.

Termites emerged repeatedly from below my tent, chewing their way through everything in their way.

Next, the rains began. Much of our 172 km2 survey area quickly became inundated with water. Already difficult hikes over tussocky grasses and sedges, now included wading and the occasional swim. My “storm proof” tent, now covered in holes, offered little shelter from the storms. Flood surges destroyed two camera traps.

The environment and species captured by this camera trap completely changed with the wet season rains.

The forest was transformed by the wet season rains.

While at our farthest camp from the Lukunda field base, Martin, one of my assistants, woke me in the night whimpering from abdominal pain. Together with an ecoguard, they left camp on foot towards Lukunda, from where a TL2 motorbike took Martin to Kindu. The following night, I woke with fever. The next day, three more sick. We pushed for a few more days, setting a few more camera traps, this time targeting Inoko where the hunter reported killing one in the buffer zone years before. Finally, we could go no further, abandoned our goal of setting the three last sites, and started our two-day hike back to Lukunda. There we found that both the TL2 base leader and the ICCN head of the guard post had returned to Kindu ill. Some tested positive for malaria, none tested positive for COVID, we are now calling our collective illness “Lukundiasis”.

Through this work, we have accumulated some incredible videos. Not only did we record bonobos on the ground, but also in the canopy for the first time. The forest galleries are also home to a diverse ungulate community, and four monkeys.




The elusive Inoko, blue monkey, and black mangabey, are all present nearby in the Courbure sector, but  rare or absent in southern galleries. 

The most exciting finds for me have been black-bellied pangolins. Canopy camera traps provide the only confirmation that this exclusively arboreal species occurs in Lomami National Park. We recorded all three rainforest pangolin species during this survey. 


We have found that two monkeys and several other arboreal species are frequent visitors or residents of the bosquets. Three of them have been recorded crossing the prairies. We also recorded two of the prairies predators.

Red-legged sun squirrel.

Out on the ground.

And perhaps the most incredible part of this work, is the breath-taking view and indescribable feeling of emerging through the rainforest canopy to see what creatures have passed over the same branch as me.

I want to thank the Primatology Lab at Florida Atlantic University and the FZS-TL2 project in DR Congo. Our particular thanks to ICCN for welcoming and facilitating this project. The critical funding that made it possible came from Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, Primate Conservation Inc. (PCI) and Primate Action Fund (PAF).

Seismic Changes in Congo Conservation

Blood of the goat on the ground
When a goat is hung up for slaughter, its blood drains on the ground. This marks the site of ritual, celebration or tragedy.

We are beginning to believe in continental movements and the succession of ice ages.  We are beginning to believe in biologic and geographic ultimatum as mover of extinction and speciation.  We are living in an age of fire and flood, tsunami and sudden crevasse, the era of global pandemics.

meeting change with drums and dance
When something must be communicated – ritual, celebration or tragedy – drums reach farther than words.

DR Congo should be central to the disasters… everyone here knows the life crushing impact of Ebola, Measles, Cholera, and, particularly, the heart-tearing loss of toddlers to Diarrhea, Malaria and Pneumonia.  So, DR Congo should be a tremulous, tragic crucible of these cataclysms. 

It is not. 

Congo had only one volcanic eruption this year with many fewer lives and businesses lost than in the eruption of 2002.    And Covid is among us, but it is a small tremor in Covid’s global shake-up.  

Dancing is not just for the firm and young – dancing is for everyone and is for ritual, celebration and even closure after tragedy.

But other Seismic changes, changes that we thought might never happen in Congo, are now upon us.

Stronger than the health system in DR Congo, far stronger than any emergency response system in DR Congo is a self-serving, self-perpetuating state administration.  And among the most “profit to the big man” of these state services was Parks and Nature Conservation.   A national election and change of president did not shake his hold.  His mandate ended, his legal tenure was past and still he stayed.

Not always easy to swallow what must go down….
Canopy camera trap video thanks to Daniel Alempijevic.

We kept waiting for change but it always seemed a bite too big to swallow….until…

The Bilateral and Multilateral funders for conservation knew something was not right; their money moved out of the banks, but on-the-ground accomplishments did not happen or, they happened, but with other money.  Smaller NGOs, not required to give their money through the state, use it directly on the ground.   Smaller NGOs fund biomonitoring, law enforcement, community projects.  Outrageous proportions of the bi-lateral funds were drained into the state institution without ever reaching the ground.

This is what funds must help, totally protected species like Angolan colobus.
Video from Daniel Alempijevic’s canopy camera traps.

 Behind the institutional dams, that side-channeled funding, the seismic tension built; the German development bank understood something was amiss.  It cut funding making private partnerships or co-management with NGOs a requirement in every park where they invested, before funding would be resumed.  In the case of the Lomami National Park, FZS signed a co-management contract with the Parks Service in January. The German bank immediately resumed funding — BUT no co-management was put in place.  The appointments weren’t made, people weren’t officially notified, the seismic tension built – and then in August the dam burst.

at the cutting of the ribbon
All New: me freshly appointed Park Director (September 2021) next to an equally new Assistant Director of the national ICCN to the left, Vincent Imbongo.

Event 1:  There is a new head of national parks and conservation —  Olivier Mushiete – Welcome.  Olivier comes with international experience, conservation experience (he was head of a protected area) and has a significant slice of administrative savvy.

shaking hands with outgoing
I shake hands with the parting, temporary Park Director (now my assistant) and receive the “seals”.

Event 2: There is a new head of the Lomami National Park  — me, mamaTerese – and we are all rising to this challenge – all of FZS-TL2 together.  It is a challenge that we will bring to fruition for Lomami conservation.

with staff present in Kindu
In front of the ICCN-Lomami Naitonal Park office in Kindu with staff from both FZS and ICCN that will be merging into one park unit.

And then almost immediately after these two events:

Motorbike cavalcade down the “roads” of Maniema with the directrice of the German Development Bank of DR Congo.

Event 3:  the national representative of the German bank visited Lomami.  She did what no one expected: she actually went out on the ground, went into the park, and saw, as had not been seen before, how conservation is accomplished in the Lomami and how German taxpayer money is being used.

At the park border:

Arrived at the park border
Britta Oltmann of KfW DRC to the right of sign in blue handkerchief.
Also in photo DGA ICCN, Director Chief of International Collaboration ICCN, Assistant director LNP, representative vice premier minister and minister of the environment.

Watching Daniel climb to change the sim in a canopy camera trap:

going up

A rest-stop on a walk in the park:

second 5 min rest point
At a quickly constructed picnic table mid-walk.

Sitting next to John, above, is Ben of the ICCN-Kinshasa, Director of International Cooperation. Behind John is Piers, part of the KfW delegation and beside and behind me, Britta. She was determined to not just have the usual light look at KfW operations in Kindu, but a true look at what was happening and what needed to happen for conservation on the ground.

With the women:

with women of Lukunda

Above, Britta meets with a group of women in Lukunda .  She had similar meetings to understand the challenges of being a woman of the buffer zone in Kakunga, NgongaMoto, Olangate and Nyombo.

** Because of the help of many, we have a new momentum.  Thank you Matthieu and Ben, thank you Leon and Omo, thank you OT and John and many others.  A litany of thanks is appropriate.   Let-us make good on it.  Let thrive Congolese forests and all the plants and animals within them.  Let thrive the Lomami National Park.

Thank you to Leon Salumu and Daniel Alempijevic for the photos and videos.