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Merchants and Parrots: Selling Parrots is Selling Our Souls, Freeing Parrots is Freeing Ourselves

Red-and-green macaws in Paraguay where so few are left

Last week I wrote about a village in Guyana where parrots are waiting, waiting, for us to set them free. I didn't mean that each with a homed parrot should open the cage doors and let the birds out into a likely hostile environment for which they are inadequately prepared. I did mean that the wildlife trade in parrots is devastating parrot populations and bringing untold suffering to individual parrots and parrot families. The forests and the wildlife that depend on the forest are also harmed by the trade, for parrots are seed dispersers, "the farmers of the forest." Without them we lose biodiversity, and the rich promise of the web of life that supports us all. Not only are parrots and forests harmed, but so are the people who lose the connection to their precious biodiversity and to the species that belong to the lands where their ancestors have lived for hundreds of years. Others are harmed physically in their pursuit to rob nests - they fall and become injured, and often die.

I grew up in North America, and the last Carolina parakeet died 100 years ago. We have lost our very own parrot species here, and I mourn for them. I am less because they and their forests are gone. A world without parrots imprisons me by a worldview constructed and controlled by my own kind. There is no wild parrot here to chew away the bars of human exceptionalism that makes it okay to extract and imprison wildlife.

But there are still wild parrots in other locations where I work and I hear them screaming at humans now -"Free us, free us before we go extinct, before you go extinct! "The captive and homed parrots are also joining the chorus that says, "If you humans want to live in freedom, you must free everyone."

The connection between parrot and human freedom appears at times like poetic rendering, for the interweaving of oppression and liberation is difficult to delineate by hard science and social analysis. What shines as a beacon on the path towards liberation is the hard truth - we are losing our parrots on this planet because we live under the paradigm of domination that harms us all.

I spend much of my writing and public speaking hoping to make clear the interconnections of oppression that harm person and parrot alike, and have gathered essays here to that aim. We need more voices, One Earth's conservation teams and partners cannot do this alone.

Today I highlight a fable, "The Parrot and the Merchant," by Jalaluddin Rumi whose life and works contributed greatly to Sufism and to spiritual thought around the world. You can access the whole story here and also view the video below. A children's book has also been written.

In this story a merchant collects birds, and his favorite is a parrot. He asks the parrot what gift the bird would like him to bring back from his travels to the land of the parrot's past, from which he was captured. The parrot asks for the merchant to ask his wild counterparts for advice. When the merchant finds a wild flock and asks advice on behalf of his parrot, one of the wild parrots falls to the forest floor, dead. When the merchant relates this back home to his parrot, the captive parrot, like the wild one, falls dead to the cage floor. The merchant gasps and laments his words and actions, and brings the bird out of the cage to hold him. The parrot then awakens and flies off, showing the importance and way to freedom, not just for parrots, but for humans.

What is the road to freedom? Could it be:

1. Helping others to become free?

2. Truly empathizing with the suffering and death of others?

3. Letting individualism and human exceptionalism die?

4. The extinguishment of the self so that we can see how we are part of the whole and every being?

Only by diminishing our ego's need to dominate, can we live truly free. Love dissolves the bars of perceived separation. We live joined to the "beloved," as the poet Rumi would say, and we are beloved and we are beloving.

And love means that none are free until all are free.

If you'd like to see what you can do to free parrots, and free yourself, visit this global campaign, None Are Free Until All are Free.

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