The African grey parrot is up there with the most intelligent of species, and certainly the most chatty. But for decades this bird’s likable personality has been its downfall, succumbing to massive pressure from the international wildlife trade.
On Sunday, however, an international treaty pushed to save the African grey parrot by granting it the highest level of protection.
The decision was made as part of the ongoing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) talks in Johannesburg, where international representatives voted 95 to 35 in favor to uplist the species from Appendix II to Appendix I. This denotes the highest level of concern for a species and prohibits international trade, aside from certain non-commercial trade such as scientific research.
Since the CITES treaty became effective in 1975, the undersigned 182 countries and the European Union have agreed to protect at least 5,600 animal and 30,000 plant species.
The African grey parrot is known for its high intelligence and ability to mimic human speech. Most famously, an African grey parrot named “Alex” was part of a 30-year experiment looking into the language abilities of parrots. When he died in 2007, his researchers said he could recite up to 100 English words, including “I love you.” Whether he understood the meaning of the words, though, remains unverified.
The species can also live for more than 50 years in captivity, making them a popular choice for companions
“A total ban on international commercial trade in wild African grey parrots is a huge step forward and will help to protect this extraordinary species from the rampant trapping and trading that has contributed to population collapses and local extinctions across Africa in recent decades,” Dr Colman O’Criodain, WWF global wildlife policy manager, said in a statement.
It’s believed up to 18,000 grey parrots are trafficked out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo each year. But poorly enforced trafficking tied to the pet trade is just a portion of this species' troubles. Deforestation in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda has meant up to half of their natural habitat has been destroyed. In Ghana, the WWF estimates there's been a shocking 90 to 99 percent declined in their population since the early 1990s.
While this is undoubtedly a strong step in the right direction, Dr O’Criodain stressed that the battle is far from won: “Current regulations have singularly failed to halt the over-exploitation of the African grey, which is being trapped and traded towards extinction in its last major bastion in the Congo basin: a total trade ban was absolutely essential. But it will not be enough on its own, existing illegal networks will continue to plunder parrots from Central Africa’s forests until countries target the traffickers running the show.”