The African Grey Parrot is an extremely smart and sociable bird that used to thrive mostly in Ghana.
Yes, used to. That’s because almost all of them, according to a 2016 study, have been captured or their habitats have been destroyed.
Scientifically known as psittacus erithacus, they are Africa’s largest parrots and can be grouped under two subspecies; the Congo and the Timneh. The latter is in great danger of simply disappearing from its heartland of Ghana.
A flock of African greys is a kaleidoscope of grey, black, white and a string of red feathers at the tail. According to ornithologists (bird experts), they can be as smart as a five year old. They can mimic human language and put together sentences. One of these birds, called Einstein, has even featured in a Ted talk presentation.
These form part of the attraction of the bird which is believed to one of most traded wild birds in the world according to conservation agencies.
The study found that it has lost between 90 and 99 percent of its African Grey Parrot population. The African Grey is currently on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to Japheth Roberts, head of research at the Ghana Wildlife Society, the best places to sight these birds were in “lowland forests; mainly within the Central and Western Regions of Ghana which are part of the Upper Guinean forest block. However, some can be found flying in Accra [and those] are mainly escaped pets.”
The researchers, including Ghanaian doctoral student Nathaniel Annorbah, found that several roost sites especially in the Western Region which recorded about 1200 birds in the 1990s now record just a handful.
The decline of the bird in Ghana and other African countries can be attributed to international trade and the massive destruction of their habitats. Despite a ban in the trade, the population decline suggest that the illegal trade persist of this highly in-demand bird. Popular destinations include Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
According to Roberts, the bird thrives in “rain forests, forest edges, gallery forests and along palm plantations”; habitats which have been gravely affected by lumbering, deforestation, population increase and its related negative effects.
Capturing and keeping African greys as pets do not only make it difficult for them to reproduce; it also shortens their life expectancy. These birds can live up to between 60-80 years if left in the wild; while those in captivity on average could manage 30-40 years.
As such Roberts advises that individuals shouldn’t “buy grey parrots as pets, do not capture and sell grey parrots, report people involved in the illegal trade.”
He also calls on government to “improve enforcement of the ban on trade in grey parrots; by resourcing and training staff of the wildlife division of the Forestry Commission and the immigration service.”
“[Government should also] equip and support captive breeding programs and initiatives between conservation research organisations and the wildlife division.”