Cameroon holds Ghanaians for smuggling 500 parrots

YAOUNDE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Authorities in Cameroon have arrested two Ghanaians for trying to illegally export 500 African Grey parrots out of the central African country to Bahrain, officials said on Tuesday.

The parrots, estimated to be worth $400,000 in all, were thought to have been captured in the rainforest of southeastern Cameroon and would be released back into the wild, according to Ofir Drori, director of the Last Great Ape Organisation conservation group which helped catch the alleged smugglers.

"I'm happy the government of Cameroon is taking the illegal trade in African Grey parrots quite seriously," Drori said.

"The (forestry and wildlife) minister's decision to release the birds into the wild far from the hands of the dealers will send a strong message," he told Reuters.

The African Grey is a medium-sized parrot which is held to be one of the world's most intelligent birds, partly for its ability to imitate human speech. This makes it a popular pet.

One captive African Grey, N'kisi, made headlines in 2004 after scientists said it had a vocabulary of 950 words.

The species is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to which Cameroon is a signatory. The pact requires that exports be accompanied by a permit issued by a national authority.

Drori said the Ghanaians had been in possession of fake CITES licences and that the parrots had already been stamped for export by customs officials in the main commercial city of Douala when the seizure was made.

The men could face up to three years in prison or fines of 3-10 million CFA francs ($6,795-22,650) if found guilty. (Reporting by Tansa Musa; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)