LET ME OUT: Missing most of its feathers due to stress, an African Grey parrot clings to a cage in state quarantine.The birds are believed to have been caught by hunters in the DRC and smuggled into South Africa. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

A new moratorium forbidding the import of African Grey parrots from the Democratic Republic of Congo could be fuelling the smuggling of the species into South Africa from Mozambique and Angola.

Last week, a military patrol near the Lebombo border post discovered a group of Mozambicans travelling on foot, smuggling 161 African Greys, stuffed inside three small crates.

Dr Steve Boyes, of the World Parrot Trust Africa, said with the moratorium in force, the “lucrative African Grey breeding industry in South Africa has had to resort to alternative import channels.

“These are wild African Greys from the DRC. They most likely entered Mozambique by road via Zimbabwe.”

Blackie Swart, a conservation official at the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), said he expected more incidents. “We’ve had this kind of smuggling with other parrot species and reptiles, but not with (African) Greys. Make no mistake, this won’t be the last.”

A SANDF foot patrol picked up the smugglers because they heard “distressed squawking” in the nearby bush. The smugglers later ran back into Mozambique.

Dries Pienaar, of the MTPA, and the representative for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Mpumalanga, said the confiscated parrots would remain in state quarantine for a month. Two had died.

“They are eating well and have good accommodation, but remember they were caught from the wild and are now in captivity and are stressed.

“These birds came from the DRC as far as I can gather from the cages they were brought in. They came by air through Maputo, and the so-called owner claims they were then stolen.

“They can’t get them into the country legally so they’re doing this now. These were adult birds, that were separated into male and females, and I think they were destined for the breeding market for export to the Middle East, which is a big recipient for them as pets.”

African Greys are now the third most abundant pet on earth, said Boyes. This had led to local extinctions in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, the DRC, Cameroon and other forest patches in their range.

Pienaar added: “The DRC is decimating their wild populations. The only thing South Africa can do is refuse to accept the birds but the rest of world may not do this. We’re hoping Cites will impose a ban.”

He said the so-called owner of the birds, Willem Grobelaar, had come forward and said that he was quarantining the parrots in Mozambique before importing them into South Africa.

“He can’t prove ownership. The birds will most likely be forfeited to the state.” - Saturday Star