March 17, 2011 – Nick Engelfried
In Mexico a ban on capturing and exporting wild parrots, combined with a major public education effort, seems to have slowed the rate at which endangered birds are being taken from the wild. Partly thanks to a law passed in 2008, wildlife protection officials reported the number of parrots taken from the wild and sold in Mexico dropped to the lowest level in nearly a decade last year. Conservation groups like Defenders of Wildlife have hailed the trend as a victory for many parrot species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies ninety-four of the world’s 330 parrot species as endangered. Though loss of tropical forests and other habitats is the most important cause of the decline, many parrots are taken from the wild to be sold as pets or to collectors of rare animals. Often these birds are smuggled out of their country of origin under unhealthy and stressful conditions, and as many as three-quarters of parrots taken from the wild end up dying during transit. In countries like Mexico the international parrot trade has helped push many rare birds near the brink of extinction.
In 2007 Defenders of Wildlife published a report documenting the impact of the parrot trade in Mexico, and arguing that the capture of wild parrots threatened the country’s natural heritage. The next year the Mexican government passed a law prohibiting the capture, import, and export of all of Mexico’s parrot species. However the new law was just the first step toward ensuring a future for these birds—conservation groups have had to work with the Mexican government to ensure enforcement of the law while educating the public about the importance of parrot protection. Defenders of Wildlife used posters, radio, and even children’s books to spread the word about how ordinary people can help protect parrot species.
Though the parrot trade in Mexico continues illegally, the new law and public education efforts have already had an effect. This is good news not only for the more than twenty parrot species native to Mexico, but also for parrots in other parts of Central America. In Guatemala, which shares a border with Mexico, the parrot trade has been illegal for a long time and poachers have smuggled parrots into Mexico for sale. Now that selling wild parrots is banned in Mexico as well, there will be less incentive for parrot poaching in Guatemala and other nearby countries.
While Mexico works to save parrots within its borders, pet owners in the US can also help fight the illegal parrot trade. Before purchasing a parrot as a pet, Defenders of Wildlife urges owners to seek out documentation proving the animal was either bred in the United States or imported legally after being bred in another country. All imported parrots should come with permits showing US Fish and Wildlife Service approval—a parrot that does not come with such forms may have been captured from the wild and imported illegally. Parrot breeders in the US should be able to produce written records showing when the bird was hatched and where it came from. Again, parrot sellers who cannot produce such records may have come by their birds illegally.
Mexico is home to twenty-two of the more than three hundred parrot species in the world, ranging from the magnificent scarlet macaw to the tiny yellow-naped Amazon. Mexico’s diverse assortment of natural ecosystems—which includes lush tropical forests, mangrove wetlands, mountainous areas, and deserts—has made it a good habitat for a large assortment of parrots, including some found nowhere else in the world. Species like the Mexican parrotlet, maroon-fronted parrot, and red-crowned Amazon live only within Mexico’s borders.