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Africa Geographic Travel

EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Searching for Bonobo in Congo

Four motorbikes loaded with baskets of African grey parrot chicks crossed the Kasuku River for Kindu in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 14 February 2016 just as it grew dark. The security officer on duty knew that they were illegal. He called Leon, who has been documenting the grey parrot traffic through Kindu for more than a year.

A dugout ferry takes motorbikes across the Kasuku River. The ancient bridge pillars in the background attest to colonial ambition – never realised.
A dugout ferry takes motorbikes across the Kasuku River.

Leon informed Maniema’s Environment Minister, and the minister sent security officers to intercept the shipment at Byart Birds’s holding facilities in Kindu. Theo and Cams, local buyers who hold the parrots before shipping to Kinshasa, were placed under immediate house arrest and are now in jail.

A local buyer watches as his facility is taken over by security forces. He had been paying climbers with advance funds from Byart Birds.
A local buyer watches as his facility is taken over by security forces. He had been paying climbers with advanced funds from Byart Birds.

Up to now, excesses in the African grey parrot trade hide behind the semi-legality provided by a CITES export quota for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Maison Byart” is scratched out below and replaced by the more discreet “B.A.”. Perhaps a recognition that the illegality of the operation was more than the usual.
‘Maison Byart’ is scratched out below and replaced by the more discreet ‘B.A.’. Perhaps a recognition that the illegality of the operation was more than the usual.

Not only were far more than the permitted 5,000 grey parrots exported annually, but these were also acquired at the expense of huge mortality at every stage of the capture and shipment process.

At the end of January, the governor of Maniema announced that the parrot capture season would remain closed – no captures, no exports.
At the end of January, the governor of Maniema announced that the parrot capture season would remain closed – no captures, no exports.

There was no longer any ambiguity – these birds were illegal. The authorities in the province of Maniema knew that CITES put a ban in January 2016 on all African grey parrot exports out of the DRC, except for the 1,600 that were supposedly ready for transport. Maniema’s capture season for grey parrots was to re-open at the beginning of February, but the governor passed a decision to keep it closed.

These birds were illegal in Maniema and they were certainly not part of any national stock ready for export. Captured as only partially feathered chicks over the last three months, they had to be hand fed a mush to even stay alive.

The parrot trade in DR Congo has developed into a make-believe legality. Restrictions are side-stepped, re-interpreted and never literally applied. As unstoppable as an afternoon shadow, the disappearance of African greys spreads over Congo’s forests. Certain provinces have already lost their colonies and profitability. Collectors and commissioners move to neighbouring forests. In Maniema and Tshopo provinces, the parrot commerce is run by people from the Sankuru and Equator provinces where the parrot forests are now nearly empty. These immigrant collectors climb to take parrots from roosts in Maniema where local villagers have no idea of the value.

An itinerant parrot climber with decoy bird, boom box and other essential possessions.
An itinerant parrot climber with a decoy bird, boom box and other essential possessions.

What is the value? An African grey is sold in South Africa and the Middle East for hundreds of dollars. The buyer in Kindu buys a parrot from the climber for US$5 or US$6.

Dead parrots on the trash pile at a local buyer’s holding facility.
Dead parrots on the trash pile at a local buyer’s holding facility.

When the province closed Byart Birds’s holding facilities, they contained at least 420 living parrots. In the four days after they were busted, at least 65 parrots died. All of these parrots appear to have been taken as nestlings.

An attempt to release the birds was made, but only 15 could fly. In Theo’s facility, there was a 10-year-old teacher bird that trained the nestlings to eat their peanuts, but most were not able to respond to the possibility of flight. It is estimated that all had been taken from nests in the last few months during Maniema’s closed season.

The ICCN provincial director and head warden of Lomami National Park overseas the crating for shipment to Kinshasa of the illegal birds.
The ICCN provincial director and head warden of Lomami National Park overseas the crating for shipment to Kinshasa of the illegal birds.
The parrots in one of the crates.
The parrots in one of the crates.
The crates at the airport.
The crates at the airport.

295 living birds were transferred to ICCN, the Congolese Conservation Institute, and flown to Kinshasa.

The governor, Tutu Salumu Pascal, came to the airport for the shipment and made a public warning of the illegality of all parrot captures and trade in the Province of Maniema.
The governor, Tutu Salumu Pascal, came to the airport for the shipment and made a public warning of the illegality of all parrot captures and trade in the province of Maniema.

Because the Maniema authorities were monitoring air shipments, parrots started going downstream on Congo River barges instead. They would then be flown out of Kisangani where it was still semi-legal. Leon was informed by one shipper that his load of 130 parrots left the dock in Kindu, but only 30 were alive on arrival in Kisangani.

Dead parrots in the parrot food at one raided facility in Kindu.
Dead parrots in the parrot food at one raided facility in Kindu.

Another shipment of confiscated parrots is now being prepared for Kinshasa as the authorities in Kindu uncover more illegal parrots. A load of 54 parrots of the ‘group Byart’ was stopped on the river. Only 39 of these survived. Of a group of 72 handed over in Kindu, 11 survived. Another small group of five parrots was taken from collectors on the road to Kindu. At the time of this report, one is already dead.

Red tail feathers glowing in the sun….as it should be.
Red tail feathers glowing in the sun… as it should be.

Despite the high mortality, what is happening now is the best news for parrots yet in DR Congo. The semi-legality with all its false permits, cheating on numbers and seasons, and multiple names for single exporters is being revealed. It has to be stopped.

Our hope is that the cynical disrespect for international norms revealed by this bust will be taken as seriously nationally and internationally as is the case in the province of Maniema itself, where a moratorium of at least two years on all parrot captures is being prepared. The buyers are being arrested and climbers chased from collection sites.

A Congolese forest where evening comes on without the reassurance of a raucous and friendly parrot chorale will be followed by a dark and very long night.

Read more about African grey parrots: Shades of Grey

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A collection of current affairs articles and press releases from third party sources.

Africa Geographic Travel