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MYSTERY surrounds the death of more than 750 African Grey parrots on board a flight from Johannesburg to Durban on Christmas Eve.
The 769 birds had been imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo and held in quarantine at O.R. Tambo airport for a month before being loaded on to a 1Time flight to Durban, destined for the Taucano quarantine facility.
When they arrived at King Shaka airport, the birds were dead.
Parrot trader Ben Moodie of Boksburg, who imported the birds, said he was only informed of their fate on December 29.
“At the O.R. Tambo quarantine the birds were fine and I was informed that on arrival at King Shaka they were dead. I can understand the few casualties along the route, it happens. This doesn’t gel and I can only satisfy myself if they show me the carcasses,” said the distraught Moodie.
He said the birds were in a consignment of 800 from Congo, and some died before they reached South Africa. He is expecting another shipment of about 850 birds later this month. The birds were worth R2 million on the market.
Acting director of the national quarantine station, Dr Tertius Bergh said it seems something was wrong in the flight hold.
“Although we can’t say exactly what killed the birds at this stage, it seems they left Johannesburg in a healthy state. We still have to wait for the final results of the autopsy,” said Bergh.
The Witness has been trying to get answers on the incident for more than a week.
Spokesperson for the Hawks, McIntosh Pulela, said their endangered species unit has been given the run-around by the Gauteng organised crime unit when enquiring about the incident.
“We can’t seem to get any details or who is involved in any investigation in this case, if there is one … Our officer who was assigned to follow this up came back saying the Gauteng police are sending him from pillar to post.”
He said this has prompted them to go to O.R. Tambo today to get details on the case and find out who handled it in the first place.
1Time spokesperson Anya Potgieter said they previously had no policy regulating the number of animals carried at a given time, “but since this incident we have adopted one that we won’t carry animals in huge numbers without prior arrangements”. She ruled out speculation that the birds might have died of carbon dioxide inhalation, as the hold the birds were in has an oxygen supply.
Director of World Parrot Trust Africa Dr Steve Boyes said the circumstances surrounding the deaths are complicated and the cause of death unclear.
“For the last 20 to 25 years up to about 100 000 of these iconic African parrots were stripped from the wild. Trade in these birds is driven by large emerging markets in India, the Middle and Far East,” said Boyes.
Peter Armstrong, a spokesperson for pet shop chain Pets World and Aquatics said they sell about 200 parrots a month and that in their variety of stock the African Grey is the most popular.
There are two subspecies of African Grey parrot commonly found in the pet trade - the Congo African grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) and the Timneh African grey (Psittacus erithacus timneh). African Greys can live for around 50 years, so choosing one as a pet is a long-term commitment. They are extremely intelligent birds and have the capacity to learn over 2 000 words. They need much social contact and mental stimulation. Greys have been described as being the emotional equivalent of a two-year-old human, with the intelligence of a five-year-old. (Source: exoticpets.about.com)