Working to end the wild bird trade
and return parrots to the wild


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Why Rescue and Release?

In many countries where parrots naturally occur, national governments have enacted laws to restrict or end the trafficking of their native wildlife. However, the agencies tasked with the enforcement of these laws often lack the expertise and facilities to deal with the many thousands of animals that are caught in the trade. As a result of these limitations many of these progressive laws remain un-enforced and the trade continues.

To address these limitations and assist with efforts to end the wildlife trade, new non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have formed in many countries over the past decade. Several of these organizations now act as the primarily facilities within their country to receive rescued animals caught in the trade. They provide experienced staff that assist with the rehabilitation and release of the wildlife in their care.

Support for these NGOs is essential. Their effectiveness often extends beyond the rescues of individual birds:

  1. Encouraging more confiscations: Increasing the capacity of these organizations to receive, rehabilitate and release confiscated animals enhances the government's ability to aggressively pursue trappers and confiscate more birds.

  2. Ending government corruption: Due to the lucrative nature of the wildlife trade, corruption of government officials can occur. Increased confiscations and prosecution of trappers can lead ending systemic corruption.

  3. Shifting pubic opinion: Rescued birds often provide an excellent opportunity for education and awareness. Through their compelling individual stories, these birds act as ambassadors for their kind.

Designed to provide support to these front-line NGOs, the FlyFree program will continue to send a powerful message to would-be trappers, to law enforcers and to the general public. Ultimately, confiscating and freeing birds helps stop trade itself, and highlights the inherent value of these birds in the wild.

How to Release Confiscated Parrots

Releasing confiscated parrots back to the wild can be straightforward and highly successful. The outcome often hinges on key choices which must be made in terms of where the birds are released, how many birds are in the group, the pre-release training of the birds, and careful screening of the individual birds to be released.

Generally speaking, we find it most advantageous to release parrots into areas of their former range where the species is currently extinct as there are a number of benefits to this strategy. First, a successful release will start a new population, and help local residents see that restoration is possible. Second, if there are no wild parrots in the area, the released birds cannot introduce maladaptive behaviors or diseases into the wild population. And finally, starting fresh in a new area makes it much easier for researchers to document the long-term success of the release itself.

When large groups of parrots are rehabilitated, we have to not only prepare them for the release by getting them into good physical condition and providing them with wild foods, but we also have to decide how large a group to release at any one time. If too few birds are released it may fail because the birds may scatter and be unable to find one another, food resources, and secure roosting spots. If too many birds are released at once researchers may have difficulty in finding birds that aren't thriving and that need to be recaptured for further rehabilitation. Generally we find that 30-50 birds is ideal, and if there are more birds than that, it's best to release them in waves separated by a few days to a week. This allows researchers to track the birds well, and the later groups then have the birds from the earlier groups from which they can quickly learn survival skills.

One of the trickiest parts of this process is how best to screen and treat the confiscated birds for infectious diseases and parasites. Luckily, most of the birds that enter into the process of rehabilitation have never had contact with other traded parrots, so they have never been exposed to any of the common and really dangerous parrot diseases. We encourage partners to keep confiscated parrots away from other parrots and poultry, to practice sound biosecurity at the holding and release facilities, and to test samples from release candidates for any common or suspect infectious diseases prior to release. In virtually all releases to date, disease has proven to be either a minor or non-existent issue in terms of the success of the release and the survival of the released birds.

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