May 31, 2001 While the pet trade and conservation biologists agree that parrots are threatened by habitat loss, they disagree about the effects of poaching. Avicultural interests downplay it but biologists say poaching chicks for the lucrative pet trade is one of the biggest reasons for the parrots' decline. New research shows that the biologists are right.
"Our results are the first to demonstrate that poaching of nestling parrots is indeed widespread and in many species is occurring at levels that probably are not sustainable," says Timothy Wright of the University of Maryland in College Park, who reports this work with 24 co-authors in the June issue of Conservation Biology.
Nearly a third of the 145 parrot species in the Neotropics (Mexico, Central and South America) are threatened, making them among the most endangered groups of birds worldwide. Parrots fetch an average of $800 in the U.S. and the number of parrot chicks taken from the wild is estimated at up to 800,000 per year. Parrots are particularly sensitive to poaching because they have low reproductive rates.
Based on existing studies of 21 parrot species in 14 Neotropical countries, Wright and his colleagues determined the birds' death rates due to nest poaching. The overall poaching rate was 30% and for four species it exceeded 70%, which is too high given parrots' low reproductive rates. Without intervention, these four species are likely to decline sharply, say the researchers.
Wright and his colleagues also compared poaching in 10 species before and after the 1992 U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act, which bans imports of threatened parrots. They found that this legal protection cut poaching rates from nearly 50% to 20%, refuting the pet trade's arguments that limiting legal trade will only intensify illegal trade and thus poaching.
This finding suggests that parrots would benefit from similar legislation in Europe and Japan, which currently provide most of the market for parrot imports. "Import restrictions would be perhaps the single most effective measure for improving the plight of endangered parrots," says Wright.
The researchers also call for improving parrot conservation in the Neotropics, via a combination of protecting nest sites and enforcing existing domestic bans on parrot trade.
Wright's co-authors include: Catherine Toft of the University of California at Davis, James Gilardi of the World Parrot Trust, and Ernesto Enkerlin-Hoeflich of Monterrey Technical University in Mexico.
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