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Parrot Conservation is a Team Sport


it was good to meet with about 45 others for the Conservation Mini Conference: Flying Free on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Foster Parrots in Rhode Island. I spoke as did Dr. Lucy Spelman of Creature Conserve, Emerson Urtrecho of LOCOs and One Earth Conservation in Nicaragua, and Danika Oriol-Morway of Foster Parrots on the subject of Guyana parrot conservation.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner introducing Emerson Urtrecho

Danika Oriol-Morway asking us what are our next steps (towards liberation)

Throughout the presentations, and in the comments we heard, there was a persistent theme: How can we work together to save our birds, our planet, and ourselves when the market demand is bleeding parrots out of the wild and into cages? I suggested in my presentation that parrot conservation is a team sport - and that we need each and every person to love as fiercely and courageously as possible. Dr. Spelman , a wildlife veterinarian said, "There is no medicine for extinction." I concur. The solutions are not easily addressed, for the cure is within us, and it's going to take a lot of us, for as Ms. Oriol-Morway stated, "Everything is broken, and everything needs to be fixed."

Emerson Urtrecho explaining how the parrot says "Your home is not my home"

and that we need to "Let the parrot fly free"

During her presentation she also said, "We have turned our back on the sun parakeet in Guyana, on what we are consuming." So captivated are our hearts with birds in our homes and collections, we forget the price these birds pay to get to this place. As one refuge manager in Guyana told me, "You raise the prices and demand for birds internationally, so that it is hard for us not to sell what is ours so it can become yours." This demand wreaks havoc: human hunger for feathered companionship decimates wild flocks, so many are already on the brink of extinction, and only 10% of parrots from the wild are alive at the end of a year in the illegal bird trade (and the trade is still legal in two countries in South America - Guyana and Suriname).

As I write this my heart aches for the 12 nest trees in our project area in Honduras already robbed of eggs this year, purchased by people from China who illegally enter Honduras from Nicaragua, bargaining for eggs that they can then sell to a world who knows not the harm they are doing (or do know, but have turned their backs). I am also sad for all the humans caught in the chains of the illegal trade - the trappers, the buyers, and the owners, for we are part of the problem (and solution) of what imprisons us and what can set us free. None are free until all are free is the motto for what we seek to be the emphasis of parrot conservation. We must all fly free, including our organizations.

Sun parakeets in Guyana 2019 (photo by Agnes Coenen)

I recently publicly celebrated the US Fish and Wildlife service listing the Central American scarlet macaw as endangered. A conversation ensued with readers, and one person asked me, "What does the scarlet macaw trade in the USA have to do with selling macaw eggs to China?" I wrote:

Hello dear [reader]: The truth is that the scarlet macaw is highly endangered. The solutions are very complex and the pressure is very intense. It isn't just the Chinese, it's all of us that are connected to the long line of extracting wildlife that raises the demand, price, and trade. I include myself as one of the many who share responsibility for loss of life and populations of wild parrots. As we say in many of the countries in which I work, "We all are poachers." Captive breeding has not lessened the extraction of wildlife in Central America. It may even be that it subtly increases the demand as the captive bird is seen as a desirable and lucrative pet around the world. The suffering is intense - in people and parrots of the Americas. I wish you deep meaning in your love for parrots, and to all of us that have relationships to them, and I also know that we must face the harm that captivity and trade is doing to the birds.

Macaw chicks might not even make it this far with the illegal traffic in parrot eggs

Because the pressure is so intense and woven into our extraction and domination centered societies and economies, I feel that trading parrots anywhere is a threat to parrots everywhere. I don't have the data to prove this link, I just have the hard evidence of parrots dying, suffering, and disappearing. The need for action is urgent and because we are so close to losing so much, I feel that we need to apply a precautionary principle which says because the risk of harm is possible or evident, we must curtail our behavior even while we can't prove consistent links between behavior and outcome. In the case of the parrot trade, the trade has not saved wild populations and does in many cases harm it, and certainly harms individual birds and the people and communities that are losing their birds. So as a precaution, let's ease up on the trade, or better yet, stop it. Please.

Do not stop loving the birds in your hearts and homes, but let this be the last one you have, before we are down to the last ones in the wild. Let's not allow any more species to turn into ghosts in the hearts of the people who have lived with them for thousands of years.

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