- Researchers conducted a survey of the online trade of West African wild birds in an effort to fill knowledge gaps about the trade of species from this part of the world.
- The study found that 83 species of wild birds from West Africa were traded online, including three species protected under the highly prohibitive CITES Appendix I, and many potential buyers were from South Asia and the Middle East.
- In general, little is known about wild birds in West Africa, so it’s difficult to assess whether trade in certain species is sustainable, the researchers say.
- The authors also expressed concern about the spread of disease when viewing images of multiple species of birds confined together in small enclosures.
With its bright green plumage and range of vocalizations, the rose-ringed parakeet is one of the most sought-after birds in the pet trade. To meet the continued demand for these birds, traders capture them from their native habitats in parts of Africa and Asia and then sell them to buyers around the world.
The rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameric) is so widely traded that in 1976 countries moved to list the species on Appendix III of CITES, the global wildlife trade convention, in an effort to control and regulate trade. But in 2007, CITES deleted the rose-ringed parakeet, along with 115 other wild bird species found in West Africa, possibly in response to the European Union’s 2005 ban on imports of wild-caught birds, experts say. Although the EU ban cut some trade, experts say sales in the Middle East and South Asia are picking up, and the lack of CITES regulations has made it very difficult to control trade, especially if it These are birds that come from Western Europe. Africa.
“We know that the region’s unsustainable wildlife trade has caused populations of some species to collapse, but for most species there is essentially no monitoring of populations in the wild,” Rowan Martin, a bird expert who holds positions at both the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology’s Center of Excellence and the World Parrot Trust, Mongabay said in an email. “We just don’t know if trade in these species is even remotely sustainable and there is no obligation under the CITES convention to monitor wild populations or even report on the quantities being exported.”
‘Cause for more control’
A new study published in International Bird Protection, co-authored by Martin and researchers from the University of Exeter, NOVA University Lisbon, WildCRU at the University of Oxford, and the Oxford Martin Program on Wildlife Trade, sheds new light on the West African wild bird trade. Analyzing 427 posts on a “popular social media platform,” the researchers found that 83 species of West African birds from 26 bird families were traded online, with much of the trade-related involvement coming from buyers in South Asia and the United States. Middle East.
“We were surprised to see countries in South Asia so prominent in the level of engagement with West African dealers,” Martin wrote. He added that these findings prompted him and his colleagues to launch a recent investigation with the BBC, which found how “importers are undermining legal bird trade systems to import endangered and protected species” such as African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus†
Lead author Alisa Davies of the World Parrot Trust and University of Exeter says the social media posts also raise concerns about the spread of disease, as images showed different species of birds in close confinement.
“There is reason for more scrutiny,” Davies told Mongabay. “We’re concerned that there are some species that are in fairly large numbers, which could be slower growers like turacos…, and multiple species were kept in the same enclosures, creating conditions where you could have disease crossover between different species. “
“Many countries around the world have recently taken strict measures in response to outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza and it gives the impression that wild bird trades on this scale are still happening elsewhere,” Martin said. “Do the economic benefits really outweigh the risks?”
The wild bird trade also leads to animal welfare issues, according to the study, and has caused birds to become invasive species in other parts of the world. For example, the rose-winged parakeet has now established new populations in 35 countries in Europe, North America, the Middle East and South Africa, the study said.
‘The story is not good’
The researchers have not identified the social media platform used in their study, but it is established that wild birds and other animals are regularly traded on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Whatsapp.
The study found that the most common species traded online were rose-ringed parakeets, Senegal parrots (Poicephalus senegalus) and yellow-fronted canaries (Crithagra Mozambica† However, the researchers also identified nine species covered by CITES, including three protected under the highly restrictive CITES Appendix I, which bans nearly all trade. The species protected under CITES Appendix I included the African gray parrot and the Timneh parrot (Psittacus timneh), both of which are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and the black crow crane (Balearica pavonina), which is classified as vulnerable.
Davies said that while the trade in endangered species such as African gray parrots would be illegal, most of the other trade activities analyzed in the study would be legal. However, the lack of wild bird data in West Africa makes it difficult to determine whether trade in a species is sustainable, the researchers said.
“Very little ornithological research is being done in West Africa, but where data exists, the story is not good,” Martin said. “For example, populations of Timneh and African gray parrots have collapsed, leading to them being listed as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The range of goldfinches, a small and common passerine bird, has declined by 57% in just 26 years. Several of the species that appear to be traded in significant numbers are large-bodied forest species, such as hornbills and turacos, which reproduce slowly. They are unlikely to withstand a high decline, especially given the other threats they face from bushmeat hunting and forest loss.”
Simon Brusland, a bird expert with the Silent Forest Group and a member of the IUCN SSC Red List Authority for Birds, who was not involved in this study, cited the researchers’ efforts to provide insight into the wild bird trade in West Africa “impressive and inspiring.”
†[I]In the past we have only seen the birds when they arrive at their destination with new consumer markets around the world and in Asia in particular,” Brusland told Mongabay in an email, “but we still have relatively little understanding of the dynamics of the birds leaving West Africa. Obviously the numbers are worrying, but it wasn’t a big surprise.”
Brusland said other studies have shown that the online trade of individual birds can reach “unbearable numbers” and that much of a population can be affected by these trading activities.
“In the case of West Africa, high volume international trade [has] been going on for decades and we’re really running out of details on how it’s impacting wild bird populations, but it’s very hard to imagine it being sustainable,” he wrote. “I definitely think we need more details about the impact of trade on local populations and more complete species assessments in different countries are desperately needed. I fear that such assessments would put many species in a new light and maybe a different Red List -category.”
Tackle the trade
Martin said regulators need to do more to “encourage and compel platforms to take meaningful action” to tackle wildlife trade online.
“While many platforms have strong community standards, they are often not systematically or proactively enforced,” he added.
Davies said there should also be “careful consideration” as to whether certain species should be reinstated in CITES Appendix III.
“If there is evidence based on this trading volume and based on other information, then it might be a good idea to re-include them in Appendix III so we can understand what’s going on,” she said.
While the trade in wild birds from West Africa is an ongoing problem, Martin said he was encouraged to see a decline in public trade activity following the inclusion of African gray parrots and Timneh parrots in CITES Appendix I.
“Whether the wild bird trade continues,” Martin said, “will depend on how countries, platforms and regulators respond to the challenge.”
Banner Image: The investigation found that 83 species of wild birds from West Africa were traded online. Image courtesy of World Parrot Trust.
Davies, A., Nuno, A., Hinsley, A., & Martin, R.O. (2022). Live wild bird exports from West Africa: Insights into recent trade through social media tracking. International Bird Protection, 1-14. doi:10.1017/s0959270921000551
Davies, A., D’Cruze, N., Senni, C., & Martin, R.O. (2022). Deriving patterns of wildlife trade through social media monitoring: changing dynamics of the African gray parrot trade following major regulatory changes. Global Ecology and Conservation, 33, e01964. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01964
Correction (23/06/2022): An earlier version of this article directly attributed the decline in gray and Timneh parrot trade to their uplisting to CITES Appendix I, but this statement has been revised to state that public trade activity declined following the CITES uplisting.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts†
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this message. If you would like to post a public comment, you can do so at the bottom of the page.