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Bottle birds - what could be worse?

Mira Tweti | May 27, 2015


When I wrote my book, "Of Parrots and People: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species," back in 2008 I covered the heinous practice of smugglers shoving parrots into bottles - everything from deodorant canisters (the obvious giveaway were the air holes) to soda bottles depending on the size of the bird. I had heard tell of a famous smuggler (subsequently jailed and now supposedly repentant) who cut the tails off Hyacinth macaws and shipped them to buyers in poster tubes. Astonishing but, sadly, true.

Recently, someone posted the attached article from the Daily Globe & Mail to my Facebook page. The photo of the cockatoo's eye staring back through the neck of the soda bottle will haunt me forever and has to rank alongside the top "Life" magazine or Nat'l Geo award-winning photos of all time. If a photo says a 1000 words, this one tells a million. It tells of the absolute vulnerability of these animals and that we are predators no science fiction film could imagine up. My younger brother was two blocks from the Twin Towers on 9/11 when the planes crashed into them. One of the first things he told me afterwards was that no matter how many times he'd seen similar scenes in movies, seeing it happen for real was unlike anything he had ever seen. Not just that it was eerily silent (think of how eerily silent it must be for those bottled birds in their brain-crushing confinement) but no film could do justice to the real thing.

I naively thought that my book would change the world for parrots. It seemed obvious that once people knew what was going on, they would naturally act to help them. I broke the news of parrot mills in the US and the nightmare of captive breeding; issues in the wild from A-Z. If there was one thing no one could say, it's that my book wasn't comprehensive. It took five years of research and writing and I thought I would expire before I'd finish it, the work was so grueling. The information so devastating. It was hard enough to find out about the terrible things being done, let alone write about them. Writing OPP was physically painful. But even though I wrote a hard-news, investigative expose' (based on an award-winning, hard-news, investigative expose' for the Los Angeles Times Magazine), I foughthere is no 9/11 for these birds. What I detailed was happening to Indonesian cockatoos back in 2008 is happening today like nothing had changed and it seems to me, nothing has changed. Except that there are less Sulphur-crested cockatoos in the wild than there were back then. How these critically endangered birds are hanging on is a miracle to me.

Even with the few rehab & release programs in place, the birds get poached again and there's always more that get through Customs than ever get caught by them. This is true everywhere but the US (because of impenetrable 9/11 border protocols to apprehend terrorists, I've been told by source,s it's no longer worth bothering with birds) & maybe UK(same reasons). And Australia has always had zero tolerance for birds leaving their shores but a lot of poaching in Mexico and places like Indonesia, are for the domestic pet trade, not so it's even harder to know actual numbers of birds been taken from the trees. The attrition rate has always been astronomical and locals figure since they literally grow on trees you can always go back and get more. And they do. It's a vicious, losing, cycle for the birds.

One cause that continues to create demand is the 1970s hit American TV show "Baretta." The show's producer long ago lamented the fate he gave Yellow-crested cockatoos when he decided to give one to the title character. At the time, he thought it would be fun for Baretta to play off the parrot, like they were buddies. And the buddy system worked. The demand for YC-toos skyrocketed stateside when it aired and all but depleted the population in the wild and the birds were listed by IUCN as "Critically Endangered" in 2007 (years after they had been, but better late than extinction, I guess).

The series is still in syndication around the world and there's little doubt it is still having an impact on the wild parrots as people watch it and want one thinking it'll do all the fun stuff Baretta's was taught to do. When they end up with a screaming, biting, wild bird with no intention of dancing or talking or even being friendly, the birds end up like fish in a cage. Decorative items for decades,  at best.

Baretta is still killing parrots (more die in the poaching process than ever make it into homes) and should be pulled from syndication. Plain and simple.  It is syndicated by Universal Television. Write and tell them what you think and help stop this 40+ year run on these poor parrots.

Here is a link to the original story. 21 birds were confiscated from the smuggler(s) by Indonesian officials.

Only 9 survived the ordeal and now WPT has set up a fundraiser to help the "Indonesian Nine".
You can donate here:

(JEFTA Images/Barcroft Media)

Baretta with parrot