The Endearing Greys of Cameroon

By Israel Bionyi           

The imperiled greys. Photo credit: Limbe Wildlife Centre. 

African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus), are coveted pets, entertainers and companions to people across the world and among the most highly trafficked species as well. Their highly intelligent nature and excellent ability for mimicry give them a fan following in Europe, North America, Middle East and Asia.

The popularity, likeability and demand for the greys has pushed the birds to doom with an estimated 2.1 to 3.2 million birds taken out of Africa between 1975 and 2013.   Poachers have multiplied, so have their nefarious methods to capture and supply these hapless parrots to a thriving global trade in pets and exotics.  The African grey has been listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List for some years now.

Resident in 19 countries across Africa, the greys were so heavily harvested from Cameroon to warrant an export ban 4 times between 1992 and 2007 by the CITES. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Cameroon exported an annual quota of 10,000 birds, with estimates suggesting 90% of the captured birds died before reaching Douala, the transit hub. The steep decline in the Cameroon greys made 182 nations vote 95 to 35 to prohibit all international trade in wild parrots at the CITES annual conference in July 2016.

No ban has deterred the trade in greys and they are still smuggled out of Cameroon by online marketing and huge black-market demand. Some websites trade the African greys between 600-900 Euros.  People will do just about everything to have them. Therefore, the poaching and smuggling of the greys goes on unabated. Conservationist Ofir Drori says “The illegal trade in African grey parrots has always been a well-organised transnational crime with high complicity”. In March 2017, his team helped law enforcement officers and the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) in Cameroon unmask a traffic network ready to export 3,000 African greys to Ghana through a Ghanaian trader.

Rescued birds are often cared for at the Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC), the largest rehabilitation centre for the highly traded African greys in Cameroon. LWC has cared for more than 3,300 confiscated parrots since 2007. “They fetch a lot of money for the traffickers and therefore huge sums of money is invested for plying the trade” adds Drori. For close to a decade, the fight against poaching of birds and wildlife has figured on the agenda of conservation NGOs in Cameroon.  They provide logistics, financial and technical support to the legal entities tasked with fighting illegal trade in wildlife and protection of nature.

Cameroon is the only known range country to have developed its national management plan, which hitherto was heavily criticised for lacking a clear implementation approach. Saving the Cameroon greys will require more than just the implementation of the national management plan. The country needs to strictly implement its anti-corruption and forest management policies. Corruption, for example, is what CITES denounces in its 2016 report highlighting concerns about corrupt government officials that allow permit falsification and duplication. The grey shades of greed are lethal to the greys than any other grey areas in the conservation of the African grey parrots.