On Long John Silver’s Shoulder

Snoop Dogg and Missy have gone missing, presumed stolen, BBC News told us yesterday. The item added that these two African Grey parrots like to chirp, “Giz a tickle” and “Hallo fat girl”, as well as singing a passable rendering of the Match of the Day theme tune. And that they are ‘worth’ £1k each.

It made me sad. Of course it’s sad for the person for whom these two beautiful and intelligent creatures were companions. But my sadness came first from thinking of the fear, confusion and stress the birds must be enduring.

And then there was my disquiet at the news item itself. Why would this event make national news? The answer is simple – it’s because the editor saw it as a perfect ‘And finally’ item. Let’s have a fun joky piece to end the bulletin. Parrots are funny.

towel-461344__180The final strand to my sadness was that the birds’ worth was measured in money. The burglar could as well have stolen a diamond necklace and a bracelet worth £1,000 each. These living creatures are viewed as property, in the same way that slaves used to be considered property. We would all be appalled nowadays to think that a person could be the ‘property’ of another. I don’t see animals as the property of humans, and my hope and my fight is that one day animals will have the same right that was won for the slaves – to be valued in themselves as a life.

This item of news coincided with a Natural Histories programme about parrots I caught on the radio. It reminded me of my younger days. A tortoise, a parrot and a hot air balloon – when the kids were still at home, this was my wish list. It was a standing joke in the family. So much so that when my eldest brought home from school a form to be filled in for the French exchange, in the space for “Mother’s Occupation”, she wrote, “Hot air balloonist”. Who knows what the family in France made of that!

birds-981696__180But back to the parrots. Dazzling plumage, an inquisitive and cheeky personality, cleverness and an easy ability to mimic –  the parrot’s reputation was already prodigious millennia ago. The bird was always expensive to purchase and a status symbol. Apparently Henry VIII had an African Grey. Everyone know s that no self-respecting pirate would be seen without one on his shoulder. The parrot is a creature so impressed into our imagination that the youngest child who cannot yet utter the word knows what one is.

The poor bird is a victim of its own fabulous brilliance of plumage and personality. In the 19th century those colourful feathers were in huge demand to decorate ladies’ hats, and thousands upon thousands of parrots were killed for them.parrot-1192975__180

 

In spite of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 1963) an illegal trade in these gorgeous creatures is stripping forests and jungles bare. In Mexico alone, it is reckoned that approximately 65,000 are taken from the wild each year. 66 out of some 375 species of parrot are now on the Endangered list. Some such as the Spix’s macaw are extinct in the wild. It’s a vicious cycle: the more birds are taken, the rarer they become. And the rarer they become, the higher price they can command. Worst of all, three quarters of them die in the process of being seized from the wild and transported to the pet ‘owner’.

These disturbing statistics spring directly from Man’s view that the Earth and everything in it is his hypermarket. Legally, or illegally, everything is reduced to its monetary value.. Nothing is going to stop the plundering unless we change our world view and give all forms of life the respect and value they deserve – simply for being themselves, simply for being alive.

When I reached 60, my lovely kids bought me a trip in a hot air balloon. I never did get the tortoise and the parrot. And now I am so glad.

 

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