Published on January 25th, 2009 | by ecolocalizer


Smuggler Caught With Heads of 353 African Gray Parrots

A new trade in parrot heads and tail feathers is adding to the pressure on the world’s wild population of African Grey Parrots, which is confined to the tropical forest area of West and Central Africa.

African Grey Parrot

This is highlighted by a recent post by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Cameroon, which reports on a suspect arrested by game rangers who was found to be carrying 353 parrot heads and 2000 tail feathers. The suspect stated that he had collected the material for a witch doctor who was treating his mentally ill brother.


The African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is a medium-sized parrot, endemic to the rainforests of West and Central Africa. The birds are highly valued for their beauty and ability to mimic humans – they cost a minimum of US$ 500 each.

Between 1994 & 2003 more than 450 000 parrots were captured and exported under controls that required a permit from a national authority to certify that the export was not detrimental to the species in the wild. However, this trade along with illegal capturing, exceeding of quotas and other demands resulted in considerable stress on the African Grey populations. As a result and following investigation, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recommended zero export quotas for several range states and decided to develop regional management plans for the species. In particular it recommended a two-year ban on the export of African Grey Parrots from Cameroon. It is interesting that the United States and the EU have banned the import of wild caught parrots since 1992 and 2007 respectively.

>> See Also: Economic Slump Spawns Rise in Animal Poaching

>> AND: 23,000 Dolphins Slaughtered Each Year in Taiji, Japan. Sundance Doc Exposes It

This introduction of regulated trade does not effect the illegal export of African Grey Parrots, which is apparently quite well established although very inefficient. For example, it is believed that about 15,000 birds are taken out of the Lobeke region of Cameroon every year but that almost half of these die in transit due to poor handling.

The constraints on the movement of live parrots has probably contributed to this even more threatening trade in heads and feathers, which are more easily stored and transported. The market for these products in not yet understood. Balla Ottou, a leader in Cameroon’s wildlife management, thinks the heads are probably mainly exported to India and China and the tails to Nigeria. This needs to be clarified so that the authorities can develop counter strategies

Unfortunately this kind of trade is likely to flourish as the financial difficulties of the world bite deeper and the unemployed poor in Africa become more and more desperate.

Interestingly a search of ebay, shows that there is a substantial trade in the red feathers of the African Grey. The feathers appear to be used for craft and fly fishing. On 24/01/2009 there were 16 auctions for feathers with one seller parrotinthegarden having 125 feathers on auction, supposedly molted by his African Grey Pandora! These feathers sell for from 50c to just over a dollar each. Another person sells African Grey Tail feathers as “Pluma De Loro Africano” for religious purposes at US$ 7 each!

Photo credit: Michael Gwyther-Jones on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.Keep up to date with all the hottest urban planning news by subscribing to our (free) newsletter.

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  • mike

    dear lord 353 what a number

    • feathers

      still sickens me after all these years just thogh about this yesterday so sad….

  • thorley

    Stories like this are so sad. It is our karmic and earthley duty to protect and nurture animals ect. It’s such a terrible loss. These birds are so intelligent and amazing. Also, PLEASE get this story out about these 2 russian circus elephants in Moscow. They have been chained up for 1 year in a cement room. They have been standing in one spot. The only movement they have is rocking back and forth. It’s hearbreaking. Please visit this website to hopefully raise awareness and help release them from such a terrible life. Read their story and watch the news video. Thank you.

  • This is digusting. Sadly, with so many financial woes today, we are bound to see more of this, but the animals and birds of the world are paying the price. We humans needs to get smarter.

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  • Linda

    Just imagine the carnage, and that note about someone selling the tail feathers on e-bay! It has to start with the buyers, as if there is no market, there is no dead parrot. Money makes it all happen. What does India and China do with a parrot head anyway?

  • Thanks for your responses – it is really horrific. I was unable to find the use for the heads but am still looking. To me the worst thing about it is that now smugglers have found easier but still profitable ways of decimating the parrots.

  • Lucy Leonard

    DAVE – Thanks for letting me know what was going on with the Grey parrots. I have one and it hurts to know what happens to the ones in the wild.


  • TAG Owner

    I don’t see what the problem is with selling feathers on ebay. I have birds and if I can get some idiot to pay for the feathers, it will just help pay for better care of my birds. Birds naturally loose their feathers about every 6 months, not all at once, but gradually. It is a waise of landfill space to throw them away. If a person can recycle the feathers that my birds molt, more power to them! It is a lot better than plucking the tail feathers and selling them at the local stores like is done with peacocks.

  • Athlyn Green

    This is incredibly sickening. Man’s brutality knows no bounds. To kill intelligent and sensitive Grey parrots for their heads and tails is an atrocity.

  • TAG Owner 2

    As an african grey owner (not wild caught, bought from breeder in US), this is so sad to hear about his distant relatives in the wild. These beautiful and smart creatures don’t deserve this, then again no one deserves to be decapitated. As far as the ebay selling- yes, they do molt, it’s a part of their life cycles- like a dog shedding. However, I do see how it can be interpreted as “bad”. Although these sellers don’t realize it, they are indirectly creating a buyers market, which in that case needs a seller, and unfortunately the sellers obtain products in horrible ways.

  • Virginia Hayes

    I am an owner of a captive caught Congo African Grey and she is a beauty and such a dearly loved companion. How this sort of thing can happen over and over again makes me sick and angry. The punishment that these evil people receive is not nearly severe enough. The torture of innocent creatures must be stopped!

  • Virginia Hayes

    Excuse my incorrect comment in the post above – my CAG is captive bred by a lovely breeder in the UK. I do not support the selling of wild caught birds!

  • Kevin Lenaghan

    This is so terribly sad. Horrific, actually. We will continue to see this as long as there is poverty in these nations and people are starving and hungry. Until we can bring a decent standard of living, these people will do whatever they can to stay alive and feed their families.

    Not to mention the greed factor, which no doubt fuels much of this slaughter. They simply do not see things the way we do in the West. The value we place on life in the West is just not shared globally.

    I have a Grey at home and am so glad that I do. I love this bird. She is Born in the USA. It breaks my heart to see what happens to her species and to others.

    But being horrified by it will not solve this sad situation.

    I believe the heads are used in shamanic activities and the feathers are sold as decorations and used in ceremonies.

  • I am constantly appalled by what humans will do for money, no matter who or what is hurt or destroyed. Please support the World Parrot Trust.

  • CAG owner

    It is to sad and at the same time I am very angry at these people who can kill innocent animals senselessly.
    They have every right to live on this planet. That dumb man had no right to take away 300+ lives to treat his brother.

  • Janet Helstrom

    I also have a grey I hope that sick SOB gets what is coming to him. I never heard of such a sick thing in my life. Once a animal abuser always a animal abuser. God will punish them in the end. Wait and see what comes around goes around.

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