Parrot survey finds poaching but also hope

The largest report yet on wild-parrot nests has found poaching to be alarmingly common. The report also argues, however, that at least one protection measure has chilled illegal trade in the birds.

A female yellow-naped Amazon parrot peers out of her nest. Wright

Twenty-five researchers from 14 countries pooled mostly unpublished data on 21 species of New World parrots, says Timothy F. Wright of the University of Maryland in College Park. In the June Conservation Biology, Wright and the other researchers report that poachers looted about a third of the nests monitored. There were areas where poachers hit more than 70 percent of the nests, but in a few places, mostly on Caribbean islands, no raids were detected.

Of the 145 known species of Neotropical parrots, 46 totter near extinction. The birds already struggle against an array of menaces, and poaching only increases their risk of disappearing, Wright says.

Coauthor James Gilardi of the World Parrot Trust’s office in Davis, Calif., says, “Very little has been published.” He explains that parrot researchers observe nest poaching while studying other matters, but the unlawful practice rarely gets attention in the papers they write.

Chicknapping, by its secretive nature, isn’t easy to directly quantify, but Wright and Catherine Toft of the University of California, Davis appealed to researchers for nest observations from 1979 to 1999 that could signify poaching. The final report covers more than 4,000 nests. Now, Wright is working on an analysis of how much poaching different parrot populations can withstand.

For 10 species, researchers had data both before and after the United States passed the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, which severely limits import of rare birds. The before-and-after data show that yearly poaching rates dropped from 48 percent of nests to 20 percent. Gilardi says he hopes that Europe and Japan, the other big wild-bird markets, consider similar legislation.

Benny J. Gallaway, president of the Phoenix-based American Federation of Aviculture-which represents bird breeders, veterinarians, and hobbyists-points out that some of the highest poaching rates reported, such as those for white-faced Amazon parrots in Brazil, came after the act’s passage. He also questions how representative the reports’ data can be. “These studies were designed to look at other things–now, they’re trying to backfit data,” he says.

According to Gilardi, however, “Before this, there was only scattered information.”

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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