This morning saw a highly contentious nearly two hour discussion of CITES Proposal #19, to move African grey parrots from the limited trade protection of Appendix II, to the full trade ban of Appendix I.  Voting under a secret ballot requested by Kuwait (which can be called for by a group of at least 10 countries, and is often requested when countries hope to vote without undue influence from trade partners or neighbors) the uplisting of African grey parrots to CITES Appendix I passed 95 votes to 35, with 5 countries abstaining. The proposal was introduced by a consortium of west and central African countries that are range states for greys, along with the EU and the USA, and was supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Parrot Trust.  Despite Appendix II listing since 1981, there is massive illegal trade in grey parrots that far exceeds established quotas, and declines of more than 50% over the past 3 generations are reported in some areas.  The flocking behavior common among greys makes it easy to catch large numbers of birds, and mortality during capture and shipping is as high as 90%.  Many wild birds are exported with incorrect labeling as captive bred animals, which can be difficult to establish on the ground in remote areas.  Appendix 1 listing would close all trade in African greys, making it more difficult for poachers to smuggle birds through in such manner, and it would urge countries to implement stronger control of poaching and prosecution of offenders.

The proposal was opposed by large grey parrot breeders primarily in South Africa, who said that their facilities put tens of thousands of greys into the pet trade each year, preventing even greater take of birds from the wild.  Despite the addition of these captive bred birds into the market, however, as stated in Proposal #19 and in an impassioned opinion by the US delegate, “Appendix II is not working for this species” despite over 30 years of listing.  Appendix I listing allows captive breeding, but would require breeders to provide evidence of legal status for the thousands of breeder birds they hold (which are largely wild caught and undocumented), and would affect the highly lucrative export of chicks to other countries.  The proposal was opposed, unsurprisingly, by South Africa, and also by Bahrain and the UAE, heavy importers of African greys.  In a long opinion, the DRC, reported to be one of the largest sources of illegally taken grey parrots, opposed Proposal #19.  The DRC delegate claimed there is no evidence for an overall decline in species numbers, and that there is no illegal take of grey parrots from the DRC!  Surprisingly Brazil, which has protected many of its own parrot species, also opposed the proposal, though with a measured opinion that centered on the lack of prosecution of poachers even under Appendix II.  Other countries speaking against the proposal were China, Norway and Cameroon.

Jennifer Schmidt, PhD Director of Science & Research The Shark Research Institute