Thousands of Rare Birds Traded Through Singapore Have Gone Unaccounted For

April 26, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

The African grey parrot

Vulnerable African grey parrots are the most intensively traded                                                                                                                   

The African grey parrot has an uncanny ability to mimic human speech. This talent makes the species a highly sought-after pet that figures prominently in the global pet trade.

At the same time, the African grey parrot is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Pressures from hunting and the pet trade have eliminated the once-abundant species in parts of its native range in Equatorial Africa.

A study conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and TRAFFIC found that Singapore is a major international hub for the shipment of African Grey Parrots, as well as other bird species.

Researchers attempted to track Singapore’s government-reported data to CITES — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — between 2005 and 2014. Their findings were published in the journal Oryx.

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The report revealed a troubling discrepancy between the number of birds imported and those exported from Singapore over the nine-year period — close to 86,000 birds went unaccounted for after entering the country. “It’s highly unlikely that this many birds remained in the country,” Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia regional director and the co-author of the study, told National Geographic.

Singapore was found to have imported a large number of CITES-listed birds from African countries known to “have a history of abuse of CITES export permits, discrepancies in reported trade data, or an acknowledged lack of wildlife law enforcement capacity.” This likely explains why previous studies conducted by TRAFFIC found that so many birds traded through Singapore had been illegally sourced.

“Traders know the loopholes well and run circles around enforcement agencies and CITES authorities,” said Shepherd. “These loopholes undermine CITES and facilitate unprecedented levels of illegal trade, leading to the decline of a multitude of species in the wild.”

The authors recommend improvements in Singapore’s regulation and monitoring of international trade in CITES-listed birds. This would not only fulfill an obligation to CITES, but would also avoid the inadvertent spread of zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza.

The increasing threat to the species has prompted some African countries to push for CITES to upgrade the African grey parrot from Appendix ll to Appendix l — the strictest protection category.

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