The Timneh parrot breeding season is now underway on the Bijagós islands of Guinea-Bissau, according to SOS Grantee Rowan Martin of the World Parrot Trust, an IUCN member. The Vulnerable Timneh parrot (Psittacus timneh) has long been subject to high levels of trapping for the pet trade, leading to dramatic declines in populations.
While breeding should boost the population, it is during this time Timneh parrots are especially vulnerable to poaching - chicks taken from nests and raised by hand make highly desirable pets. A large proportion of the remaining Timneh parrots in Guinea-Bissau nest on João-Vieira island within the João-Vieira Poilão National park, which is part of the Bijagós archipelago. It is here that vital nest monitoring and protection work is taking place as part of an SOS funded project coordinated by the World Parrot Trust and implemented in Guinea-Bissau by the national Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP) in collaboration with researchers at ISPA – Instituto Universitário, Portugal.
Early in 2014 a field team, which included former parrot trappers from the Bijagós islands, local field ornithologists and researchers from Portugal received training on accessing and monitoring parrot nests. As Timneh parrots generally make their nests in cavities high in mature trees, monitoring nests is not without risk. The team were trained in rope access techniques, to ensure nests could be accessed efficiently and safely. In addition camera traps monitor nests round the clock. These activities not only act as deterrents to would-be poachers, but also generate valuable data on the breeding biology of this little known species.
Timneh (along with the closely related Grey) parrots are some of the most popular avian pets, yet surprisingly little is known about populations in the wild. Both adults and chicks continue to be trapped and exported to meet international demand, sucking large numbers of birds from the wild. However there is almost no monitoring of the effect this is having on populations and few breeding areas are known. The monitoring and protection activities recently initiated in the Bijagós islands are an incredibly important step towards improving the conservation outlook for this species and the wildlife of this special group of islands off the coast of West Africa.