Wanted: beautiful, intelligent companion well-versed in the art of conversation. It’s a familiar story, but don’t expect a fairy-tale ending. In this instance, we’re talking about a transaction that condemns one of the protagonists to life imprisonment in a cage – or an untimely death in transit at the hands of traffickers. Not exactly a match made in heaven.
The visually stunning and vocally versatile yellow-naped amazon is a prime example of the heavy price that parrots pay for their good looks, brain power and loquaciousness. This species is one of the most highly coveted in the Central American pet trade and its population has been devastated by poaching and trafficking.
The island of Ometepe – a wildlife haven in the middle of Nicaragua’s largest freshwater lake – harbours an estimated 1,800-2,000 yellow-naped amazons. This represents the largest remaining population not just in Nicaragua but throughout the entire range of this endangered parrot. Poaching pressure is no less severe in this part of the world, but the Ometepe population has remained relatively unscathed by virtue of its inaccessibility. Even here, an estimated 40% of nests are thought to have been plundered in recent years to supply the illegal pet trade.
Local demand is at least partially responsible for the decline of the yellow-naped amazon – a staggering 25% of households in Ometepe keep parrots as pets – but national and regional demand are just as problematic, and there are disturbing reports of an increase in transcontinental trade, which could spell disaster for this beleaguered bird. Trafficking methods are also becoming more sophisticated – for example, portable incubators are increasingly being used to smuggle the parrots abroad before they have hatched. Clutches of eggs are harder to detect and easier to transport, as they don’t make noise or require feeding in transit.