Parrot poaching problem

The poaching of
marine life, especially turtles and conch, makes headlines quite often.
However, there are other non-marine species that are just as attractive to
poachers.

One of these is the magnificent
Cayman Parrot. The national bird of the Cayman Islands is protected under
section 78 of the Animals Law, which makes it illegal to hunt a protected
animal, be in possession of a protected animal or part thereof, or take or have
in possession the nest or egg of a protected animal.

However, when the law
came into effect, it allowed for Cayman Parrots that were already held in
captivity to remain in captivity.

“Parrots which were
already kept as pets were ‘grandfathered’ in under the law, however, from a
practical perspective, this has complicated the enforcement of the Law ever
since,” said Mat Da Costa-Cottam, manager of the Terrestrial Ecology Unit at
the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

This was done, at
least in part, because birds that had been kept in captivity for an extended
period of time might not be able to survive in the wild and it would therefore
have been inhumane to force owners to release these parrots, which would have
been likely to starve in the wild.

Unfortunately the fact
that some people are legally in possession of Cayman Parrots makes it tough to
enforce the law as not every person in possession of a parrot is breaking the
law. The presence of Cayman Parrots in captivity in the hands of private
individuals also sends a message to other people that it is acceptable to keep
a Cayman Parrot as a pet and in doing so creates a demand for the species.

“Parrots are
long-lived, often outliving their owners, and intelligent birds, which imprint
on their owners,” said Mr. Da Costa-Cottam.

The Cayman Parrot is
also protected under CITES as an Appendix 1 species, which makes illegal to
trade in the species or transport it.

“This results in many
complicated welfare issues for the birds, especially when the owners lose
interest, or leave the country,” said Mr. Da Costa-Cottam.

In spite of the
protections in place for the Cayman Parrot, the poaching of the species remains
a problem.

“Poaching of wild
parrots, specifically chicks, for the pet trade remains a very serious issue,”
said Mr. Da Costa-Cottam.

He noted that
although the Department managed to seize freshly-poached chicks and
successfully return them to the next last year, the majority of offences likely
go undetected.

The parrot’s
preference in nesting sites has a big impact on the difficulty of monitoring
nesting sites and protecting them from poaching. Due to development on the
Island, many parrots have retreated into the inaccessible bush in the interior
of the Island. This movement was also helped by the destruction wreaked by
hurricane Ivan in 2004, as many potential nesting sites closer to the shore
were destroyed by the storm.

When parrots are
poached, the impact can extend far beyond the loss of the chicks.

“In addition to being
illegal in of itself, the poaching process often involves the felling of the
nesting tree or opening the nest cavity, resulting in, not only loss of the
chicks, but also the loss of a future nest site for the adults,” said Mr. Da
Costa-Cottam.

Cayman Wildlife
Rescue ends up dealing with many of the parrots injured in poaching attempts or
maltreated by their owners. Wherever possible, the parrots are rehabilitated
and returned to the wild.

“It is generally a
long process where parrots are exposed to foods they would normally eat in the
wild and allowed time for their habituation to decrease. When around other
Cayman Parrots in care they mimic each other and learn to recognise wild foods,
gradually losing their tameness towards humans,” said Alison Corbett of Cayman
Wildlife Rescue.

Many of the parrots
taken in have to recover from injury or malnutrition due to abuse and neglect
before they can be released. Others have to regrow feathers that had been
clipped by former owners in order to keep them from flying away.

“As long as the
parrot has no permanent injuries they generally can be successfully
rehabilitated and released,” said Ms Corbett.

After the
rehabilitation period, the parrots are not just cast out into the wild. “Once
they are ready for release CWR will complete what is called a soft release,
where parrots are released back into the wild but are still provided with
supportive feeding,” said Ms Corbett.

The organisation has
completed many successful releases in the past, which according to Ms Corbett
is due to the intelligence of the Cayman Parrot.

“Cayman Parrots are
very intelligent creatures and capable of learning how to become a wild parrot
again with much time and patience,” she said.

Cayman Parrots are
highly social creatures and will often congregate in large family groups in the
wild. This means that the birds are not at all suited to a solitary existence
in a cage.

Clashes with local
farmers have also affected the number of birds in the wild.

Many of the parrots
were first driven to the farms after hurricane Ivan destroyed much of their
natural food supply, but with an easy food source at hand, some have been loath
to leave even as natural food supplies return to feasible levels. Although the
Cayman Parrot is a protected species, their destructive habits have brought
them into conflict with local farmers, occasionally with fatal consequences for
the parrots involved.

Fortunately for the
parrots, some local farmers like Otto Watler, have worked to help rehabilitate
parrots and even assisted in a programme to find non-lethal ways to discourage
the parrots from frequenting farms.

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