Twenty-eight survivors are free at last. Twenty-eight are all that survived of 108 African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) confiscated in 2010 from a smuggler at Sophia, Bulgaria's airport. The survivors were strong enough to live through the stress of being stuffed into dog kennels, constantly handled by humans, and deprived of their natural habitat for three years. Sophia zoo employees called to the airport were appalled when they saw the intelligent birds crammed into two dog kennels like 19th century slaves in a slave ship. The medium size kennels were each divided in half horizontally by a board with thirty parrots on each level. African greys are desirable to the pet trade because they are usually long-lived, easily trained and are good mimics. The ICUN lists the birds as Vulnerable because of the illegal trade and loss of wild habitat.
credit: Charles Bergman
The parrots were caught in Africa and illegally transported via Lebanon to Bulgaria without documentation. Zoo officials allowed the birds to live near other animals while they were impounded, but still more than half died from stress. The World Parrot Trust spent the time and resources the zoo could not afford to return the birds 3,000 miles to their native habitat in a Ugandan wildlife sanctuary. Although 28 survived the ordeal only 17 were strong enough to participate in the release ceremony conducted by conservationist Jane Goodall at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary [photo]. The sanctuary continues to rehabilitate the eleven still captive in the hopes they too will return to the trees. Sanctuary veterinarian Joshua Rukundo says the released birds are doing well, feeding at stations around the island. Their wild parrot brethren are accepting the former captives too, and showed interest in them while they were in the aviary under quarantine, responding to their calls. An inspiring story, but one that should not have to be told except for man's ruinous exploitation of the planet and his fellow inhabitants.