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Focus on Angola: new efforts to tackle parrot trafficking in the Congo basin

Rowan Martin, PhD | Dec 24, 2018


The Mayombe forest sits at the south-western margin of the Congo Basin's tropical rainforests. Stretching from coastal Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), through the Cabinda Province of Angola, along the western zone of the Republic of Congo and up to south-west Gabon, it supports a bewildering diversity of species. Among them western lowland gorillas, central chimpanzees, forest elephants and….African Grey parrots. 

This important area is the focus of one of Africa’s most exciting transfrontier conservation initiatives, which brings together governments to join up conservation efforts in the region. One of the challenges has been the porous borders which mean that traffickers of wildlife can move easily between countries. In Angola, this has impacted Grey parrots, with trappers from the DRC and the Republic of Congo coming to Cabinda province to trap and buy parrots, which are then moved into international trade using falsified permits. The Ministry of the Environment of Angola spoke up passionately about this challenge to CITES (the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), as part of an effort by the majority of range states to end all legal trade in wild Grey parrots. Recent enforcement efforts have led to poachers being expatriated to the DRC but have also left park rangers with the challenge of what to do with the parrots seized from trade.

As part of a new collaborative initiative between the Ministry of Environment of Angola (MINAMB), the International Environmental Law Project (IELP), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Wildlife Impact and the World Parrot Trust (WPT), the WPT recently devised and delivered a series of training workshops in Angola. The focus was a three-day workshop delivered to park rangers at the headquarters of Maiombe National Park. These rangers are at the forefront of enforcement efforts and as result are faced with providing care for seized wildlife. Parrots are just one of the groups of animals they encounter - primates and pangolins have also been seized in recent years. Building capacity is vital for ensuring the best outcomes for these animals as well as for supporting the enforcement efforts and maintaining morale among the park staff.

WPT field veterinarian Dr Davide de Guz and Africa programme Director Rowan Martin, delivered training on the basic biology of parrots, their role in ecosystems, the importance of conservation, and the process of rescue and rehabilitation. Rangers were given a chance to gain practical skills, with hands-on experience in how to safely handle parrots, deliver medication and fit leg rings, while minimising stress. Another major component of the course focused on scenario planning. This involved in-depth discussions of the situations encountered by rangers and other enforcement staff in Angola, and the development of locally-appropriate strategies for managing seized parrots.

The final morning of the course was spent considering the future for the parrots already seized from trade and held at the park headquarters. Plans were made for the construction of a new rehabilitation aviary financed by the WPT. Equipment and supplies were also donated including stainless steel feeding bowls, scales, nets, medication and rings. 

The course was followed by a series of outreach missions to communities living close to parrot nesting areas to learn more about the connections between communities and wildlife traders from neighbouring countries. These communities are the first line of defence against trappers and traders arriving from outside the region. Plans were also made to integrate the collection of data on wild parrots into new biomonitoring initiatives.

Away from the Maiombe National Park, Dr Davide de Guz also delivered additional training sessions to government technicians in Cabinda city and Luanda and discussions were held with government vets about how to further build local capacity for the care of parrots seized from illegal trade. 

Recently, the construction of the new aviary was concluded and the Park staff have moved the parrots to their new home. During the transfer, one escaped but is surviving well and continues to return regularly for food, which it now receives on top of the aviary. As for those kept in the new aviary, until their expected release next year, the Park Manager José Bizi has noted a considerable difference in their appearance and behaviour since their space has increased and their diet diversified. The rangers, on their side, now feel much more confident and motivated in caring for the parrots, carrying proudly the name that all the rangers in Angola have selected to call themselves "soldados da natureza - soldiers of nature".

Building local capacity for the care of parrots seized from trade is a vital part of WPT’s multi-faceted strategy to address the threat of trade in wild parrots in Africa. By providing targeted support WPT can ease the burden on groups on the front line, encouraging enforcement and ensuring parrots get the care they need. In 2018 WPT has supported groups of parrots seized from trade in Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Angola and DRC.

The World Parrot Trust would like to say a huge thank you to all involved in this project which was designed under the guidance of the Minister of Environment, Her Excellency Paula Francisco Coelho, with its principal consultant, Dr Tamar Ron in collaboration between the Ministry of Environment of Angola, the International Environmental Law Project, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Wildlife Impact . The course realization was led by the Maiombe National Park's Manager, José Maria Bizi, and the Park staff, facilitated by Dr Tamar Ron, and supported by MINAMB, the Provincial Government of Cabinda, and the Municipal Administration of Buco-Zau, which also hosted its inauguration and an award ceremony for those who successfully completed the course.