Parrot breeder faces criminal charges for "horrendous" conditions at Randburg facility
On January 20, the Randburg SPCA, the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinarian and the Douglasdale SAPS swooped on Antonie Meiring’s property after obtaining a warrant.
They encountered “shocking” and “horrendous” conditions.
The decomposing carcasses of around 300 parrots, valued at an estimated R1 million, lay in a festering heap outside in the sun. Dirty cages were infested with large rats and the enclosures were laced with cobwebs.
The SPCA confiscated 17 distressed birds that were being kept in “abhorrent” conditions, two of which had to be euthanised.
Randburg SPCA inspector Shiven Bodasing confirmed this week it had laid criminal charges against Meiring for animal cruelty and for being in possession of bush babies.
A follow-up inspection on Meiring’s property on January 28 found little improvement.
“Meiring informed us that his freezers broke during load shedding and what we are seeing is 30 years of birds that have died throughout the span of the operation,” said Bodasing.
On Pasa’s website, under its code of conduct, it stated it was “currently updating” its constitution.
“We expect Pasa to police its own members, otherwise what is the point of a self-appointed association that has no legal consequence or accountability?” asked Bodasing. “The code of conduct is basically wallpaper.”
Chairperson Ben Minnaar said Meiring resigned as a Pasa member “following death threats from comments on media articles”.
“Our preliminary investigation indicated no obvious reason for the SPCA to have confiscated the birds and the media report appears to be a misrepresentation of his breeding facility.”
The “bad publicity” had “tarnished” the association’s image.
He said a report from a well-known parrot vet confirmed that there was no abnormal mortality rate at Meiring’s facility.
Meiring has not responded to the Saturday Star.
Dr Rowan Martin, the director of the Africa conservation programme of the World Parrot Trust, which works to address threats to wild populations and improve their lives in captivity, said the conditions reported by the SPCA were “deplorable” and “fall far short of best practice in aviculture”.
“It’s surprising that even very basic practices such as providing adequate perches, enrichment, vermin control and regular cleaning seem not to be adopted.”
South Africa’s parrot breeding industry, said Martin, had “grown massively” in recent years and “is built partly on the back of cheap imports of wild-caught parrots as breeding stock, which has decimated some wild populations”.
In 2016, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora banned the global commercial trade of wild-caught African grey parrots.
According to official statistics, Martin said, exports soared from just over 40 000 in 2007 to around 350 000 in 2016 - a nine-fold increase.
In 2016, South Africa exported nine times as many parrots as any other country.
“Many breeders do a fantastic job ensuring parrots are given the best start and go to good homes.
“It would be expected that those at the top of organisations representing aviculture would be leaders in best practice rather than cutting corners.”
Martin said revelations around Meiring’s facility “reinforce concerns over the way that the parrot breeding industry has been overseen in South Africa” and would support calls for an independent review of the way the breeding industry is regulated.
Pasa, said Minnaar, did not recognise the trust as a conservation NGO, but “rather as an animal rights organisation. They attempted to discredit and close the parrot breeding industry in South Africa before and are biased.
“Pasa stands by its code of practice and good conduct for members to follow.”
Wild-caught imports of parrots to South Africa, Minnaar said, “already started declining in 2005 and effectively stopped in 2014”.
“The South African breeding industry did not decimate wild parrot populations. Instead, we have saved tens of thousands of wild parrots by supplying the international demand with captive-bred birds.”
Ornithologist Dr Steve Boyes said the situation on Meiring’s property was “a bad sign” and an indication of the current state of the local captive breeding industry: under-funded, poorly regulated, unhygienic and hidden.
“Those were most likely dead parrots from the freezer outside Meiring’s aviaries, but the high value of these dead parrots and the poor condition of his facility highlight the necessity to overhaul the avicultural industry.”
Welfare concerns for parrots caught in ‘breeding mills’
“The end for many breeders is abandoned, cob-webbed aviaries. Next, you have to sell or euthanase the birds,” says Boyes, scientific director of the Wild Bird Trust.
How do some South Africans make millions in aviculture?
“Either you’re an expert in breeding rare and sought-after birds, or you are trading in wild-caught birds,” he says.
South Africa has become one of the biggest global hubs for trade in wild-caught birds in the past decade.
“We are seen as a threat to species survival in the wild The time has come to halt any further imports of wild-caught birds into South Africa.”
South Africa, says Boyes, has the most registered Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix 1 African grey parrot-breeding facilities in the world, “exporting tens of thousands of most often pre-weaned chicks for export to emerging markets like Bahrain, Taiwan, Singapore (to China), and Pakistan each year”.
“For more than a decade SA has been importing tens of thousands of wild-caught African grey parrots from the Democratic Republic of Congo for breeding stock.
“The impacts on wild populations throughout their distribution range has been catastrophic.”
African grey parrot importers and exporters have been operating in South Africa and Mozambique for more than 15 years at volumes far exceeding restrictions imposed by Cites.
“On this scale, animal rights and welfare standards often get overlooked, resulting in events like the catastrophic death of almost 700 African grey parrots during a one-hour flight from Joburg to Durban in 2011, and the smuggling of grey parrots with motor parts and on foot across the Mozambican border that same year.”
Boyes says, the Parrot Breeders Association of Southern Africa (Pasa), has played a “central role” in this trade, lobbying against the uplisting by Cites and maintaining very close links with the national directorate issuing the Cites permits, the state attorney’s office and the state veterinarian’s office”.
“This industry cannot continue to threaten wild populations in Africa and around the world. There is no valid justification for this trade.
“If we continue to allow single traders to import and export thousands of wild-caught and captive-bred birds we’ll continue to hear stories about consignments of hundreds of dead parrots in unhygienic ‘parrot mills’.”
A moratorium needs to put in place “until the government decides it’s going to make a large investment in quarantine facilities, inspection teams, new technologies and closer adherence to Cites regulations”.
Ben Minnaar, chairperson of Pasa, disputes Boyes figures and says that 18619 grey parrots were imported to South Africa from 2010 to 2016, at an average of 2660 birds per year.
“The parrots were legally imported with proper CITES documentation and permits. The quotas approved by Cites to export ensure that populations are not decimated.
“The harm to the native population was caused by illegal trade in the species.
“SA breeders pride themselves in the professional, ethical and successful breeding with our legal breeding stock.”
Minnaar says 186 grey parrot breeding facilities are registered with CITES.
“This is certainly a vote of confidence from Cites in the parrot industry in South Africa.”