Nathaniel Annorbah, a PhD student studying at Manchester Metropolitan University with funding from Loro Parque Fundaci6n, has been searching for Grey Parrots (Psittacus Erithacus) across his native country of Ghana for more than one year. What Nat has found is very disturbing indeed.
The Grey Parrot is distributed from the western edge of Kenya, through southern Uganda and the Congo forests to Cameroon, and through the moist lowland forests of West Africa to the southeast of the Ivory Coast, as well as on the islands of Principe (Sao Tome and Principe) and Bioko (Equatorial Guinea); the form timneh from Guinea to western Ivory Coast is now treated as a separate species, 'Timneh Parrot' (BirdLife International 2013). Despite its large geographical distribution, the population of the Grey Parrot is suspected to be suffering a rapid decline because of the extent of the annual harvest for international trade, and the high rate of ongoing habitat loss. The IUCN Red List category of the species has recently been raised to Vulnerable (BirdLife International 2013).
The aim of Nat's research is to use novel study methods to assess the historic and current distribution, abundance and ecology of Ghanaian populations of the Grey Parrot in order to make informed predictions about the sustainability of trade and land-use changes. In the course of his fieldwork, he has also been collecting relevant data on other forest-dwelling frugivores, in part to serve as a comparison and contrast with those he gathers on the Grey Parrot.
Following much preparation prior to the start of fieldwork, surveys for Grey Parrots and other fruit-eating birds were conducted by Nat between April 2012 and March 2013. The general study area, which is about 60,000 square kilometres, comprises a mosaic of inhabited, cultivated and forested areas in south-western Ghana. This area falls primarily within two major ecological zones in Ghana, namely evergreen forest and moist semideciduous forest. The south-western part of Ghana was chosen for the study because it held previously known populations of Grey Parrots and remains the area in the country with the most suitable habitats for the species.
The study area was partitioned into a grid of 10 x 10 square kilometre cells. A random sample of 31 cells was surveyed for the presence or absence of parrots. Surveys were conducted between April 2012 and March 2013. In each cell, surveys were conducted along a variety of pre-existent routes by walking along hunter or farmer footpaths and also along drivable pathways connecting villages and towns. Survey routes traversed a variety of habitats including small-scale agro-farmland, large-scale oil-palm plantations, forest reserves and settlements. Survey routes were walked in the company of a local guide, and all individual birds of the target species heard or seen along the route, perched or in flight, were recorded together with distance from the observer, direction of flight, and GPS coordinates at the point of detection.
A major part of fieldwork was to locate roosts of Grey Parrots and count birds to estimate roost population sizes. Location of roosts, however, depends largely on information provided by trappers or local knowledge in general. Therefore, whenever Nat visited a cell, he always held conversations with local people in an effort to gain knowledge about the occurrence of any extant or former roosts. If local people did not know about any existing roosts, surveys continued with special focus on potentially suitable habitats.
Interviews were conducted in all the study cells surveyed to obtain information about local people's knowledge of the Grey Parrot and to record any data on the socio-economics of the trade in the species. At each village in a study cell the chief or village leader and his or her elders were informed about the project and the need to locate any roosts or gather any information about the presence of parrots and other relevant species in the area. Nat's assistant subsequently walked in and around the village and interviewed any residents willing to respond to a set of questions from a prepared questionnaire. On some occasions his assistant accompanied him on field surveys and interviewed people encountered along survey routes.
A total of only 101 parrots were encountered during the year-long surveys. Parrots were recorded in just nine of the 31 surveyed grid squares. Over half the parrots were located in a single square.
BirdLife International. 2013. Species factsheet: Psittacus erithacus. Downloaded from http://www. birdlife. org on 14/09/2013.
CITES. 2006. Psittacus erithacus AC22 Doc. 10.2 Annex 1. http://www.cites.org/eng/ com/ac/22/E22-l 0-2-Al.pdj
Ddndliker, G. 1992.The Grey Parrot in Ghana: a population survey, a contribution to the biology of the species, a study of its commercial exploitation and management recommendations. A report on CITES Project S-30. Unpublished report to CITES.
Addresses of authors
S. J Marsden, Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Applied Ecology Group, Manchester Metropolitan University, Chester Street, Manchester Ml SGD, UK
NJ Collar, BirdLife International, Girton Road, Cambridge CB3 ONA, UK
D. R. Waugh, Loro Parque Fundacion, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain