Combating the illegal killing, taking and trafficking of birds in sub-Saharan Africa

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Illegal trade is decimating the population of Grey parrots in Ghana © Hans Braxmeier

A busy market in central Africa. Among the goods are birds trapped in cages while vendors haggle over prices. In West Africa, bird carcass stalls are an important part of the bush meat markets in the region. These are just a few examples of the plight of wild birds not just in Africa but around the world. The truth is that illegal killing, taking and trading are causing wild birds to become extinct. Recent studies have shown astonishing numbers in the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, northern and central Europe and the Caucasus. In these regions, millions of birds are removed from their habitats every year – dead or alive – with a devastating impact on the populations of some species.

In the Mediterranean basin, Egypt loses around 5.7 million birds annually to these practices. For example, the population of the European turtle dove Streptopelia turtur has shrunk by 30-49% in 15 years and is now considered to be critically endangered. Meanwhile, the European scooter Coracias Garrulus has become extinct in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, while the legendary Eurasian goldfinch Carduelis carduelis has lost 56.7% of its range in the western Maghreb due to extensive hunting and trade. Its rarity has led to a rise in prices and the creation of an illegal international trade network across the region. A goldfinch is currently worth $ 50 – almost a third of the average monthly income in the area. Despite all of this information, little is known about the impact of the illegal killing, taking and trading of wild birds in the sub-Saharan region.

Deciphering trends in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, the illegal removal of wild birds from their natural habitats is not well documented. However, the data we have suggests that large numbers of birds are legally and illegally hunted for a variety of reasons, with certain species being severely affected. For example, 97% of the 41,737 African gray parrots traded via Singapore in 2005-2014 were from African countries including the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Liberia and South Africa, the DRC is the main exporter. Around 2 million birds were shot in South Africa in 2013 and between 174,000 and 428,000 wild birds were illegally poisoned each year.

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The trade in birds and their by-products could amount to a billion dollar industry worldwide, of which sub-Saharan Africa may have a significant stake. Birds in Africa are not only exchanged for food and income, but also for faith. These cultural beliefs and practices pose a particular threat to large birds. Indeed, vultures and African hornbills are critically endangered. In 2020, more than 2,000 hooded vultures, Necrosyrtes monachus (Critically Endangered), died in a mass poisoning incident related to belief-based use, further underscoring the plight of these birds across the continent.

In this market, visitors can buy whole birds and their body parts © Gerhard Nikolaus.

“Given the immense environmental and human pollution of African bird populations and the lack of sufficient data on the killing, taking and action of birds, the challenges for nature conservation are increasing. Governments and other stakeholders are more likely to prioritize the conservation challenges of better-studied biodiversity such as large mammals, putting the survival of bird species at risk, ”said Alex Ngari, program manager, Migratory Birds and Flyways, BirdLife Africa.

As part of the first steps towards solving the problem, BirdLife International has started a study to review, collate and collate all available information on the subject in the sub-Saharan region. The 8-month review at the desk tries to document the species, reasons, methods for the illegal killing and taking of birds as well as hotspot areas in relevant countries. The trends, gaps, reference lists and links identified in publications are recorded in order to enable further detailed research using questionnaires.

“We are open to data and information on this topic in the region. A report on the status of the killing, taking and trafficking of birds in sub-Saharan Africa will be published at the end of this study, with updated data and gaps that need further research, ”added Alex Ngari.

“The idea of ​​BirdLife International at this stage is to build a strong knowledge base around the topic, and thus guide follow-up, research and participation with other conservation organizations, governments and researchers. We are therefore inviting any secondary information that might help solve the puzzle, ”says Kariuki Ndang’ang’a, Head of Nature Conservation at BirdLife in Africa.

This work is made possible by a grant from the Conservation Leadership Program. For further details and information, please contact Consolata Gathoni [email protected] and Alex Ngari [email protected]