Archived 2016 topics: Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

BirdLife species factsheet for Grey Parrot:

This species was formerly considered conspecific with P. timneh, but has been considered separate since 2012.

The major threat to this species is from the pet trade (Martin et al. 2014). From 1982 to 2001, over 1.3 million wild-caught individuals of both erithacus and timneh (the vast majority erithacus) entered international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2016), and when combined with pre-trade mortality this number is likely to be far higher (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Cameroon accounted for 48% of exports in 1990–1996 and estimates that c. 90% of trapped birds died before reaching Douala airport suggest that, although quotas remained at 12,000, > 100,000 birds were captured in Cameroon annually

Similarly, in Ghana, chronic exploitation since at least the 1870s and, despite a 1986 ban, local populations that numbered many hundreds in 1940s to twos and threes today, e.g. in Bia National Park. The total population in Ghana was estimated at 30,000–80,000 birds in 1992, but Annorbah et al. (2016) estimate that Ghana has lost 90–99% of its Grey Parrots since 1992, a time when the population had presumably already been seriously reduced by two decades of extremely heavy trade, and they consider that there is no evidence that, away from one or two localities, declines are less severe anywhere else within the West African range of P. erithacus.

Logging and farming are major drivers of forest loss and degradation in Ghana, compounded by poor forest management, fire and mining (Annorbah et al. 2016); in some areas it may have had more of an impact than capture for the pet trade (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). Habitat loss is undoubtedly having significant impacts, but in addition to capture for international trade, there is an active internal trade in live birds for pets and exhibition, and the species is also hunted in some areas as bushmeat and to supply heads, legs and tail feathers for use as medicine or in black magic (Collar et al. 2016).

In Kenya the species is now absent from several forests where previously reported, and virtually now only known from Kakamega Forest, where although still locally common in 1980s only ten reportedly survived in mid-1990s and probably even fewer than this in 2007.

Up to 10,000 wild-caught birds from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are apparently imported into South Africa each year, and large flocks that previously occurred around Kinshasa are now reportedly gone.

The overall rate of decline is extremely hard to quantify; previous estimates of past and future population declines were in the range of 30-49% in 3 generations (47 years), and so the species was listed as Vulnerable. However, given the extremely high level of capture for the pet trade and the continued levels of habitat loss the past and future rates of decline are likely to be greater than 50% over a three generation time period. This would then qualify the species to be listed as Endangered under criteria A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd.

We welcome any comments on this proposed uplisting.


Annorbah, N. N. D.; Collar, N. J.; Marsden, S. J. 2016. Trade and habitat change virtually eliminate the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus from Ghana. Ibis 158: 82-91.

Collar, N., Kirwan, G.M. & Sharpe, C.J. (2016). Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 15 September 2016).

Madindou, I. & Mulwa, R. (2010). Grey Parrot Report II. Some conservation aspects concerning the African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus in Kakamega Forest, Kenya: assessment of the effects of trade and habitat destruction. Avicult. Mag.116: 88–95

Martin, R. O.; Perrin, M. R.; Boyes, R. S.; Abebe, Y. D.; Annorbah, N. D.; Asamoah, A.; Bizimana, D.; Bobo, K. S.; Bunbury, N.; Brouwer, J.; Diop, M. S.; Ewnetu, M.; Fotso, R. C.; Garteh, J.; Hall, P.; Holbech, L. H.; Madindou, I. R.; Maisels, F.; Mokoko, J.; Mulwa, R.; Reuleaux, A.; Symes, C.; Tamungang, S.; Taylor, S.; Valle, S.; Waltert, M.; Wondafrash, M. 2014. Research and conservation of the larger parrots of Africa and Madagascar: a review of knowledge gaps and opportunities. Ostrich 85: 205-233.

Tamungang, S. A.; Cheke, R. A. 2012. Population status and management plan of the African Grey Parrot in Cameroon. Review of Significant Trade. CITES.

UNEP-WCMC. 2016. CITES Trade Database. Cambridge,UK Available at: (Accessed: 2016).


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3 Responses to Archived 2016 topics: Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

  1. I would like to add here some excepts from the recent review carried out by members of the Working Group Psittaciformes of the International Ornithologists’ Union (Martin et al. 2014, see full reference above):

    Psittacus erithacus Grey Parrot
    Population and range trends
    Although once widespread and common in many areas, population declines, which have been very dramatic in some instances, have occurred throughout much of its range. In Ghana by the late 1980s, populations were already considered to be greatly reduced due to trapping for export (Grimes 1987). Ongoing concerns over declining populations, in response to high export levels from Ghana, prompted CITES to initiate a population survey in the early 1990s (Dändliker 1992b). Several roosts of 700–1 200 parrots were located, but none of the size (2 000–3 000) previously reported by the Ghana Wildlife Department (Dändliker 1992b). Flocks of this order are no longer found in Ghana (F Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012). In August 2007 a flock of 38 was reported in an area where Dändliker (1992b) had previously observed a roost of 800–1 200 in November 1991 (B Phalan in litt. to Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014). The flock of 38 seen in 2007 is considered to be exceptional in size and no flocks of this size have been described since (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014; N Annorbah pers. obs.). Populations in protected areas have also been impacted. They area apparently extirpated from Bia NP and the associated Resource Reserve (LH Holbech pers. obs.) and may have disappeared or exist at very low numbers in most other forest reserves (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett in prep.). In Kakum NP, where Dändliker (1992a) described them as extremely common 20 years ago, 10 days of surveys in 2011 failed to find a single individual (LH Holbech pers. obs.), although some birders visiting Kakum see several individuals in the 2–3 days they spend in the south of the park, possibly reflecting seasonal movements in and out of the park (F Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2013). Little information on population trends in Côte d’Ivoire exists but it is likely that population reductions, similar to those observed in Ghana, have occurred given the geographic proximity of the two areas. Psittacus erithacus from Côte d’Ivoire have been regularly imported to Guinea for re-export (Clemmons 2003). In Nigeria, their distribution in the early 2000s was reported as highly fragmented, having disappeared from many areas where they formerly occurred widely (McGowan 2001). Dramatic population declines have been observed within protected areas; only three individuals were observed in a three-week survey of Omo forest in 2009 (Olmos and Turshak 2009) where flocks of hundreds were reported in the 1990s (Green et al. 2007). It is now only known to occur in a few other localities (P Hall pers. obs.). Although systematic surveys are lacking, it has been estimated the national population could be as low as 1 000 individuals (P Hall pers. obs.). Concerns over population declines have led to its inclusion as a species that needs urgent attention by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation species programme (R Kagu in litt. 2012). Declines have also been reported in Cameroon, where they were once described as a very common parrot, found everywhere in the forest (Good 1952). A recent report to CITES based on field surveys made between 2008 and 2011 concluded they are now rare or completely absent in some parts of the range where they used to occur in abundance some 30–50 years ago (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). The national population estimated in this recent report (Tamungang and Cheke 2012) was 30–60% smaller than a previous estimate based on surveys made between 1996 and 1997 (Fotso 1998a). Comparison of these two estimates should be made with caution, as they were made using different survey methods. However, declines of this magnitude are consistent with the experiences of field workers and local residents. In S Cameroon, Tamungang and Cheke (2012) reported that P. erithacus populations have dwindled rapidly in the past 30 years. In Korup NP and surroundings these declines have been estimated to be extreme (?80% since c. 2001) (KS Bobo pers. obs.). In 2000, flocks of 15–20 individuals were reportedly seen regularly in Korup NP but are now rare (KS Bobo pers. obs.). Other field biologists working in the area have noted similar trends (M Waltert pers. obs.; S Tamungang pers. obs.). In the relatively pristine SE region (Lobéké, Boumba-bek and Nki NPs and surroundings), roost sizes were reduced by half between 2008 and 2012 and some roosts are now empty (KS Bobo pers. obs.). These trends are consistent with the declines of up to 49% since c. 2001 estimated in Lobéké NP (R Fotso pers. obs.). Trapping of the order of several thousand each year was reported to occur in the saline swamps of Lobéké NP in the late 1990s (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2000). The minerals in the saline swamps attracted birds from surrounding areas, meaning that this level of trapping likely impacted an area several times that of the Reserve (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2000). Similar trends have been observed in many parts of the country where the species occurred in great numbers up to the 1980s and to the late 1990s, notably around Kumba, Ebolowa, Kribi, Bertoua and Yokadouma towns, and neighbourhoods of Douala and Yaounde cities (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). Population estimates in the W DRC were made in the Equateur region by Fotso (1998b) based on roost counts (for criticisms of this approach for estimating populations see McGowan 2001). At this time it was considered common and widespread in these areas but there were concerns about the high levels of capture for export (Fotso 1998b). No subsequent surveys have been made in the region, although population declines in W areas (e.g. Salonga NP) have been inferred from movements of trappers from Equateur province eastwards (Hart 2013). Surveys in Maniema and Orientale provinces indicate that they are uncommon even in areas of apparently suitable forest and that local villagers reported larger and more frequent flocks in the past (Hart 2013). In the Republic of Congo populations in some areas might be stable (J Mokoko pers. obs.; K Cameron in litt. 2012). However, large declines since the early 2000s in the numbers of birds roosting in Bomassa, close to Lobéké, Ndoki and Nouabalé-Ndoki NPs may be linked to high levels of trapping along the Sangha river (F Maisels pers. obs.; T Breuer in litt. 2014). On the island of Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea, long-term population declines were reported by local residents (Juste 1996, Fahlman 2002). A recent recovery in the population following the national ban on parrot trade has been inferred from repeat counts made in 2003 and 2012 (S Valle unpublished data). In E Africa, populations are declining or have disappeared altogether. In Uganda, surveys conducted in 2002–2003 report populations as small, fragmented and likely to fragment even further as the forest is threatened with further degradation (Amuno et al. 2007). Jackson and Sclater (1938) described them as plentiful in Entebbe and very common in Busoga but they are now scarce in both localities (D Pomeroy in litt. 2012). Their current range is much less extensive than implied by early descriptions (Carswell et al. 2005). In Kenya they are restricted to a single forest fragment of only 230 km2 (Kakamega), but were previously more widespread (Lewis and Pomeroy 1989). The remaining population in Kakamega has reportedly declined by as much as 30–49% since c. 2001 (I Madindou and R Mulwa pers. obs.). In Rwanda, they are restricted to a few forest fragments, the largest of which is Nyungwe where populations were described as having undergone a sharp decrease in the 50 years prior to 1990 (Dowsett 1990). In Tanzania they are restricted to an extremely small population in the far NW of the country and a reintroduced population on islands in Lake Victoria (N Baker in litt. 2011). Although data are lacking for large areas of the Congo Basin, if the declines in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and E Africa are consistent throughout their range, then a decline of 30–49% in three generations (47 years) appears a highly conservative estimate (as speculated by BirdLife International 2013a).

    Historically, this species has been among the most traded of bird species listed on CITES Appendix II. Reported exports of wild-caught P. erithacus and P. timneh (the vast majority P. erithacus) between 1975 and 2010 totaled 1 227 963 individuals (UNEP-WCMC 2013). Mortality from capture to export has been estimated at 40–50% in DRC (Fotso 1998b), 60–66% in Nigeria (McGowan 2001) and 30–50% in Cameroon (Fotso 1998a). Taking account of a 40–60% mortality rate between capture and export, the total number of birds taken from the wild could approximate 1.7–2 million. Some estimates suggest that c. 21% of the wild population has been harvested annually during some periods (BirdLife International 2013a), although this seems unlikely to hold throughout their range. Trapping for the wild bird trade has been implicated in declines throughout their range (CITES 2006b), including Burundi (D Bizimana pers. obs.), Cameroon (Fotso 1998a; Tamungang and Cheke 2012; KS Bobo pers. obs.), Côte d’Ivoire (M Waltert pers. obs.), DRC (Fotso 1998b; T Hart in litt. 2011), Ghana (LH Holbech pers. obs.), Kenya (I Madindou and R Mulwa pers. obs.), Nigeria (McGowan 2001; P Hall pers. obs.), and São Tomé and Príncipe (Inskipp et al. 1988; Juste 1996; Fahlman 2002). Bans on the importation of wild-caught birds in the USA and European Union, which were historically the largest importers, have coincided with a reduction of the number of export permits being issued. Internal trade in live parrots for pets, exhibitions, the bushmeat trade and for medicinal/ceremonial purposes is also a threat (Fotso 1998a; McGowan 2001; Clemmons 2003; Eniang et al. 2008; Tamungang and Cheke 2012). Fa et al. (2006) estimated 112 carcasses of P. erithacus were consumed per year in rural areas of the Cross-Sanaga- Bioko rivers region. In Cameroon, one of the primary threats is poor management and security within protected areas (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). In Accra, Ghana, the number of P. erithacus for sale in markets has reduced in recent years, and has been replaced by more common species such as Poicephalus senegalus (LH Holbech unpublished data), possibly reflecting declines in wild populations. However, roadside sales of P. erithacus still occur in Accra (LH Holbech pers. obs.). Deforestation has also impacted, and continues to threaten, many populations. There is a positive relationship between the status of the species and the status of primary forest (Dändliker 1992b) – where the forests are declining, so also are P. erithacus populations (Clemmons 2003). Population densities are reportedly higher in more pristine habitats in Príncipe (Juste 1996) and Cameroon (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). Between 2000 and 2010 rates of deforestation in the range states of P. erithacus and P. timneh averaged 8.3% (FAO 2012), with Nigeria and Cameroon having among the highest reduction in forested area over that period, losing 48% and 18% respectively (FAO 2012). Tamungang and Cheke (2012) suggest that the major threat to populations in Cameroon is not the lack of suitable forest habitat, but rather habitat fragmentation and degradation of keystone habitat resources (e.g. nest cavities and roost sites). All roost sites monitored in Cameroon had significant anthropogenic pressure and were under threat of removal, most of which were planted palm trees (Tamungang and Cheke 2012). In Ghana the timber industry targets the same tree species as those used for nesting parrots (N Annorbah pers. obs.).

    Research and conservation: overview
    Following concerns over the impact of trade on populations CITES export quotas have been reduced to zero in many countries. In 2007 the CITES Animals committee recommended a temporary moratorium on exports from Cameroon and lowered quotas for DRC (5 000 per annum) and the Republic of Congo. National export quotas have frequently been exceeded (from 1994 to 2010, a total of 109 896 specimens of P. erithacus were traded in excess of national quotas) and Cameroon and DRC have continued to exceed quotas since 2007. Despite the ongoing population declines in Cameroon (Tamungang and Cheke 2012) the CITES Standing Committee approved an annual quota of 3 000 in 2012 as part of a species management plan involving regular population monitoring, improvements to enforcement, establishment of new protected areas, community empowerment projects, and increased collaboration with other range states. If implemented effectively and in its entirety this management plan may limit or even reverse current population declines, but considerable resources and regional collaborative effort is required and are currently lacking. The resumption of exports before all components of this management plan have been implemented will most likely lead to the ongoing erosion of populations. Several populations have received research attention and although P. erithacus is relatively well known, compared to other parrots in the region, information on many aspects of its ecology are lacking. Little data currently exists on key life-history parameters in wild populations, with the exception of some records of breeding success from Ghana (Dändliker 1992b), Gabon (Brosset and Erard 1986), Príncipe (Naurois 1983) and Nigeria (McGowan 2001). Ongoing research in Príncipe (S Valle, S Marsden and N Collar) and Cameroon (S Tamungang and G Kougoum) aims to address this knowledge shortfall. Other aspects of ecology such as diet, habitat preferences and nest cavity characteristics are reported in Chapman et al. (1993), Tamungang and Ajayi (2003), Dallimer and King (2007) and Amuno et al. (2007, 2010). Aspects of the ecology and behaviour of urban populations are reported by Twanza and Pomeroy (2011). A detailed study of the status of West African populations and the ongoing impacts of trade and habitat change is currently underway and will inform future conservation initiatives (S Valle, N Annorbah, S Marsden and N Collar in litt. 2012).

    Research and conservation: recommendations
    • Establish population trends by repeating surveys in areas for which baseline data exists, such as the roost counts conducted in Ghana (Dändliker 1992b), DRC and Cameroon (Fotso 1998a, 1998b) and density estimates made using DISTANCE in Cameroon (M Waltert unpublished data)
    • Establish status and distribution in countries in which recent data are currently lacking, particularly the Republic of Congo and the DRC, which still export large numbers each year and are experiencing high rates of forest loss and degradation
    • Identify, monitor and protect vulnerable capture sites utilised by large numbers of P. erithacus, including communal roosts, ‘salt mud’ clearings and drinking sites
    • Studies of habitat requirements, breeding ecology and life-history parameters
    • Research into the scale and socio-economic context of trapping and trade (e.g. Eniang et al. 2008) to determine appropriate strategies for addressing illegal trade, such as the development of alternative livelihoods for trappers
    • Ensure that trade restrictions are implemented at local and international level through promoting close collaboration between range states and the development of a regional management plan (e.g. Tamungang and Cheke 2012)
    • Take actions to reduce international demand for the pet trade.

  2. Serene Chng says:

    TRAFFIC would like to share information on trade observations of this species, in a bid to quantify and better understand the threat from overexploitation.

    The species has most recently been uplisted onto CITES Appendix I (as Psittacus erithacus; full proposal and supporting evidence at on account of the threat to the species from international trade. Trade data for the species indicates cyclical trade levels from 1976 (first reported record of trade) up to 2014; levels appear to be increasing from 2007 onwards, with importers reporting 39,644 individuals traded for commercial purposes in 2014. An increasing proportion are declared to be from captive sources, yet significant volumes are still sourced from the wild (e.g. importer-reported trade of 21,557 captive-bred individuals compared to 18,087 wild-sourced individuals). Furthermore, although there is evidence that a degree of breeding takes place (from breeding facilities to the observations of hatchlings displayed for sale in markets), there are concerns that a proportion of these ‘captive-bred’ individuals are in fact sourced from the wild, further impacting wild populations beyond what is actually recorded.

    Singapore’s role in international trade of the species was highlighted in a recent publication, pointing to significant discrepancies between import and export figures reported. Over half of the 41,737 African Grey Parrots reportedly imported into Singapore between 2005 and 2014 were declared as captive-bred, but re-exported numbers, particularly for wild-declared specimens, were significantly lower and was unaccounted for (Poole and Shepherd, 2016).

    Illegal trade in the species continues, with 10 records of enforcement action of at least 535 individuals from 1996 to present recorded. The most significant case was of an illegal shipment of 523 Grey Parrots confiscated in DRC in 2010; the animals were destined for Singapore with forged CITES documents (

    Poole, Colin M., and Chris R. Shepherd. 2016. Shades of grey: the legal trade in CITES-listed birds in Singapore, notably the globally threatened African grey parrot Psittacus erithacus. Oryx (2016): 1-7. DOI:

  3. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 28 October, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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