Saturday, March 6, 2021

Smuggled parrots signal ever-growing conflict between wildlife and humans

Conservation experts say the coronavirus pandemic is a watershed moment for curbing the global wildlife trade, which can spread disease and lead to extinction.

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Dozens of smuggled parrots stuffed in plastic bottles were found on a ship docked in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua last week. Police said the crew discovered 64 live parrots and 10 deceased ones after hearing noises coming from inside a large box.

The destination of the parrots found in the port town of Fakfak was unclear, a local police spokesman told AFP news agency.

The saved birds were black-capped lories, a type of parrot native to New Guinea and nearby islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean. It is a protected species in Indonesia but its beautiful plumage makes it highly sought-after in the illegal exotic pets trade, said Elizabeth John from the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic.

“Indonesia perhaps leads the charge in bird smuggling interceptions in the region, but what is needed is more arrests and a true crackdown of the players from source to market,” she told the BBC.

Captured wild birds are sold at giant markets in Indonesia’s major cities or smuggled abroad for sale as pets and status symbols.

It’s not the first time that birds have been discovered hidden inside plastic bottles. In 2015 Indonesian police arrested a man who was trying to smuggle 21 yellow-crested cockatoos, an endangered bird, in bottles. In 2017 Indonesian authorities found 125 exotic birds forced inside drainpipes after wildlife raids.

Conservation experts say the coronavirus pandemic is a watershed moment for curbing the global wildlife trade, which can spread disease and lead to extinction.

Dirk Pfeiffer of Hong Kong City University says the real problem is the demand. “The people who are smuggling the birds from the wild, that’s an important source of income for them. Pushing the trade underground is not the solution.”

Andrew Cunningham, deputy director of science at the Zoological Society of London, said, “This sort of way that we treat animals as if they’re just our commodities for us to plunder – it comes back to bite us and it’s no surprise.”

To prevent another pandemic in the future, Cunningham says, the focus must be on the causes. At the root of the problem is the destruction of nature, bringing animals and humans into conflict.

“Even in protected forests, the forests are still there, but the wildlife’s gone from within them because they have ended up in markets,” he says. “And it’s easy to finger point, but it’s not only happening in China, it’s happening in many other countries and even in the western world. Many people like to have exotic pets and too many of those are wild caught. We in the West ought to be putting our own house in order too.”

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