If something is not done, Fred Burton says, the Cayman parrot may cease to be.
The combination of loss of habitat, due to development on the island, and nest robbing by those who raise and sell the parrots illegally, will almost certainly doom the wild population.
To counter that, the Department of Environment is starting a six-month amnesty period to allow residents keeping Cayman parrots as pets to register them with the agency. The period begins 1 Sept. and ends 29 Feb. 2020.
Possessing a Cayman parrot is illegal, but Burton, terrestrial resources unit manager for the DoE, said rather than make himself and his staff wildly unpopular by trying to confiscate all the parrots being kept as pets – the department also does not have the resources to deal with so many seized birds – the decision was made to allow those registering their pet parrots in the next six months to keep them.
After the registration period ends, any birds not in the programme will be considered illegal. The hope is to put a damper on black market trade in the birds.
“We want to close down this illegal nest robbing,” Burton said.
He said one only has to look as far as Puerto Rico to see what might happen if no action is taken.
“Puerto Rico is a much bigger island,” Burton said, “Much bigger. And their parrots almost went extinct” due to loss of habitat and an illegal pet trade. “We’ve got those two forces working here on the island. If we let that continue, we will lose our parrots.”
The amnesty process is one that has been implemented by several Caribbean islands to address such problems.
Once the amnesty period has passed, any unregistered Cayman parrots that are still being kept as pets may be seized by DoE conservation officers, and the bird owners can be fined for possessing or keeping them illegally. Those fines can range as high as $500,000 and/or four years in prison.
Burton said first offenders will likely be let off with a warning and the confiscation of their pet. Repeat offenders, he said, would likely be charged and he expects there may likely be such cases.
“We have an enforcement unit,” he said. “Mostly, they’re focussed on the marine environment.”
However, he said, they also do land-based work and some members of the team are particularly focussed on the parrot issue.
Those taking advantage of the amnesty period will be visited by DoE officials who will register the birds by banding them and implanting then with an ID chip. They will also do a health check on the birds, free of charge.
“We’ll give the owners some advice on how to keep the parrots happy and healthy,” he said.
To register a parrot, residents may contact the DoE at 949‑8469 or via email at [email protected]