The African Grey Parrot of the Victoria Crescent
The African Grey Parrot or the Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is characterized by large and broad wings, creamy yellow eyes and a short scarlet-red vent and tail. The bird has a loud call and explosive raucous notes especially when in flight. The African Grey parrots mostly inhabit Forests and Savanna ecological systems. Intelligence tests have revealed the bird as a vocal communicator with high innate intelligence. Research by Pepperberg, (1979) revealed that P. erithacus could acquire functional use of the sounds of English speech including learning to label objects, colors, shapes, and numerical quantities. The Intelligence of the species is thought to rank among the highest of nonhuman animals, including apes and cetaceans. Some scientists have compared its reasoning abilities to that of a three- or four-year-old human child. The Grey Parrot’s unique character, especially object concept beyond stimulus-response association and beauty have fueled its high demand on the pet trade ultimately causing the high threat index of the African Grey Parrot on the world.
In Uganda, P. erithacus inhabits dense forest but they are commonly observed at forest edges, clearings, gallery forest, wooded savannah, cultivated areas and/or even gardens. Nesting is usually solitary, but can take place in loose colonies especially during their breeding season in trees about 10-30m tall. The African Grey parrots feed on a variety of nuts, fruits, seeds and also consumes snails, and insects. The Parrot is preyed on by palm nut vultures and other raptors.
According to IUCN, the population of P. erithacus is estimated at 40,000-100,000 birds in the world. The species is believed to have undergone rapid population decline for very many years. According to UNEP-WCMC (2016), about 1.3 million P. erithacus may have been extracted from the wild during 1982 to 2004 period and the recent IUCN assessments have recorded the species as Endangered in the world. Additionally, the Uganda National Redlist has recorded the African Grey Parrot as Vulnerable with an estimated continuous decline of at least 10% in the next 10 years or 3 generations. In Uganda, the population of the P. erithacus is not known largely due to lack of quantitative data on abundance and contemporary repeated surveys within its habitat range that could be used to quantify its population and the degree of declines. It is therefore critical to conduct dedicated surveys to obtain the population size of the species.
Many Parrots are being kept as pets in Uganda with a previous record of from 2002 by the Uganda Wildlife Authority of 150 Grey Parrots being kept captive in Kampala. Many parrots harvested are sold in the International Pet Trade which has greatly affected the population of the species as parrots are harvested from the wild. Key informants in Kalangala district have indicated that glue sticks are normally placed around active nesting and roosting sites to harvest the parrots. Previously, the glue was mostly used in West African countries but surprisingly it has spread to Uganda which has increased the chances of capture with many adult parrots dying in the process. The decline in the population of the African Grey Parrot is also attributed to habitat loss. In the recent years, there has been high levels of forest loss in the main habitat for the species; the Victoria basin mainly as a result of increased prevalence of oil palm, drainage of water catchments, high rates of deforestation most especially of large trees which are important for nesting and roosting of the species.
In conclusion, given the prevailing decline in the population of the species in the wild, it is therefore imperative that concerned authorities including the Government of Uganda through Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forestry Authority, with support from other NGOs like NatureUganda among others, design strong strategies to halt the live bird trade and forest conversion around the country. They also need to carry out dedicated surveys aimed at assessing the National population of the Grey Parrot, and the threats to the species and its habitat.