I love eBird!. I continually encourage all the people with whom I work to enter their parrot sightings and counts on this online platform. In the past, I have also spent hours entering data myself. I believe strongly in citizen science and have seen the positive benefits for our understanding of birds, networking, teamwork, and information needed for conservation. Recent events, however, have caused me to change my mind about the use of eBird in regards to parrots.
On my last trip to Guyana, South America, in January 2019 I heard a story of how a man from Europe offered to pay a village exorbitant amounts of money if they would trap all their sun parakeets and give them to him (reportedly for conservation efforts). I have been told of buyers from Asia and neighboring Nicaragua moving up and down the Coco River between Honduras and Nicaragua offering to buy macaw eggs and young chicks. One buyer even entered the village where we center our conservation activities. Two-and-a-half years ago, a man from China was arrested with a suitcase of parrots smuggled out of our conservation area in Paraguay.
In the past few months I have been contacted by people connected in the past to the smuggling of parrots and the extensive purchase of parrots from all over the world to build large collections. They have wanted to know more about One Earth Conservation's work and findings. And every week there is some story or another of parrots being trapped and smuggled in areas where it is forbidden to do so. The link in this sentence leads to a story about a recent capture of parrots hidden in a car and wrapped in plastic. There are also suspicions surrounding several cases of parrots being removed from their countries of origin and moved to another country with "permission" from authorities.
Ranger trainees in Guyana learning to survey parrot populations. I won't be entering their data on eBird.
These recent events, as well as 32 years of experience with working in parrot conservation in the Americas, have led me to understand that the international (and domestic) pressure for parrots, especially the rare ones, the macaws, and the ones that talk, is extensive and relentless. I believe that the international trade is also sophisticated and is watching the internet for signals of where birds may be. I have struggled with what to do with the information we gather in our parrot census work. Do I share for the benefit of the birds, which could also harm them? I am especially alarmed because parrots are the most endangered group of birds, with some estimates showing that 50% of all species are endangered or threatened.
Torn, I have nevertheless made a decision to no longer enter parrot data on eBird, at least temporarily. Given the fact that parrots are nearly gone in many areas and that the international trade seems to be ramping up, it is not worth the risk to give out any more information. The local trappers and poachers we know, and we are working with them in as much of a relational and collaborative manner as possible. It's the unknown-to-me middle people, buyers, business people and collectors that I don't trust. With corruption and the hardness of life so prominent in most places where parrots still fly free, I am hesitant to trust anyone in power who can tweak the laws or use bribes to get the birds they want, because I have seen countless cases over the many decades of working in parrot conservation of such corruption.
Another count in Guyana where I won't be entering data (Iwokrama).
At One Earth we had thought about opening up an international citizen science project on iNaturalist regarding parrots, but I am doubting that strategy as well. I know that eBird can hide some data, but have been told that it is not foolproof. I can also hide my own reports and only share with people I know on eBird, but then I wonder about all the work to enter the data when I am not sure who will get the data, if ever. Perhaps if we had a stronger international movement to discourage the trade I would feel more comfortable with sharing the data. Until that happens, I feel that the parrots and people with which I work are vulnerable to a market economy that rewards people in the trade. If we had a secret place to enter data on birds that are at risk of disappearing, say G-bird, then I could pass on the data we are collecting in our many countries and projects. In the meantime, please contact me directly for information, or for ideas about what to do about this dilemma.