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Parrot and People Refugees

Bilal and his parrot, Toti, in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, in February 2017.

Underneath the forced migration of both parrots and people burns a domination mindset, a core oppression that forces birds and people to move far from their homes. Sometimes these two forced migrations intersect, such as in a recent story about an Afghan boy, Bilal, forced to flee from where his family had made refuge in Pakistan. While there his family had taken a young rose-ringed parakeet from the wild and the boy bonded fiercely with the parakeet. When the family relocated to Afghanistan they took the parakeet, Toti, with them. Subjected to so much stress, Bilal relied more and more upon this small parrot, and Toti, subject to so much stress and probably lack of adequate care and protection from infectious disease, died. In a crack in the wall outside of his room, Bilal keeps a handful of Toti’s feathers, a shrine to a little friend.

Closer to home, I know of another refugee and parrot story that takes place in Honduras. There we work in solidarity with the indigenous villages to protect their forests and parrots. Our field project coordinator, Santiago Lacuth, gave me more details recently of what had happened to the parrot population there. He said once the scarlet macaws were as numerous as the common red-lored amazon and that there were many more and much larger pine trees in the village's territory. But then came the 1980's when the demand for parrots from the USA meant that his people now had a means to obtain cash to buy necessities, as normally they lived off of what they farmed, fished, and hunted. The villagers were motivated to take all the macaws they could, and if they couldn't climb a tree, they cut or burned them down. He said the trees and macaws are starting to come back due to community protection efforts. However, it will take a long time yet for them to increase to stable numbers, for though the USA and Europe aren't buying parrots as much (because it is now illegal to do so in those places), people from other countries are now the buyers who are part of the pervasive illegal wildlife trade.

Santiago standing in his forest that has been thinned due to market pressures

Santiago explains, "So much was lost in the 1980's, for it was the time of the Nicaraguan Civil War. Refugees came by the hundreds to live here and they, too, took all of the wildlife. There were no fish, no birds, and the trees were coming down." I grimace and don't say anything, because he already knows what I will say. My country, which was the origin of the parrot trade in Honduras, also fueled the war to suppress the leftist leading government of Nicaragua that had taken control from the US backed dictator, Somoza. I am caught in a web of harm, as is Santiago, his parrots, and his people.

Both the wildlife trade and political maneuvers uproot thousands upon thousands of beings and the consequences continue to endure. Families come to the USA seeking sanctuary from the violence in their homes. People work hard to provide them with asylum and some locales become sanctuary cities, while others seek to house those that come from afar. There is also a movement to protect the parrots that have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Sanctuaries for parrots abound, trying to keep up with the overwhelming numbers of parrots who cannot go back to their natural regions and who people no longer want in their homes because they are not good pets. Cities, too, are looking to become parrot sanctuary cities to protect these birds.

In the case of people and parrots, it is not the families' or children's fault that they are refugees. Recalling the words of Tom Petty's song, "Refugee," they do not have to live this way. Everyone needs to fight so that all can be free.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some Who knows maybe you were kidnapped, tied up Taken away and held for ransom Honey, it don't really matter to me, baby Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see Don't have to live like a refugee No you don't have to live like a refugee You don't have to live like a refugee (Don't have to live like a refugee)

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