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Dear Parrots magazine,

My response

In the last issue of Parrots Magazine, in the Letters Section, Rosemary Low took issue with a sentence I had written in my previous Red-fronted Macaw personality sketch article. When I suggested that the purchase of a Red-fronted Macaw pet is a ‘significant statement’ a pet owner can make for world parrot conservation, I was told, “What possible contribution to conservation is made by such a purchase [of a Red-fronted Macaw pet] Can you explain?” Of course I can explain, and I truly appreciate the opportunity.

Let’s go back a little bit. I acquired my first Fuscicollis Cape Parrot in the 1980s. Before I owned this pet species, I had absolutely no idea about the conservation or endangered species status of Poicephalus robustus in Africa. But actually owning a Cape Parrot subspecies opened my eyes to their plight in the wild. It put me in initial contact with the World Parrot Trust, and subsequently, the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy among others. It established an emotional bridge between one diminutive psittacine group and my overall attitude towards pet parrot keeping. It prompted me to write cheques (US: checks) for parrot conservation…

And what’s more, I ended up hobby breeding fuscicollis in U.S. aviculture for some 25 years, helping others with my knowledge, providing many of my genetic offspring, rescuing several aged birds of the species and helping to re-home others in reputable facilities. And all because of that tiny seed planted in my life when I first acquired one single kind of pet parrot.

You know, I have worked in the pet aviculture industry for well over 30 years. I have had wonderful friends who are parrot breeders, veterinarians, pet shoppe owners, conservation field workers, scientists, pet bird owners, and even animal rights believers. I pride myself at having learned to get along well with most all of them in a constructive manner.

But one thing has always frequently struck me as peculiar, the fact that so many dedicated parrot conservation individuals adopt a rather proud attitude towards the run of the mill, common pet bird owner. Representatives of the conservation community love to go out and communicate to the normal Conure owner, the African Grey and Umbrella Cockatoo owner. They certainly appreciate the tens of thousands of dollars in donations brought in every year from such companion hookbill keepers. But sometimes I wonder whether the ordinary pet parrot community gets its just credit.

I certainly remember a time decades ago when so many countrywide and worldwide bird organisations were assertively striving for notoriety and influence in the realm of psittacine conservation. Though many of these never did learn to amicably get along with one another, a single common thread amongst all of them seemed to be the energetic courting of the immense pet parrot-owning public of the 1990s and beyond.

Yes, it is only too true that the literally tens of thousands of individual pet owners, most of whom had only one Cockatiel, one Macaw that gave their money and their support to these organisations, literally changed the lives of multitudes of parrots in captivity, and in the wilds, through their enthusiasm and their support. And they still do so today.

Rosemary, I have nothing but the utmost respect for you and the irreplaceable work you have done in aviculture and conservation over the decades. But, you seem to have missed the point of that single sentence in my pet Red Fronted Macaw synopsis.

Look at it this way. A new owner seeks out a captive-raised member of a threatened parrot species, supports the rare breeder who is reproducing said species in captivity, then goes about sharing his or her home with this extraordinary avian creature. A whole new life can open up for this bird keeper. Born is an attachment to this parrot, and through it, to this parrot’s species in the wild. Friends may meet it and hear about the new pet, and they too, get interested and start looking into Red-fronted Macaws, or Blue-throated Macaws, or Timneh African Greys, or Yellow-headed Amazons or Chattering Lories, or like me, Cape Parrots. This is how true conservation evolves, in the hearts of those who get to know the creature, not just by reading someone’s plea for a donation to another preservation cause.

I have always liked to give the pet buying public its due. If the conservation community was forced to rely only upon themselves for advertising, getting the word out and stimulating financial support for missions in the wild, without all those devoted pet psittacine owners getting on board, it would be a substantially more difficult struggle, believe me.

Please do not ever underestimate the power of acquiring a special new parrot. In oh so many cases, conservation all begins with that one single act.

EB Cravens




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