Thursday, February 10, 2005

UGANDA'S PARROTS

New licences for Uganda's parrots - By Will Ross BBC News, Uganda.
An amnesty has been announced in Uganda. Not for former rebels this time, but for African grey parrots. Although they are an endangered species, several hundred of the birds are being kept as pets.

African grey parrots can only be traded under strict conditions. For the first time ever, I find myself whistling to try and get a response from my interviewees. But Kappie and Chick are not up for a chat, maybe because this is a big day in the lives of these two African grey parrots.
Their owner Tony Ogen has brought them in a small cage to the offices of the Uganda Wildlife Authority to be registered and licensed during the three-month parrot amnesty. Tony approaches the desk clutching a wad of Ugandan shillings. It is at this point that the accountant behind the desk gets a little suspicious as Tony begins, "Yes I did have three parrots, but sir you will remember the letter I sent you explaining what happened." Tony then rustles through his papers looking for a copy of the letter.
"As is indicated in the letter, whilst I was cleaning out their cage, one of the parrots flew away. So my three parrots have now become two and they, sir, are the two parrots standing before you. I therefore wish to purchase just the two permits." If the parrot owners do not take our warning and register their birds, we may have to take the ultimate action of seizure Uganda Wildlife Team member. The accountant raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Pull the other one," but realising this was going to be a hard one to prove, he took Tony's word for it and gladly accepted the cash.
Inside the office a senior member of the Uganda Wildlife Team is talking tough. "If the parrot owners do not take our warning and register their birds, we may have to take the ultimate action of seizure. And it is up to five years in prison for the owners." "But just how are you going to find these permitless parrots?" I ask. "We have a crack wildlife intelligence unit and in any case we know where these parrots are," he warned, sounding more and more like a tough-talking cop as each minute passed. I had visions of heavily armed helmeted men wandering around the plusher neighbourhoods of Uganda's capital, scaling walls, peering through windows, breaking down doors and yelling: "Hello Polly!". After Tony had handed over his shillings he thought it was all over. But no, the Uganda Wildlife Authority had laid on a vet and she wanted to give Tony's parrots the full medical.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority is against the keeping of parrots as pets, but knows that there are hundreds in cages across the capital On snapped the rubber gloves as she approached Kappie and Chick's cage, which was locked and as is often the case in Africa, the man with the key was not around. While we were waiting, Tony tells me all about the chats he has with his parrots when he is lonely. I then remember a musician I interviewed several years ago in Tanzania. He kept a parrot in a cage in the living room by the front door, but he was beginning to regret it.
You see this musician used to stay out late, drinking, and would then sneak back into the house in the middle of the night trying not to wake his wife and children. But invariably he would return from the drinking sessions to a squawked, "Where the hell have you been?" as he tried to tiptoe past the cage. In the daytime, he had extremely limited success trying to teach his parrot to whisper.
When the key to the cage finally turned up, there were a few nervous moments as Tony gave instructions on how to get one of the parrots out of the cage. "That's it, hold it by the neck," he advised as it made the loudest squawk so far. "But don't kill it," added an official from the Wildlife Authority. Having passed the medical, which was followed by some advice on how to stop the parrots pulling out their own feathers and tips such as, "Try red pepper they'll talk much more", I then followed Tony home. It has decided to work with the parrot owners to make sure they are well looked after
The parrots readjusted as he lay the cage down flat in the back of his saloon car and whispered over his shoulder, "Have a nice flight", and drove off. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is against the keeping of parrots as pets, but knows that there are hundreds in cages across the capital having been captured in Ugandan woodland or sneaked across the Congolese border, along with other precious commodities. It has decided to work with the parrot owners to make sure they are well looked after and there are plans for a breeding programme in captivity. Like most of the parrots in Kampala, Kappie and Chick have a pretty good view. Tony has built a large cage next to a communal tennis court and he says they are not bad on the line calls, "Out. 30 - 15".
As I prepare to leave Kappie and Chick, I spend a few more minutes pointing my microphone at the cage and whistling, determined to get a response. Eventually there are a couple of squawks followed by a whistle, but I have no idea if that was a polite greeting or more like a, "Get the microphone away from my beak you nosy, wingless idiot".

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