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Cape Parrots In Peril: The Harsh Reality of Poaching

By Wild Bird Trust

South Africa’s only endemic parrot, the Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus), is already in danger, with the fewer than 2 000 individuals left in the wild confined to a very small forest biome that covers approximately 0.56% of the land surface of South Africa. The threat to Cape Parrot population numbers is exacerbated by the degraded condition of the forests it frequents, which have been subjected to historical logging and, more recently, illegal harvesting and lack of capacity for adequate management.

Now, an additional age-old threat seems to have reared its head – that of the illegal capture of Cape Parrots, ostensibly for the pet trade. There is unquantified evidence that poaching for the pet trade is one of the contributing factors to the reduction in parrot numbers to the point that they are currently listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the South African Threatened and Protection Species (ToPS) regulations. The Cape Parrot Project (CPP), currently in its 15th year, is experiencing an upswing in reported cases of illegal capture of Cape Parrots, particularly in the parrots’ stronghold in and around the Amathole Mountains in the Eastern Cape.

Dr Francis Brooke, Research Manager for the CPP says, “For several years, we have had no reports of Cape Parrots being captured in the vicinity of our Hogsback base, but in the last six months, we have had reports of three parrots being found in the possession of members of the public. We desperately hope that this is not the tip of the iceberg, but obviously, informed and interested parties cannot be everywhere and we fear that something may be driving this behaviour.”

Brooke elaborates that the Special Investigating Unit, the Green Scorpions, the Amahlathi SPCA and the SAPS are currently assisting with two incidents of poaching where the perpetrators were apprehended and that in a third incident, a Cape Parrot was confiscated from an individual and had to receive medical attention as some of her wing feathers had been cut. “Unfortunately, in one of the incidents, the party concerned killed the parrot in the presence of the parties who apprehended him,” advises Nadine Viljoen of the Amahlathi SPCA.

In terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004, Section 57, no one may carry out certain restricted activities in respect of threatened or endangered species without a permit or, in some cases, at all – these include hunting, catching, capturing or killing any living specimen of a listed threatened or protected species by any means, method or device whatsoever.

“While it is clear that education is needed to inform people and help them understand the interconnectivity of biodiversity and the importance of all species to the ecosystem, it is also vital to explore the other end of this chain of events – those who are creating a demand for captured wild birds,” notes Dr Kirsten Wimberger, Project Director of the Cape Parrot Project.

“The project has been working with schools and communities in poaching hotspots for some years as well as trying to create economic opportunity for people who might otherwise resort to poaching as a form of economic income or for misguided reasons regarding having a parrot as a pet. As part of the Wild Bird Trust, our focus is on keeping birds safe in the wild for the benefit of wildlife, ecosystems and people – and wild birds are meant to fly free.”

Good cooperation between welfare, conservation and enforcement bodies such as the CPP, the Green Scorpions and the SPCA go a long way to making an impact on poaching incidences. “Nonetheless,” says Wimberger, “a key goal of the CPP is to capture the hearts and minds of people when it comes to South Africa’s charismatic ‘national’ parrot and to grow an understanding of the importance of the forest biome it represents.” Please help us make a difference.


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