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Dr. Steve Boyes: The Cape Parrot Project, Wild Bird Trust

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Steve Boyes

Introduction written by Eve Gracie (Africa Birds & Birding):


"Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on Meyer's Parrot, Steve is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, and a director of Africa Geographic Holdings, World Parrot Trust Africa, and Wild Bird Trust. This work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and highly endangered Cape Parrot. Based in Hogsback in the Eastern Cape, Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action."


To find out more regarding the Cape Parrot Project, visit the website here, or their Facebook group page here.


To read more about Steve, read the Africa Birds & Birding article here.


When, how and why did you become involved in the fight to conserve the Cape Parrot, (Poicephalus robustus)?


I have always been fascinated by African parrots. My first memories are of seeing Brown-headed Parrots in the Kruger National Park flying in a small flock, free, happy and wild. Before that I had assumed that, like dogs, parrots simply preferred the company of humans and the safety of cages. If not told otherwise kids make up their own reality…A parrot in a cage had never been this stimulating and alive! I instantly wanted to know more and so, I suppose, the journey began. Doing my PhD on Meyer’s Parrot in the Okavango Delta, fighting the trade in wild-caught African parrots, and running the Cape Parrot Project, were all opportunities that I could not resist. When writing up my PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, I promised myself that one day I would apply what I had learnt studying Africa’s most abundant and widespread parrot, Meyer’s Parrot, to the conservation of Africa’s most endangered parrot, the Cape Parrot.



Cape Parrot with wings outstretched in King William’s Town. Photo by Rodnick Biljon

How important an issue is conservation of the Cape Parrot compared to other conservation crises currently in Africa?


The remaining Afromontane forest patches are now relatively quiet, lonely ecosystems devoid of the bird chorus and monkey calls that you would expect. Not that these sounds are gone, just that you get the feeling that you should hear them more often. These forest need to, if at all possible, be rehabilitated back to their former glory. Just reading the ledgers for the logging companies in the 1800s tells a story of millions of large hardwoods over 300 years old being felled in the forest currently or previously inhabited by Cape Parrots.


Cape Parrots are intelligent birds that have been able to make a plan and persists in these radically altered forest patches, while other species have all but disappeared. They have completely re-invented their diet and nesting habits to track these changes, but have as a result become easier targets for trappers and been heavily persecuted as crop pests in the past. In recent years (possibly for the last 25 years, the remaining population has become so stressed that they we are recording devastating disease outbreaks. Last year, Psittacine Beak and Feather disease (PBFD) was found in 50% of the wild Cape Parrots that we sampled. We recorded a 100% infection rate this year in far more samples from multiple capture sites in the region. All I can say when asked: “So Steve, how are the Capes?”, is that we are very lucky to still have them living free and wild in our forests. If Cape Parrots were to disappear from our yellowwood forests altogether, it would be a sign that WE have taken it too far, done too little, and will probably never see these forests in their natural state ever again. So, to answer your question. Conserving Cape Parrots should be a national effort alongside saving our big cats, riverine rabbit, Blue Crane, and several other endangered species.


Why do we not see/hear much media reportage about their declining numbers? Indeed, do you feel that enough attention is paid to the Cape Parrot’s plight by the South African/international media?



There has been some recent coverage in the news media and online, but definitely not enough. Cape Parrots are Critically Endangered due to the outbreak of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) virus in the wild population brought on by drought conditions, low availability of suitable food resources, and the stress of not knowing where your next meal is going to come from. There are less than 800 remaining in the wild and numbers are not increasing. We need to find new ways of investing all South Africans in the future of this iconic parrot species, our National Parrot only found here. We need artists to paint, sculpt, etch, chisel and finger paint Cape Parrots. We need schools to teach kids about them, NGOs to raise money for them, and our government to support policies that restore our yellowwood forests. Come on South Africa and the world. Rally behind this “green-and-gold” ambassador of South Africa’s grandest forests.


We recently did a promotion with BirdLife South Africa and AAA Advertising School at Reddam House School in Constantia. A class of 8 year olds was split up into 6 “advertising agencies” and ask to develop radio, TV and print advertising campaigns for the plight of the Cape Parrot. The kids raised over R10,000 through their fundraising efforts, spoke three times on local radio, and managed to get a slot of a national morning show called Expresso:


Absolutely brilliant effort that needs to be repeated elsewhere in the country.


There seems to be some confusion as to the status of the Cape Parrot: why is it listed under the IUCN redlist as Least Concern (source,, and yet other sources list it as being endangered or worse, eg, quote "CITES protection is being sought for the Cape Parrot, a critically endangered species endemic to South Africa." (Source -, and from CITES itself, quote "Proposal: Transfer of the South African population of Poicephalus robustus from Appendix II to Appendix I in accordance with Annex 1 section A (ii), B (i) and C (ii).” (Source -


Cape Parrot have been recognized as an independent species (Poicephalus robustus) from the Grey-headed Parrot (P. fuscicollis suahelicus) and Brown-necked Parrot (P. f. fuscicollis) for over 10 years now. BirdLife International have, however, remained reluctant to recognize single species status due to concerns around possible hybridization, which have since been confirmed as impossible. We are currently doing the final DNA sequencing and have been told by BirdLIfe International that this will be sorted out before the IUCN Red List is completed doe South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.


Previous applications to CITES were rejected due to the lack of evidence that international trade is actually a threat and concerns around the unnecessary upgrading of the species stimulating illegal trade in the species by unscrupulous traders in emerging markets. We will be ready for the 2013 CITES meeting (CoP 16) that will be held in Thailand. There is little doubt in my mind that the Cape Parrot will be upgraded to CITES Appendix I.


In the upcoming 2012 IUCN Red List, the Cape Parrot will probably be listed as Endangered. Further research may demonstrate that they are in fact Critically Endangered as put forward in the TOPS regulations.


What is the estimated number of Cape Parrots in the wild, and how quickly do they reproduce? In which specific areas of SA are they found, or are there colonies elsewhere in neighbouring countries ie Mozambique?



According to annual censes done by Prof. Colleen Downs, there are between 800 and 1,000 Cape Parrots remaining in the wild, all of which are found in South Africa. These remaining Cape Parrots are distributed along an archipelago of small Afromontane forest patches found between the Amathole and Transkei regions of the Eastern Cape, southern KwaZulu-Natal, and the southern Soutpoansberg in Limpopo Province. Our observations in the wild do confirm that Cape Parrots are still breeding with up to 15% of large feeding flocks observed between March and July consisting of juveniles. These young parrots are the most at risk of dying from beak and feather disease and/or secondary infections (e.g. Pseudomonas spp. and avian TB). If the seasonal availability of suitable food resources does not increase and Cape Parrots are weaned off pecan nuts, we will continue to see high mortality rates that in drought years could exceed the survival rate of Cape Parrot fledglings. We need to support population growth in any way we can. We need to consider supplementary feeding decks, the establishment of a disease-free population, and the removal and rehabilitation of parrots with advanced symptoms of PBFD infection. We need to take action.


Cape Parrot are long-lived birds (maybe as much as 40 years in the wild) that start breeding late in life when they occupy suitable nest cavities. Today, there are so few suitable nest cavities that parrots that should be breeding are not. In addition, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is most likely killing many of the chicks before fledging.


Quote from “the small remaining wild population is faced by two additional threats: capture for the lucrative wild-caught bird trade...” What is being done to curb and prevent the trade in wild caught birds - and in which parts of SA is this crime most prevalent? What are the current laws against such activities and what are police powers?


The market value of Cape Parrots has soared over the last 10 years. A Cape Parrot breeding pair was valued at R2,000-5,000 in 2000, now are traded for between R100,000-125,000. In the 1970s many, many Cape Parrots came into captivity due to the persecution of the species as a crop pest (predominantly in pecan orchards) and many injured parrots becoming available as pets. Before then there were reports of school kids catching them in their school holidays to sell them for £1. Most of the first wild-caught Cape Parrots to come into captivity were reported to die within 6 weeks.


Cape Parrots have been in captivity for almost 100 years, but it wasn’t until the 1960s at the Basel Zoo that they were bred successfully in captivity. By the late 1990s, commercial breeders had figured out how to increase survival rates and breeding successes here in South Africa. William Horsfield (Amazona Endangered Parrot Breeding Facility) was a pioneer in this regard and is today recognized as the expert on breeding this species in captivity – knowledge that may be essential in the long-term survival of the species.



Confiscated, wild-caught African Grey Parrots being quarantined at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As the director of the World Parrot Trust Africa, I work constantly with provincial and national authorities to educate them about issues surrounding the trade in wild-caught parrots (especially Cape Parrots and other African parrots). Due to low numbers in illegal trade it is very hard to tackle this problem using Cape Parrots. We, therefore, focus our efforts on the trade in wild-caught African Grey Parrots, which are now recognized as the world’s third most populous pet on earth and one of the most traded birds on CITES Appendix II. Over the last 12 months we have managed to ban the importation of wild-caught African Greys from the Democratic Republic of Congo, keep this issue in the media for most of that time, and launch investigations with Interpol, local police, and journalists. See these links to catch up:


We are currently working with colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to look at ways of using DNA profiling to police the growing trade in Cape Parrots, thus allowing us to identify where Cape Parrots found without permits came from and whether they were removed from the wild.


How many confiscations have been made by authorities of wild caught in the last few years, and how many birds were in each consignment?


No confiscations have been made recently beyond a few unpermitted Cape Parrots in KwaZulu-Natal. We have learnt recently of a syndicate that catches Cape Parrots in Bhisho and King William’s Town and keeps them in aviaries for breeding purposes. Other than a chick that was handed over to Onderstepoort, we have no idea where these chicks are being sold. Most probably local enthusiasts and international collectors. Owning Africa’s rarest parrot may mean something to some people?!


Conservative estimates put the number unpermitted Cape Parrots in private collections around South Africa at about 600. When added to the 300+ permitted Cape Parrots in the country and overseas we may have more Cape Parrots in captivity than in the wild…


What happens when birds are confiscated from traders/smugglers? In such an event, to whom do the birds belong - Govt or local authority? Are you, as a specialist, called in to liase, and if so, what is your role?


Confiscated birds belong to the government. If the confiscated birds are African parrots then I may be consulted as to a way forward. We were recently asked to provide funding to support the care of 161 confiscated, wild-caught African Grey Parrots from the DRC being quarantined on Kempton Park. The World Parrot Trust was then asked to find a suitable release site for these parrots, as the only other option was to have them euthanized. Uganda and Rwanda were secured as potential release sites, but no parrots were ever released after the State Attorney awarded them to the Mozambican authorities. After over 5 months in quarantine after confiscation, these wild-caught African Greys went straight back into the system they had escaped from.



Injured male Cape Parrot in captivity...

My focus is to halt the trade in all wild-caught birds in South Africa. The 1990’s were years of rapid growth in South African aviculture with ever-increasing imports of wild-caught birds, sales of incubators and higher captive-breeding success rates of certain species. The industry has gone through the growth phase noted in the United States between 1959 and 1994, whereby we saw rapidly increasing demand for new exotic species, breeding successes in an ever increasing number of taxa, massive growth in private collections, and a resultant spike in demand for cheap wild-caught birds. Moving into the 21st century the South African aviculture industry has demonstrated that it is ready, with the support of the global community, to become self-sufficient and to halt all further trade in wild-caught birds. This notion is supported by the majority of bird-keepers and breeders alike, who recognize their current and future role in the conservation of endangered species.


How can one tell the difference between the Cape Parrot and other similar parrot species endemic to Southern Africa? How do traders use any confusion in identification to bypass trade restrictions?


There are five Poicephalus (means “of the head”) parrots in southern Africa, including the Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus), Grey-headed Parrot (P. fuscicollis suahelicus), Brown-headed Parrot (P. cryptoxanthus), Ruppell’s Parrot (P. ruppellii), and Meyer’s Parrot (P. meyeri).


Brown-headed Parrots, Ruppell’s Parrots, and Meyer’s Parrots are 3-4 times smaller than Cape Parrots and Grey-headed Parrots. These three species are adapted to harsher bushveld conditions and can be grouped together as part of the P. meyeri superspecies. My PhD thesis had two chapters on how closely related these three species are to each other relative to both their morphology and ecology.


As can be seen in the poster below (published by the Cape Parrot Working Group) Cape Parrots and Grey-headed Parrots are very closely related and can very easily be confused in captivity. In the wild there is no distributional overlap or hybridization between the two species. The easiest way to pick them apart is to look at the following differences:


  • Cape Parrots are 10-15% smaller than Grey-headed Parrots. This difference is most noticeable in adult birds.
  • Mature Cape Parrots (over 3-4 years old) have golden head plumage distinct from the grey of the so-named Grey-headed Parrot.
  • Grey-headed Parrots have a much larger beak and head with a large muscle pack behind the crown and a very heavy-set upper mandible. When they are sitting next to each other the difference is striking.


Poster published by the Cape Parrot Working Group to assist law enforcement

Quote from “These remaining forest areas form the stronghold of the remaining Cape Parrots in the wild.” If the cape parrot is only found in these areas, how can they be encouraged into new nesting and breeding sites? Does the future of the Cape Parrot depend solely on the protection of these specific forest areas? If so, what is the best conservation strategy for these forest environments?


Cape Parrots evolved to feed and roost for most of the year in the mistbelt Afromontane forest patches in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo. They are, however, parrots with advanced cognitive abilities, language, and social knowledge (e.g. sharing information and establishing cultural behavior). The yellowwood fruit example explains this best. Say 100 years ago, Cape Parrots would have been flying over massive yellowwood forests with thousands of emergent yellowwood trees that produce fruit throughout the year. As a result they fed on yellowwood nuts almost exclusively and nested only in yellowwood snags. Over time the species specialized in yellowwood fruits due to the nutritional content and strong anti-microbial activity. After 150 years of intensive logging there are hardly any large emergent yellowwoods and other hardwoods remaining in the Amathole mountains and most other yellowwood forests in South Africa. Cape Parrots have thus had to become opportunistic generalists feeding on a variety of exotic food resources, including pecans, apples, plums, cherries, acorns, pine nuts, wattle seeds, and much else. Once or twice a year we see Cape Parrots feeding on yellowwoods. They seem to gave given up on this food resource and no longer actively seek it out. If we find a yellowwood tree in fruit and conduct vocalization playbacks, Cape Parrots that fly over that forest almost every day will stop in the canopy and start feeding on the fruits.


We need to start rehabilitating these forest patches as soon as possible, the complete restoration of an Afromontane forest patches after significant logging is approximately 350 years. Over the next 5-10 years we must plant 20,000-25,000 indigenous trees (mainly yellowwoods) in Afromontane forest patches and yellowwood forests around South Africa. These planting schemes need to be informed by high-quality empirical investigation supported by comprehensive aerial surveys, ground-truthing, and regeneration plots. We are planting over 25,000 indigenous trees in the Amathole mountains over the next 2 years and erecting 600 Cape Parrot nest boxes. Conservation International, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Abax Investments, Mazda Wildlife Fund, Africa Geographic, Wilderness Safaris, bigFIG Digital Media, and the Wild Bird Trust are sponsoring this community-based conservation action. Over 9,000 of the trees planted will be part of our Forest Custodians Program that pays local communities R10 every 6 months for every sapling that survives intact. This conservation work is the beginning of a multi-generational approach to restoring these majestic forests for future generations.



Photograph from the 2011 aerial survey. We use these photos to locate emergent yellowwoods before looking for them in the forest patches.

How can the placement of nesting boxes help, if populations are limited to certain forest areas? How much does each nesting box cost, and is this something the public can help fundraise for?


Cape Parrots prefer artificial nest boxes made out of pine or eucalyptus bark offcuts with the bark removed. We provide perches, an escape hole (i.e. 2nd entrance hole on the side), a ladder on the inside for the chicks to climb up, and silicone sealing to ensure that the box is watertight. Cape Parrots, like most parrots, want nest cavities with low predation risk, thus preferring nest boxes placed high in the canopy away from branches with leaves. Isolated snags with no adjacent trees are preferred. To encourage occupation we place the nest boxes along flight ways and within established breeding territories.


It costs us about R600 to construct and erect a Cape Parrot nest box. The public can fundraise to sponsor a Cape Parrot nest box and donate using our banking details on the Wild Bird Trust website: (Pg 2)


What is the Cape Parrot’s specific diet? Have you during your research experimented with introducing other food sources in order to draw populations away from traditional nesting areas?



Yellowwood fruits are their “traditional” diet. Today, however, they cannot rely on this food resource due to inconsistent fruiting at low densities. Some 350 years ago Cape Parrots would have had massive numbers of yellowwood trees in fruit throughout the year, thus allowing them to feed in large feeding flocks in Afromontane forest patches and coastal forest (during summer).


This year, low rainfall reduced overall productivity of fruiting trees in the region and to add to their problems a massive hailstorm in January destroyed the pecan crops in Alice (including our sanctuary) and Fort Beaufort. As a result Cape Parrots literally starved between January and March throughout the region due to the drought and then had to disperse as far as Shamwari Game Reserve outside PE, Adelaide, and Fort Beaufort. We do lots of tree-planting in Alice on the University of Fort Hare campus to provide indigenous food resources for the parrots. Within the next 10-15 years, we hope to have solved the food resource bottleneck between January and March.


There is no need to draw Cape Parrots away from traditional nesting areas in the mistbelt, as there are distinct benefits to breeding in the high mountains (e.g. lower predation risk). For now, we need to get as many nest boxes up as possible, as soon as possible to supplement the availability of suitable nesting cavities for Cape Parrots and other cavity-nesters (e.g. barbets, hornbills, bees, etc.).


How can the spread of disease, (specifically Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PFBD) be prevented? What causes it, and how is it spread?


Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is a nasty airborne circovirus that is spread in the feather dust when aggregating in large flocks and through the eggshell during incubation. We can now safely assume that all Cape Parrots in the Amathole region have been exposed to the virus and are carriers. The reason we see a high prevalence of PBFD symptoms between March and July each year is that the parrots are literally starving to death at this time of year. Similar to TB in wild buffalo only appearing when the animals are under stress, PBFD appears when the parrot is physically weak and stressed. There is no way of preventing it in the wild other than providing alternative food resources. Other than that we must save as many of the parrots that become too weak to survive in the wild, rehabilitate them, and release them back into the wild. With a 100% infection rate recorded this year, we have a huge challenge on our hands...


What is the possibility of a captive breeding program being successful? What if captive bred birds were released into the wild, to form new colonies?


This is a possibility. At the moment, however, there are no existing captive populations that are suitable for application as this founder population. We are currently motivating feasibility studies to determine whether it would be possible to use a mix of captive-bred and confiscated, wild-caught Cape Parrots to establish a disease-free population in the Knysna/Tsitsikamma forests where the parrots have been demonstrated to have existed prior to the late 1860s. In my opinion, the yellowwood forest patches in the Garden Route National Park are 100-150 years ahead of the forests in the Amathole mountains in regard to their recovery from the selective removal of most of the large hardwoods. If the situation with beak and feather disease continues to get worse, we will consider accelerating these plans to establish a new population outside of their current distribution.


Do you believe that captive bred birds would cause a threat to the wild population in any way? If so, why? Likewise, are Cape Parrots under threat from any invasive / alien bird species?


Captive-bred Cape Parrots pose a significant threat to existing wild populations due to the potential for genetic pollution and disease transmission. In our efforts to understand the beak and feather disease outbreak that we noted in 2009 we considered the entrance of a new, more virulent genotype of the PBFD virus into the wild population in the Amatholes from captivity. This doesn’t appear to be the case.


Cape Parrots are not under threat from any invasive bird species.


What is the general South African public's view of bird conservation, and what is being done in terms of educating them about the Cape Parrot’s plight?


Bird conservation is obviously not a priority of the South African public, but membership of bird clubs and sales of bird books are booming. There is a growing awareness in the general public that we should be proud of the bird species that occur in South Africa and do everything we can to protect them as part of our natural heritage.


We publish regularly in niche publications like Africa Birds & Birding, Farmer’s Weekly, and Parrots, as well as most of the local and national newspapers. For example:


In addition, we:

Publish blogs:


Have the largest parrot conservation group on Facebook here.


Have several web pages:


Publish YouTube videos on radio interviews, promotions and rare footage such as these:




And much more... We most definitely try our hardest to bring the Cape Parrot, our national parrot, to the South African public. Much more needs to be done!!


How can South Africans become personally involved in the conservation efforts?


There are many ways. First and foremost is tell their friends about the plight of the Cape Parrot and share links to the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook, the Wild Bird Trust website, and recent articles, e.g this one.


To donate to the Cape Parrot Project all you need to do is:


  • Join the “Let's Help Save the Cape Parrot of South Africa” Cause on Facebook and donate securely using your credit card;
  • Transfer your donation directly to the Wild Bird Trust using the banking details on the website: (Pg 2);
  • Use the “Donate” under the Cape Parrot Project logo on our World Parrot Trust page:;
  • SMS “parrot” to 38774 to donate R10 to the Cape Parrot Project and planty a yellowwood tree (in South Africa only).

There are also two exciting sponsorship opportunities for private individuals or corporate sponsors. These include:


Sponsoring an indigenous tree for planting in the iziKhwenene Project. The iziKhwenene Project includes all our community-based conservation initiatives. “iziKhwenene” means “Cape Parrot” in Xhosa - the nickname is “uPholi”. From collecting the seeds, to growing them in nurseries, all the way to planting them and taking care of them for 5 years. We enter into agreements with local communities, whereby they get paid R10 every 6 months to be the custodians of these trees. We are planting over 25,000 trees over the next 2 years - individual tree can be sponsored for R200; large groves of 50 tree can be sponsored for R7,500. Sponsors will be listed on the Wild Bird trust website and provided with a GPS points for the trees or groves they sponsor. All sponsored trees will be labeled.


Sponsoring a Cape Parrot nest box for erection in the Amathole mountains. We need as many nest boxes as possible to supplement the availability of suitable nest cavities for cavity-nesting species resident or breeding in Afromontane forest patches where most large hardwoods have been removed. We will see barbets, hornbills, bees, starlings, and possibly parrots occupy the boxes. All of these nest cavity occupations are essential, even bees. Just think about the impact of more pollinators on fruit-bearing trees in these forests. We are erecting 600 nest boxes over the next two years. Nest boxes can sponsored for R600 each


Again! Tell your friends. Talk about the Cape Parrot. Show them YouTube videos. Organize events like this one:


What can be done by someone at home? What is your advice for making a garden “Cape Parrot friendly”?


You can create awareness around the issues facing Cape Parrots by distributing the resources outlined above. A great article to share with friends is the latest one from Africa Birds & Birding.


If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with Cape Parrots or even where they used to be, the best trees to plant for Cape Parrots in a “Cape-friendly garden” include:


  • Outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus)
  • Real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius)
  • Wild plum (Harpephylum caffrum)
  • Wild olive (Olea europeae africana)
  • Ironwood (Vepris lanceolata)
  • White Stinkwood (Celtis africana)

All are readily available in nurseries and can be grown from seed. If you are in the Hogsback area, we could even help you with this.


With such little media attention, how does the Cape Parrot Project appeal for donor funding? What are the urgent issues which need financial support? Can a donation of 25 dollars make a difference? How would that be spent? – see the Safaritalk article, “The 25 dollar donation - does it make a difference?”.


The Cape Parrot Project appeals for funding in many different ways, but most of the funds come from established grant programs run by organizations like National Geographic, Conservation International, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Mazda Wildlife Fund, Prins Bernhard Natuurfonds, World Parrot Trust, and African Bird Club. See Question 17 for donation details.


A $25 donation right now would be used to further establish our community nursery project, whereby we want to give local community members nursery bags and indigenous seedling plugs and ask them to grow these seedlings for at least 6-12 months before we buy them back for up to R10. Most of these saplings will be planted as part of the Forest Custodians program, whereby these same community members plant these saplings along the forest margins and rivers and are paid R10 every 6 months per sapling to take care of them in communally-owned forests.


In your honest opinion, what is the future for the Cape Parrot?


If we keep our attention on the Cape Parrot and do things to stimulate positive change for the species and the forests they depend upon, Cape Parrots will persists well into the future. If, however, we do not plant suitable indigenous trees within their range, halt any further illegal capture and nest poaching, and provide hundreds of additional nesting opportunities, Cape Parrots will remain a species on the edge of extinction that could go locally extinct during long drought periods, disappear as a result of a natural disasters, or decline due to reduced disease resistance caused by poor dietary intake.


We, the Wild Bird Trust, undertake to continue our work in the Amathole region for at least the next 20 years. The Cape Parrot Project and iziKhwenene Project are both long-term initiatives that will hopefully combine with education programs and new, exciting community projects to better standards of living and eventually support the recovery of the Cape Parrot. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.


All the best, Steve



The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.

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A few more of Steve's videos:



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Good interview - keep up the good work Steve.

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Response to Steve Boyes’s article on the Conservation of the Cape Parrot by Prof. Mike Perrin:


Dr Steve Boyes is doing a great job in drawing attention to the plight of the Cape Parrot through facebook, similar electronic and published media, and schools. He is also actively involved with tree-planting and community projects initiated by the Cape Parrot Working Group. Steve is raising funds and awareness that will most benefit a special endemic rare bird in the wild.


In my opinion, however, it is unfortunate that he fails to acknowledge the huge foundational work that was amassed by the late Olaf Wirminghaus, Colleen Downs and Craig Symes. This original and seminal work, including the ecology of both the Cape Parrot and the Grey-headed Parrots, was conducted and published by them over a period of more than 10 years. I initiated Olaf’s doctoral research on the Cape Parrot, which led to Craig’s study of the sister species, the Grey-headed Parrot. Their work caused me to initiate the Cape Parrot Working Group and the Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation at the University of Natal / KwaZulu-Natal (not at the University of California), where Steve Boyes registered for his doctoral work on Meyer’s Parrots in the Okavango Delta. He did an outstanding job and has produced some excellent publications.


While Cape Parrots certainly appear to be making greater use of commercial fruit crops, especially during drought periods, it may be too soon to conclude that they seldom make use of their natural diet. It appears that the birds are nutritionally strained seasonally and this coupled with psittacine beak and feather disease is likely causing mortality. This is a difficult parameter to quantify. (While Cape Parrots are intelligent and likely know the position of the major natural food resources in their range, I doubt if they are sapient beings, “not knowing where your (their) next meal is going to come from). Dr Boyes reports, “if we find a yellowwood tree in fruit and conduct vocalisation playbacks, Cape Parrots that fly over the forest almost every day will stop in the canopy and start feeding on the fruits”. This would seem to be good news, as the birds fly over the forest regularly and feed on natural foods”.


Long term and recent data from Prof Downs and the Cape Parrot Working Group suggest that there are more than 800 Cape Parrots in the wild. The data are available and have been publicised, and while variance in the data may be evident, replication supports their validity.


Separation of the Cape Parrot as a species, rather than a subspecies of the Brown-necked Parrot (P. fuscicollis), was first mooted in a short note by Clancey. Olaf Wirminghaus collected a large amount of morphological and ecological data to support this, which he published. Following further data becoming available, a subsequent more recent paper was published. In my opinion, Symes’s data confirmed the absence of hybridisation between the Cape Parrot and the Grey-headed Parrot in the small area of syntopy where they co-occur.


Dr Sandi-Willows Monroe, a zoologist-geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has secured funding from the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute for Michael Wakefield to undertake his doctorate to use DNA sequencing methods to (a) individually identify all captive Cape Parrots, and their paternity, so as to prevent illegal export of any Cape Parrots from South Africa and (B) to finally confirm or negate the question of whether the Cape Parrot is a good species or not. Steve Boyes is contributing a large number of blood samples to this project. Results should enable motivation to BirdLife International and the IUCN for the appropriate taxonomic placement, previously made by the CPWG, which will facilitate conservation (as a species or a subspecies). Both Steve and I have worked together on this initiative with Sonja Meintjies of DEA, Michel Pfab and John Donaldson of SANBI and David Newton of TRAFFIC.


Dr Steve Boyes reports “Cape Parrots are still breeding with up to 15% of large feeding flocks observed between March and July consisting of juveniles”. On face value, this would appear to be good news, in that there are large flocks and ~15% may be juveniles. Let me explain. The information we have available to us suggest there is a skewed sex ratio in Cape Parrots favouring males, reducing the number of breeding pairs. Also, parrots are also notoriously “choosy” when it comes to selecting a mate, and most wild Cape Parrots are unlikely to breed until they are about five years old. It is also likely that some or most breeding pairs only breed on alternate years. Therefore, to have ~15% of a large flock to be juveniles, infers excellent breeding success, especially when it is known, from captive birds, that juveniles suffer greatest mortality when infected with PBFD virus.


Are there so few suitable nesting cavities? Do we have the data? There is certainly no problem with supplementing with artificial ones. However, while Parrotlets in South America adopt them rapidly, Meyer’s Parrots never occupied 100 nest boxes that Dr Boyes placed on his study site for two years in the Okavango where Meyer’s Parrots were common. The CPWG has erected and monitored many nest boxes and as far as I know only one was used for a couple of years over a long time frame.


Dr Boyes mentions the potential role of a captive breeding programme for Cape Parrots and the success that William Horsfield has had in breeding the birds in captivity. William has also aided with projects aimed at producing a vaccine against PBFD virus, caring for confiscated birds and fund-raising. Shaun Wilkinson has maintained the PAAZAB Cape Parrot Stud Book for many years which can aid establishing breeding pairs and the prevention of illegal trade through paternity testing of the captive birds.


Reintroduction of Cape Parrots into the wild sounds like a great idea however, the habitat must be suitable, the birds healthy, and vigilant / able to avoid predators in the wild. Of course the birds must be disease-free, ideally of a suitable age and social structure (of sufficient numbers) and able to find natural foods (or supplied with food at sites, which can attract predators and competitors). One also needs to know why a local population went extinct before reintroducing birds. If the cause remains the reintroduction is likely to be unsuccessful.


Mike Perrin FRSSAfr., Professor Emeritus,

Director of the Research Centre for African Parrot Conservation,

School of Biological and Conservatiobn Sciences,

University of KwaZulu-Natal, 24 October, 2011.

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A few photos have been added to the interview for Steve...

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Bringing this to the top for anyone who might not have read it first time round.

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Any chance that he would do an interview with you about his September mokoro trips in the Okavango Delta?

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I can ask...

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Watch Steve's presentation in theNat Geo video below. A great orator and with facial hair like a classic African explorer... ;)

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