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The Heartbreaking Reality Behind the Colorful Parrots in Your Home


June 2, 2024: The colorful chatter and vibrant presence of parrots can make them delightful pets. However, the journey these birds take to become household companions is often fraught with suffering and illicit activities. A new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has revealed that between 2015 and 2021, parrots and cockatoos constituted 4% of all seizures of illegally traded wildlife globally.

Rising Illegal Trade in Asia

In recent years, the illegal trade of wild-caught parrots has surged in Asia. Poachers often use cruel methods to capture these birds, such as glue traps. By attracting parrots to a sap-covered perch with a decoy, poachers render the birds helpless and unable to escape. Once captured, these birds are smuggled from Indonesia’s vast islands to various ports across Southeast Asia. A commonly suspected route for this smuggling is via sea between Indonesia and the southern islands of the Philippines.

“Smuggling of parrots is conducted in areas that are most challenging to monitor,” says Benny Aladin of Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia). “A 2018 case study in North Maluku revealed that nearly every village was involved in the hunting of parrots. Although the situation has improved significantly due to intensive conservation efforts, similar issues persist in the southern regions of Maluku.”

Perilous Journey and Disturbing Conditions

The journey from the wild to domestic homes is perilous for these birds. Smugglers have been known to transport parrots in horrific conditions, including stuffing them into plastic bottles and drain pipes. Many parrots die en route, and those that survive often show severe stress signs, such as plucking out their own feathers.

For some species, the illegal trade poses a significant threat to their survival in the wild. Research compiled by BirdLife DataZone indicates that the primary threat to endangered species like the White Cockatoos (Cacatua alba) and Chattering Lorys (Lorius garrulus) is the illegal trade.

Efforts to Combat Illegal Trade

The governments of Indonesia and the Philippines are committed to finding solutions to curb this illegal trade. In April, officials from both countries met with staff from Haribon Foundation (BirdLife in the Philippines), Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia), BirdLife Secretariat staff, and members of other NGOs to develop innovative strategies and collaborations to tackle the issue.

This meeting comes at a critical juncture as the rising economic value of these birds increases their demand. In October 2023, the Philippines and Indonesia worked together to repatriate 73 parrots that had been smuggled across their border.

How to Identify and Report Illegal Trade

If you encounter parrots or cockatoos being sold as pets that appear disheveled, show signs of stress such as plucked feathers, or are wary of human presence, these are potential indicators of wild-caught birds. Avoid purchasing from these sellers and report the incident to relevant authorities, your local police department, or BirdLife Partner organizations. Reporting can help keep wild-caught parrots out of the trade and in their natural forest habitats.

Voices for Conservation

“The illegal parrot trade not only threatens these magnificent birds but the delicate balance of our ecosystems, from which we all benefit. Let’s seize this opportunity to build partnerships, enhance international cooperation, and take decisive action. Together, we can ensure a brighter future for parrots and all beings reliant on healthy ecosystems,” says Arlie Endonila, Officer-in-charge of Haribon Foundation (BirdLife in the Philippines).

The battle against the illegal parrot trade is ongoing, but with increased awareness, stronger international cooperation, and decisive action, there is hope for these beautiful birds and the ecosystems they inhabit. The journey to end this cruel trade is complex, but it is crucial for the preservation of these species and the health of our global environment.

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