It’s homecoming week for two species of endangered parrots, with two different flocks of birds being returned to their homelands on two different continents.
The World Parrot Trust announced Wednesday that 32 African grey parrots that had been illegally smuggled out of Africa and into Bulgaria had arrived at Uganda’s Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary after a three year saga. The birds were originally slipped out of Africa via Lebanon and then taken to Bulgaria where they were seized by customs.
The iconic African grey parrot is considered one of the most intelligent bird species, and it has been heavily over-collected because of its uncanny ability to mimic human speech. Because of heavy trapping and capture, this once common species is rated as “vulnerable” and “decreasing” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The returned African greys will now undergo a quarantine at the sanctuary. Once they clear the health checks, they will be released back into the wild.
On Tuesday, six blue-throated macaws were flown from the UK to Bolivia, which is the only country in the world where the species exists in the wild. These six birds were never smuggled or held illegally. Instead, they were legally bred at the Paradise Park Zoo in Hayle, England.
The captive-bred blue-throats will help build up the population of a species that numbers around 100 in the wild. It hasn’t yet been determined if it will be best to use them for captive-breeding more blue-throats or if they too should be released back into the wild. Lorena Kempff, the foundation’s director, said that they’re in good condition for either purpose.
The blue-throated macaw was devastated by over-collection for the pet trade in the 1970s and 80s. At one point, the species was thought to be extinct in the wild, but it was rediscovered in 1992 — only to be hard hit by smugglers again. IUCN rates the species as critically endangered because of the combination of a tiny population and a relatively small habitat in the Beni department of Bolivia.
In April 2011, I traveled to a nest site on a partly flooded cattle ranch where I saw a wild pair of blue-throated macaws that were using an artificial nest box provided by the researchers. The babies in the photograph were just days away from fledging and were removed briefly from the box so that technicians could check on their health.
I learned that as long as they’re not hunted or trapped, these endangered parrots can live in harmony with human beings. It’s up to us to bring them safely home.
[photos of wild blue-throated macaw babies by Elaine Radford]