The death of 730 wild-caught African grey parrots on a commercial flight between Jo’burg and Durban last month has blown the lid off a possible wildlife trafficking ring based in South Africa and operating on the rest of the African continent.
The hugely popular bird, found in the rainforests of west and central Africa, is being hunted mercilessly by wildlife traffickers due to its high commercial value as a pet.
Research by Birdlife International indicates that up to 21% of the global population may be taken from the wild annually. The bird is now listed as near-threatened because of uncontrolled trapping.
The African grey is listed in appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meaning that exports must be accompanied by a permit issued by a national authority and a finding must have been made that exports are not detrimental to the species in the wild.
Wildlife groups are calling for an investigation into why the birds were allowed to enter South Africa, given the existence of such strict permit conditions. It is well known that it is easy to obtain the necessary documentation from the Congolese authorities, the groups say.
A private wildlife investigator tracing the birds said that they might be part of the so-called “Congo 500”. Five hundred African greys were confiscated from trappers by Congolese government officials in October last year and taken to Lwiro Sanctuary, a private reserve supported by the conservation NGO, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (Pasa).
But on November 22 army and government officials allegedly arrived at Lwiro, threatened its director at gunpoint and removed all the rescued African greys in crates. Pasa suspects that the 500 parrots might have made their way to South Africa and become part of the fatal consignment.
The 730 African greys, transported in 15 crates, died on a 1time flight between Johannesburg and Durban when transferred from state quarantine facilities at the airport to Toucan Private Quarantine outside Durban. State vets are still investigating the precise cause of death, but early research indicates that it was probably due to carbon monoxide poisoning. An official report on the deaths by the state vet is expected this week. Pasa says regulations allow only four birds per crate.
A source present when the crates were opened said 720 of the birds were found dead and 10 died later. The source said the birds’ lungs had collapsed.
Court documents show the dead birds belonged to Boksburg lawyer Ben Moodie, through his company Iceland.