Celebrate World Parrot Day with PASA!

African gray parrots may disappear from the wild forever – Will you help?

By: Natasha Tworoski

While PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance) and its 23 member sanctuaries are known for protecting primates across Africa, many of them don’t stop there. This World Parrot Day, we are celebrating four of our amazing members who also offer a second chance to rescued parrots! Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage (Zambia), Limbe Wildlife Centre (Cameroon), Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Centre (Democratic Republic of Congo), and Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center (Republic of Congo) are collectively caring for about 300 African gray parrots who have been intercepted in illegal wildlife smuggling.

African gray parrots are an incredible species known for their intelligence, gregarious nature, and long lifespans, averaging 50 years! Nesting in huge flocks overnight in tree canopies, they will disperse into smaller groups during the day to feed on seeds, nuts, and fruits. Forming a strong monogamous bond with their breeding partner, each pair bond will create a nest in a tree cavity to raise their offspring together. If you are lucky enough to come across them in the wild, you will likely hear them before you see them. These parrots prefer to stay high in the trees and communicate with one another with a variety of loud vocalizations. They have a large range across central and western Africa, but due to illegal poaching they are endangered, and their numbers are plummeting. 

Sadly, due to their intelligence and ability to mimic sounds, there is huge global demand to keep African gray parrots as pets. Undercover journalism has shown the extreme cruelty that goes into capturing and transporting parrots. Hunters gluing a parrot to a board so its alarm calls attract more African grays to trap. Parrots being shipped globally after being packed inhumanely into tiny crates where they may not even be able to move. Many will die from dehydration, stress, or disease. It is estimated only one out of every four smuggled parrots survives transportation.

Besides the ethical implications of supporting the illegal wildlife pet trade, there are many reasons that keeping parrots as pets is not advisable. First, parrots live for decades and become very bonded to their owners, but few people can make that length of commitment. Parrots are also very loud! To communicate with their flock through the thick forest in their native habitat, they need to project. Parrots’ vocalizations can be deafening when kept in your home. Many parrots in human care never actually learn to mimic human words (or learn words you would prefer they not mimic), but all parrots produce loud vocalizations. They are also very destructive. Their beaks have evolved to crack open the toughest nuts and chew through wood when nesting in tree cavities. When living with humans, that usually translates to chewing through furniture, walls, and any personal belongings they can reach. Most importantly, parrots are very social and when they feel lonely or ignored, behavioral issues can develop quickly, including self-harming behaviors such as plucking out their own feathers. There are few people who can dedicate the time it takes to have a happy, healthy pet bird and there is no replacing the social aspect they experience with a flock of their own kind.

Thanks to a combined effort of local government, local law enforcement, and sanctuaries like our PASA members, the smuggling of parrots is sometimes intercepted, and the birds get a second chance. As you can imagine, this is a long process and a huge workload for their rescuers. The same concerns that come with returning rescued primates to the wild exist with parrots. First, released parrots must be healthy to prevent disease from being introduced to wild populations. Sanctuaries also will make sure the parrots are strong enough to fly between their nesting and foraging sites. Injury and being confined for long periods can affect their stamina, so rehabilitated birds are graduated into larger enclosures as they recover to increase the muscles needed for long flights. Lastly, it is important that the birds maintain a healthy fear of humans to avoid them being captured again after release. If birds being rehabilitated become attached to their caretakers, it would not be safe for them to be released into the wild.

While not all of these individuals will be able to return to the wild, the sanctuaries are constantly working towards releasing as many as they safely can. Two PASA members have made remarkable progress in releasing endangered parrots back into the wild. Limbe returned nearly 200 parrots to the wild between 2021 and 2022. Lwiro returned parrots to the wild for the first time in 2022, releasing 68 parrots back home to the Congo basin.

PASA member sanctuaries work to rescue endangered parrots from trafficking, rehabilitate them, and release them back into the wild.

However, with nearly 150 new parrot patients coming into PASA member sanctuaries in 2022 alone, our alliance desperately needs your help. One of the best ways you can support the important work to save African parrots is to make a donation.