Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

United Nations: Ban on Trade in African Grey Parrots

(Oct. 4, 2016) The United Nations has effectively banned trade in the African grey parrot by placing it on a priority list of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The decision came after a two-week meeting on the Convention in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Tanisha Heiberg, Global Trade in Wild African Grey Parrot Banned by United Nations, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Oct. 2, 2016t); Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Mar. 3, 1973, as amended through Apr. 30, 1983), CITES website (click on link for pdf of the text).)

Since 1981, the grey parrot has been included in Appendix II to the Convention (Heiberg, supra), which lists “species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.” (The CITES Appendices, CITES website (last visited Oct. 3, 2016).) Following the Johannesburg meeting, the species is now included on Appendix I, which has “species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants … . They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial.” (Id.) The proposal to more strongly protect the bird was supported by Angola, Chad, the European Union, Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and the United States. (The Parrot in the Room, Wildlife Conservation Society website (Sept. 26, 2016).)


The African grey parrot is highly sought after because it can imitate human speech. Although the parrots were once widespread in central and western Africa, trade in the species for the pet industry, plus the loss of their natural habitat due to deforestation, have made their numbers decline. (Heiberg, supra.) As of this year, the grey parrot has been eliminated from most of west Africa, and it is now found only in central Africa. (African Grey Parrot: Species in Decline, CORNELL CAST (Sept. 26, 2016).)

According to Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “[d]uring the past 25 years, more than 1.5 million wild African Greys have been taken from their native habitats, making them one of the most traded of all CITES-listed parrots.” (Heiberg, supra.) Susan Lieberman, Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said of the grey parrot, “[i]nclusion in Appendix I is in the best interests of the conservation of the species as it faces both habitat loss and rampant illegal and unsustainable trade for the international pet trade.” (Id.)

The grey parrot is not the only species newly listed as not to be traded. The pangolin, the most poached mammal in the world, was added to Appendix I a week earlier. (Indonesia: Earth Wire – Global Trade in Wild African Grey Parrot Banned, U.N. Meeting Rules, ANTARA ONLINE (Oct. 3, 2016), Open Source Enterprise online subscription database, ID No. SER2016100338748177.)

The CITES meeting compromised on trade in lion body parts. Lions were not listed in Appendix I, despite the efforts of some conservationists who advocated the lions’ inclusion; instead the recommendation was put in place to ban trade in wild lion parts. There is a strong market for lion bones in Asia, as a substitute for the rarer tiger bones that are used in traditional medicine. The sale of lions raised in captivity is legal, but those concerned about wildlife, including Colman O’Criodain of the World Wildlife Fund, worry that this market could serve as an incentive for poachers to sell bones from animals hunted in the wild. “The recommendation to ban all trade in wild lion bone is a positive first step but it does not go far enough,” he noted. (Id.)