Despite progress at CITES new data suggests an uncertain future for Timneh parrots in Guinea-Bissau

14.10.2016

Surveys for one of the most threatened parrots in Africa have been recently completed as part of an SOS-funded project in Guinea-Bissau providing important information for the conservation of the species reports grantee, Dr. Rowan Martin, Director of the World Parrot Trust’s Africa Programme

Timneh parrot exits on a nest at a key site
Credits : Rowan Martin

Timneh parrots (Psittacus timneh) were placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2012 due to the impacts of trapping for the international pet trade and forest loss. Categorised as Vulnerable, they are restricted to a handful of countries in West Africa and until recently there has been little systematic study of wild populations according to Rowan.

Ornithologists from the Coastal Planning Cabinet of Guinea-Bissau and the Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP) worked with scientists from the Instituto Universitário, Portugal (ISPA) and the World Parrot Trust, to complete comprehensive surveys for the species in Guinea-Bissau.

They combined transect surveys with interviews with local residents to establish a picture of how the species is faring. Efforts focused on the Bijagós archipelago, a group of over 80 coastal islands and islets recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. This is the only area the species is known to occur in Guinea-Bissau says to Rowan.

"Parrot numbers in the majority of areas were found to be very small, with only a handful of birds seen during most transect surveys", he elaborates. On a number of islands, residents reported the parrots have been absent for many years and the majority of community members, interviewed as part of the study, reported that numbers of parrots they regularly see have declined during their lifetimes.

Combining multiple sources of information the national population was estimated at between 250-750 birds, suggesting an uncertain future for the species in Guinea-Bissau. However, several residents also reported that numbers may have begun to recover in recent years, possibly as a result of efforts by IBAP and other conservation agencies to discourage trapping.

Two adjacent islands stood out as having unusually large numbers of parrots and are considered a strong-hold for the species, containing the highest densities currently known to exist. Although small (less than a total of 13 km2 in area) these islands contain a number of nesting areas that have been the focus of SOS-supported efforts to reduce nest poaching.

Notably these islands have no permanent villages and human activity has been traditionally restricted by local custom. Statistical analyses support the idea that human activity is a key driver of declines in the archipelago. Proximity to the nearest permanent human settlement was one of the most important factors explaining the current distribution of parrots and was more important than the size of the island or the amount of forest cover.

Commenting on the results, Quintino Tchantchalam, director of João Vieira – Poilão National Park said “these results highlight the precarious position of Timneh parrots in Guinea-Bissau and the importance of efforts to protect important breeding areas, such as those within João Vieira – Poilão National Park, which involve local communities in participatory management and the employment of former parrot trappers”.

Mr. Tchantchalam is presenting these results during a symposium dedicated to ‘Recent advances in the ecology of parrots in Africa’ as part of the Fourteenth Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Dakar, Senegal.

According to Rowan, these data are critical for informing policy aimed at ensuring the conservation of threatened species. Last week, parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) voted overwhelmingly to end legal trade in wild Timneh and Grey parrots by placing them on Appendix I of the convention.

Rowan adds, “decisions by CITES have wide-ranging impacts on the conservation of species and must be informed by robust data wherever possible. The picture that is emerging is of a species that has been heavily impacted by unsustainable exploitation. Community-based conservation efforts such as those in Guinea-Bissau are essential, but will be undermined if international trade in wild Timneh and Grey parrots continues. The recent decision by CITES parties is a huge boost as the legal trade provided cover for a large amount of illegal trafficking. However concerted efforts are now needed to dismantle existing trade networks”.

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