I’ve seen eco-tourism in action, successfully acting as a deterrent to poaching wild birds in places like Rasa Island in the Philippines and West Papua, Indonesia. Bonobo in Congo’s blog reports heart-breaking statistics on the poaching of wild African Grey Parrots in Lomami Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire).
While the park is remote, it’s not impossible to get there. You can get to Kinshasa with Star Alliance programs on Ethiopian and South African Airways or Skyteam programs on Air France and Kenya Airways. Then you need a domestic flight on CAA to Kindu.
It won’t be easy as DRC doesn’t have the greatest infrastructure – yet. But it could be improved. I did find one birder’s report though he didn’t go to Lomami, he did find other places in Congo – 12 years ago! If tourists felt safe traveling there, there would be more legitimate jobs and poachers could be trained as guides, lodge staff, craft-makers, etc.
Seeing wild African Grey Parrots is a holy grail for many people. They are not only popular as pets worldwide but famous for their intelligence due to Dr Irene Pepperberg’s work with Alex. I had such high hopes for Kakum as they are commonly reported being seen there and Ghana is a very easy country to get to and travel in. Many people see them from the Canopy Walkway but we didn’t. I was really disappointed as they were the main reason to visit Ghana. In the evening, back at the lodge, I spoke with the guide of the organized group who were staying there and he said they saw them around 7am-ish from the car park at Kakum.
The next day, we went back and staked out the car park. At first we saw lots of hornbills flying past but no Grey Parrots. Our guides from the previous day showed up for work and sat with us while waiting for their clients to arrive. Around 7:30, I was ready to give up and go back to the lodge when one of the guys said “There”! He was pointing at a clearing through the trees over the park. Two Grey Parrots in flight! I grabbed my camera, said a quick Hail Mary and took aim.
I missed! They were flying towards the left side of the photo and had cleared the tall tree in the middle and were heading behind the thick clump of trees on the left. A blink of an eye, they were gone! That was all I was going to get for African Grey Parrots after traveling all this way. That’s how birding is, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. In a way I was lucky, at least I DID see them for a split second, but I had wanted more time to enjoy watching them and their behaviour.
The best I can do are these photos I took at Birds of Eden, South Africa. Many more African Grey photos can be found in the links below.
For birders, seeing wild African Grey Parrots has the same problem as most African birds. A potentially large range but many areas difficult to get to or unsafe to travel in. Independent birders should try Kakum but expect the sighting to be brief and far away. Uganda has better possibilities now that World Parrot Trust has released some Grey Parrots who were rescued from a poacher, rehabilitated and released at Ngamba Island, a chimpanzee sanctuary located in Lake Victoria. Kibale National Forest in Uganda is also a good place to see them.
African Geographic Magazine – This is a must read article about the tragedy of wild African Grey Parrots being captured by poachers and the horrible fate they suffer. Eco-tourism encourages locals to leave the birds in the wild!
There is no shortage of videos showing wild African Grey Parrots! Many are filmed by researchers who can access areas that independent travelers would have trouble with.
These first two are what I was hoping to see in Kakum. The videographer doesn’t say where he filmed them but this may be because he is protecting them from poachers.
World Parrot Trust Documentary – shows actual poaching technique which is horrible to see!
The journey to freedom of rescued African Grey Parrots. They start out in such heartbreaking condition, the trapping methods and transportation by poachers is extremely cruel.
Jane Goodall released 17 African Grey parrots back into the wild in an emotional ceremony Friday on Ngamba Island, Uganda in Africa. The World Parrot Trust and Fly Free announced that the well-known chimpanzee expert and conservation leader pulled the string to open the cage door that finally allowed the greys to fly free three years after they were originally smuggled out of Africa. The full story is available here. The video below shows what happens when wild parrots are stolen out of the wild. THESE birds are the lucky ones, they get to go home! By supporting organizations such as World Parrot Trust and engaging in eco-tourism to see these birds in the wild, you encourage the locals to leave the birds alone so they can remain free.