Many countries permit the harvesting of their native parrots for the pet trade, a huge industry worldwide. However, most impose a legal limit that is meant to prevent over-trapping to avoid a decrease in the numbers in wild population. By “impose” I mean write into law – most governments do little to actually enforce those laws.
In actuality, wild parrot populations are dropping dramatically. Of course, it can’t all be blamed on trapping. Deforestation has had a devastating effect on wild parrot species. But there is a particular inhumanity to the act of trapping. Especially when the trappers and distributors actually look into the eyes of the birds they are likely sentencing to death.
I was recently reading a report on the illegal parrot trade of Mexico released in 2005 http://www.defenders.org/publications/the_illegal_parrot_trade_in_mexico.pdf
which laid out the horrifying statistic that 77% of trapped adult parrots (and 90% of pilfered nestlings) die between their capture and their arrival in their new home. The report stated that out of the estimated 65,000 to 78,500 parrots that are captured in Mexico each year, about 50,000 to 60,000 of them die, “making this trade terribly inhumane and wasteful.”
Methods Of Trapping
There are various method for trapping used, they differ according to species size. Some have been banned in legal trapping, but illegal trappers aren’t bothered with the confines of the law and will use the method they are most familiar with or one which yields the best results.
- “Sticky Gum” trapping involves the use of resin from the ficus tree which is boiled down to make a substance that traps birds by adhering them to a gum coated branch – similar to a fly or mouse trap. This practice is old and was banned in legal trapping in 1983. As it badly injures the birds, thereby decreasing their value, it is not commonly used by illegal trappers.
- Wood and wire cage traps are used for the smaller parrots. It is a cage with trap doors that are triggered when a bird lands on a “perch”. A live parrot is placed inside and used as a lure. This method is legal and birds are not typically harmed.
- Monofilament fishing line is used by attaching a row of several slip knots to branches in a frequented tree and using a live bird as bait. It is an illegal trapping method because of the possibility of leg injuries, but is still used.
- The main method for trapping is with the use of nets. “Mist nests”, used by ornithologists and bat researchers, are made of a material that birds have difficulty seeing. Trappers buy the nets and modify them for use with parrots. The use of nets is legal.
- Nestlings are taken from tree cavities by hand when possible. When that is not possible, trappers will saw or cut the tree open for access, making it unusable for future nesting. The trees are occasionally chopped down, sometimes killing the nestlings in the process. The shortage of nest sites is, in part, responsible for decreasing numbers in wild parrot populations.
Survival Rate Of Illegally Trapped Parrots
More than ¾ of the adult birds harvested by illegal trappers will never see the end of their journey – which is a cage in someone’s living room. Each stage in the process of illegal trade lowers the likelihood of survival. Birds are trapped in high numbers with the understanding that most will not survive.
During capture, 7% of the birds die. The use of cages in trapping lowers the instance of death to about 2% – the result of stress. Nets can result in a 10% mortality rate depending on the number of parrots caught and the duration of time they remain in the net. Deaths are typically the result of strangulation or stress.
In the confinement period following capture, 25% more die. Even professional trappers who attempt to take care of the birds because every death is a loss of income, will see a high death rate at this stage. Deaths can be attributed to many causes such as overcrowding, injury, illness, inadequate or insufficient food, stress and extremes in temperature or humidity. The death rate can be much higher (up to 60%) with trappers who lack experience.
During transportation, another 31% are lost. Parrots that have been trapped illegally must be transported quickly and quietly to avoid detection by the authorities (as if anyone is actually looking). During this period, the birds usually go unfed and are unattended to. Some birds are drugged to keep them calm and quiet. The report mentioned above states that “in 2004 a large shipment of 600 parrots all died from an overdose.”
“Inspectors revealed that when they seize shipments of parrots many are already dead or dying due to stress, rough handling, sickness, crushing, asphyxiation, temperature shock, dehydration, diarrhea, etc. The conditions of transport are appalling; 50 parrots will be stuffed into an 18 in. x 12 in. x 6 in. wooden box where they can barely move, much less seek food and water. They are carried in small metal or wood cages, cardboard boxes, plastic buckets and bags hidden away in strange places in all kinds of vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. Nestlings and juveniles are most prone to die then; some estimated a 70% – 90% mortality of nestlings.“ The further the distance a shipment of birds must travel, the higher the death toll.
Distribution and sale process results in a 50% death rate. This accounts for the highest mortality because at this stage of the illegal trade process the birds have weathered an ordeal that has them suffering from lack of nutrition, illness, injury and stress. This phase of their journey has them confined in rooms and warehouses with other species of birds and animals. They are exposed to any diseases others may carry and they are never given the veterinary care they need by this time.
They continue to endure poor conditions and a poor diet while awaiting sale. They are distributed to permanent markets, street markets and street salesmen. The street salesmen may carry the birds from door to door in cloth or paper bags, day after day, until they are sold. Some are vended to passing cars and buses at intersections.
FOR EVERY 100 BIRDS CAPTURED, IT IS ESTIMATED THAT ONLY 23 WILL SURVIVE. Given the dwindling numbers in wild population, this amount of unnecessary death is unconscionable – and the cruelty of their treatment is morally unacceptable.
Laws Are Not Enforced
It is easy to curse the trappers for the atrocities committed against these creatures that we love so dearly. But the reality is that most are simply trying to earn a living so they can feed their families. I once read that a macaw conservation program in South America decided to educate local trappers about the conditions parrots endured following their capture. Many were unaware – some cried.
The organizations that are supposed to be monitoring trapping are under-staffed and under-funded and the illegal trappers go forward without interference. Legal trappers claim that they are not subjected to inspections or required to offer proof that they are in compliance with the capture quotas their permits allow.
In order to sustain itself, a species must be able recover naturally from any loss of population due to trapping, but no one is enforcing the laws. The loss of population from illegal trapping is not tallied into the figures observed by the people who decide what is sustainable. The inevitability is the extinction of some parrot species.
Until ALL trapping is no longer legal, illegal trappers will hide in plain sight – forging documents and procuring birds of any species, from areas that are restricted, at any time of year.
As usual it comes down to educating the public who need to understand their moral and ethical responsibilities when they are purchasing a living creature. If there are no buyers of parrots who do not have proper documentation, there will be no demand to supply. It ends with us, the consumer.
To read the “THE ILLEGAL PARROT TRADE IN MEXICO – A COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT” in its entirety, click here: http://www.defenders.org/publications/the_illegal_parrot_trade_in_mexico.pdf.
NOTE: Illegal parrot trade occurs throughout the world – wherever there are parrots. By no means am I singling Mexico out as the lone “bad guys”. Many people in Mexico are trying desperately to right the wrongs of illegal trapping.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.