Cameroon conservationists heal endangered African gray parrots

LIMBE, Cameroon (Reuters) - Conservationists in Cameroon are trying to save the endangered African gray parrot, one of the world’s most trafficked animals because of its skill at mimicking human speech.

Despite trade of the parrot being outlawed at the U.N.’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016, it remains a popular pet, fetching thousands of U.S. dollars on the international market.

Deforestation, poor regulation of trade and increased trafficking have led to the decline of the African Gray Parrot, once widespread across its natural habitat in central and western Africa.

“The parrots, some of them come here in a very bad shape. When parrots are rescued from the poachers, they come in tiny boxes and they have been in those boxes for days,” John Anyam, head veterinary at Limbe Wildlife Centre, told Reuters at the center, where vets were surgically removing metal from a leg of a rescued parrot.

The center, in Limbe, Cameroon, started up more than a decade ago, but now rescues around 25 birds a month.

A 2016 study revealed that the monogamous bird - which scientists say is as intelligent as a young human child - had declined by more than 90% in Ghana since 1992. A lot of the trade has moved online, where cutsy pictures of gray parrots in cages copying human speech proliferate.

Dehydrated, ridden with parasites, injured and their feathers cut by poachers to prevent them from flying, the center attempts to nurse them back to health.

While the U.N. has banned any cross-border movement in the birds or the commercial sale of their body parts, that has not deterred poachers. In Cameroon, some consume the parrots for their meat while others keep them as pets.

Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Editing by Tim Cocks and Susan Fenton