Pretty Parrots At Risk from Poachers

One-third of the nearly 400 parrot species are threatened by extinction today. But while the trade is vast, not every parrot species is at equal risk of being traded–and now researchers know why. According to the results of a new scientific study “pretty” parrots are at increased risk for being snatched up for Indonesia’s illegal wildlife trade. The findings not only expose the key drivers behind the country’s illegal trade in these birds, but offer lessons for the potential emergence and spread of infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans — like COVID-19 and avian flu.

Study overview

Researchers analyzed two decades worth of data on the illegal trade of parrots in Southeast Asia.  The team used a popular criminological model to analyze the factors associated with traded parrots in Indonesia, the country shown to be most in need of parrot conservation.

Results overview

The researchers found some key reasons parrots were at risk of being poached — with a bird’s attractiveness and the ability to sell it on legal markets being two main motivations.  More specifically, they found several key factors were good indicators of trade variation: whether it was possible to legally export the parrot species; the attractiveness of the species, including its color, brightness, size and ability to mimic sounds; and whether the species lived in an area of high human population density.

“It indicates people are targeting attractive species that are easier to sell in licit markets, and that there is a cross-cultural preference for particular parrot species, especially ones that have been historically over-exploited.”

-Professor Stephen Pires from Florida International University

Additionally, the researchers note that the overlap between the domestic and international trade of certain Indonesian parrot species suggests a high number of wild-caught birds are mislabeled as ‘captive-bred’ so they can be legally exported.

Journal Reference:  Stephen F. Pires, George Olah, Dudi Nandika, Dwi Agustina, Robert Heinsohn. What drives the illegal parrot trade? Applying a criminological model to market and seizure data in Indonesia. Biological Conservation, 2021; 257: 109098 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109098