Turning the tide on nest poaching of Timneh parrots in Guinea-Bissau

As another breeding season for Timneh parrots gets underway in the Bijagós islands, hopes are high that the nest monitoring team can build on the successes of the previous year. In late 2014 the return of a poached chick to its nest, and its re-adoption by its parents, provides a heart-warming conservation story and a tangible sign that the strategy of employing former parrot trappers is paying conservation dividends.

 

Seco Baca Cardoso returns the chick to its nest

The Bijagós islands, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, is home to the largest known concentration of nesting Timneh parrots, Psittacus timneh. This globally Vulnerable species is endemic to a handful of West African countries where the pet trade and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll on populations.

As part of an SOS-funded project co-ordinated by the World Parrot Trust, an IUCN Member, several community members from nearby villages have been recruited to monitor and protect nests in the hope that their expertise, knowledge and connections within the local community will help turn the tide on parrot poaching.

Each year nests are being closely monitored, with regular visits by team members and time-lapse cameras trained on nest entrances. Last year, when the monitoring team encountered a nest with tell-tale machete marks around the cavity entrance they could do little but fear the worst – poachers had paid a visit. Manjaco, a fearless climber and former poacher, nimbly ascended the tree and confirmed the nest was now empty. The chick had been poached from virtually underneath the team’s noses.

In response, meetings were quickly held with community leaders to discuss the incident. Later, under cover of darkness, the chick arrived anonymously at the National Park headquarters in a cardboard box hung in a palm. The chick was clearly weakened and begging for food.

With few resources available on the remote island, the former poacher’s knowledge of how to care for a young parrot proved essential. Once it had regained strength, the decision was taken to return it to the nest in the hope that its parents might return.

The outcome was far from certain as by this point several days had passed. A camera was trained on the nest and the team waited anxiously. It was with much relief that the team watched as the parents returned, cautiously entered the nest and resumed care of the chick. A couple of weeks later it fledged.

Dr. Rowan Martin, project coordinator with the World Parrot Trust’s Africa Conservation Programme concludes: “With a small and dwindling population on the Bijagós islands, even this seemingly minor boost to breeding success is significant.

More importantly, this series of events illustrates the benefits of engaging local communities directly with conservation and how people’s attitudes, and most importantly people’s actions, can change.”

 

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