Wildlife authorities combat trade in African grey body parts

In our January 29 issue, I wrote a brief story about a man who was arrested in Cameroon when police found him to be in possession of an astonishing 353 parrot heads and 2,000 tail feathers. He claimed that he had to collect them for a witch doctor who was treating his mentally ill brother. It was an explanation so far fetched that not even his brother would have believed him. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says the birds had been illegally trapped and their body parts were to be smuggled out of the country and sold. It's a gruseome thought, but it got me wondering just how big a problem this parrot trapping is - this surely wasn't a one-off incident. According to the WWF, the damage a new trade in African grey parrots is causing can't be underestimated. Another two men have now been arrested in Cameroon. Wildlife authorities say these men have been capturing and killing African greys for ten years, and have slaughtered more than 1,000 of the birds. It is not yet know where exactly the parrots heads and feathers are being taken, but there are obviously people out there who want them. A quick search on ebay finds hundreds of parrot tail feathers for sale but, fortunately, no parrot heads. Heaven forbid. One seller is offering more than 200 macaw and cockatoo wing and tail feathers, though. Of course, these could simply be the results of wing clipping of tail feathers naturally falling out over time, but this one sale is just the tip of the iceberg. So who is it that wants these parrot parts? It's a clear case of supply and demand. As soon as people stop demanding them, the criminals will soon stop trying to supply them. If only everyone realised that parrots are only beautiful when they are alive and well.