The grey parrot Psittacus erithacus is native to lowland moist forests of West and Central Africa, ranging from south-eastern Côte d'Ivoire to Kenya and northern Angola. Once widespread, population declines have occurred in many areas, and in some instances have been severe (Ibis, 2016, 158, 82–91). In 2016 the species was categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and in the same year concerns over the impact of capture of live grey parrots for international trade prompted their listing on Appendix I of CITES. In contrast to neighbouring range states, the capture and sale of grey parrots has been prohibited in Nigeria because the species is on schedule I of Nigeria's Endangered Species Decree of 1985 and its Endangered Species Act. Despite formal protection, a report to CITES in 2001 highlighted an ongoing threat to wild populations posed by the capture of young parrots and loss of habitat (P. McGowan, 2001, Status, Management and Conservation of the African Grey Parrot, Psittacus erithacus in Nigeria).
In response to concerns over the status of grey parrots in Nigeria (Ostrich, 2014, 85, 205–233) we recently initiated a rapid assessment of the scale and scope of trapping and trade. During 2018 we made visits to 28 sites in the states of Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Edo, Lagos, Oyo, Kwara, Kaduna and Kano. Interviews with local community members revealed that trapping, primarily the capture of chicks from nests, occurs at sites adjacent to at least five communities across the Niger Delta states. Trapping was found to be conducted by Ghanaians and Nigerians operating in the remote communities within Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Cross River states. Transboundary movements of grey parrots and parrot trappers between Nigeria and neighbouring countries, notably Cameroon, were also identified. Overt surveys of markets found live parrots and parrot body parts for sale openly in all of the 11 cities visited. All market vendors interviewed stated that they obtain parrots from more than one trapper and several, based in Kano, reported purchasing live and dead parrots, and parrot parts, from merchants coming from Cameroon. Notably, levels of awareness of regulations prohibiting trapping and trading of wild sourced grey parrots was low among market vendors (77% of vendors were unaware) and absent in all communities adjacent to capture sites in the Niger Delta except in Cross River state.
Red parrot tail feathers were found for sale in markets throughout Nigeria. They are used as charms and are incorporated by some local cultures into traditional attire. Harvesting of red feathers from beneath roosts provides a modest income for communities close to roost sites, but the collapse of wild populations threatens to undermine this practice. Our visit to a well-known parrot roost in the Ikodi community, River State, where thousands of parrots were previously recorded to roost (P. McGowan, 2001, op. cit.) found the roost to have been absent for at least 10 years. Its loss has been attributed to threats ranging from trapping of the parrots by non-Ikodians (Naturewatch, 2000, 34–35) to infrastructural developments.
The information collected during these rapid assessments highlights multiple opportunities to address the threats posed by capture and trade of grey parrots in Nigeria. Local communities can act as the first line of defense against illegal wildlife trade, and the situation revealed by our surveys suggests that locally appropriate community-focused initiatives could be effective for addressing the capture of parrots in Nigeria. The design of such initiatives should consider opportunities to leverage the cultural and economic value of wild parrot populations to promote protection and encourage sustainable practices. There are also opportunities to increase awareness of the illegality of capture and sale of grey parrots among target groups, including communities living adjacent to wild populations, trappers, market vendors and civil society. A multifaceted strategy should also include efforts to improve enforcement at key points in the trade, including places where parrots are currently sold openly in large urban centres and at international borders, including the airports through which parrots enter international markets (Global Ecology and Conservation, 2018, 16, e00429).