Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Endangered because it is subject to heavy trapping pressure across much of its range. In combination with the high rate of ongoing habitat loss, the species is therefore suspected to be declining rapidly over three generations.
Based on the estimated density of the species and P. erithacus in Ghana and Guinea, Dändliker (1992) calculated population estimates for Côte d'Ivoire (54,000-130,000 individuals), Liberia (50,000-100,000), Sierra Leone (11,000-18,000), Guinea (5,000-10,000) and Guinea-Bissau (100-1,000). These estimates have been used as the basis for setting export quotas in the past. This gave a total estimate of c.120,000-259,000 individuals in 1992.
However, this is likely to have been an overestimate and the population may now be lower if the species is declining rapidly (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Gatter (1997) estimated a significantly higher density of 2 breeding pairs per km2 in logged forest north of Zwedru, Liberia. More recent estimates place the Liberian population at around 18,000 individuals (Freeman et al. 2018).
A status assessment for the population in Guinea-Bissau indicates a national population of 250-1000 individuals, with very low population densities (or an absence) everywhere in that country, with the exception of small (<8 km2) islands remote from permanent human habitation (Lopes 2015; Lopes et al. 2018a). A survey in 2018 in the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone recorded the species at an encounter rate of 0.1 groups/h in the National Park and 0.3 in the buffer zone, indicating densities of around 1-3 individuals per km2 and a population within the park itself of around 2.400 individuals (Valle et al. 2020).
However, the likely total population remains highly uncertain. The population is placed in the band 100,000-499,999 mature individuals in the absence of further data, although it is likely to be closer to the lower bound of this range, or maybe even number fewer individuals than this (R. Martin in litt. 2016).
Population declines have been noted across the range. In all of these declines, trapping for the wild bird trade has been implicated, with habitat loss also having significant impacts. Gatter (1997) estimated c.1,400 birds smuggled from Cote d’Ivoire annually between 1981-1984, over 99% being P. timneh. In 2009 Guinea exported 720 timneh, despite having a quota of zero (Anon. 2011).
Legal trade as monitored by CITES may represent only a proportion of the total numbers captured from the wild, while Allport (1991) estimated that c.77% of the Upper Guinea EBA forest cover had been lost at the time of that study, and regional forest loss has continued since that date at a high rate (H. Rainey in litt. 2010). There has been a dramatic decline (of 90-99%) in the closely related and ecologically similar P. erithacus in Ghana (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014; Annorbah et al. 2016). It is likely that similar processes that led to the decline have operated and continue to operate in neighbouring countries (in the case of exploitation for the overseas pet trade possibly at even greater intensities over the last two decades) (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Additionally, there is no evidence of ‘substantial’ populations elsewhere in their range beyond Sapo National Park in Liberia (Freeman 2014) and Gola National Park in Sierra Leone (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2007; Klop et al. 2010).
The rate of decline is hard to quantify, but given the massive level of capture for trade and the high levels of forest loss in parts of the range a decline of >50% in three generations (43 years) may be likely.
Psittacus timneh, which was formerly considered conspecific with the Grey Parrot P. erithacus, is endemic to the western parts of the moist Upper Guinea forests and bordering savannas of West Africa, from Guinea-Bissau east through southern Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia east to at least 70 km east of the Bandama River in Côte d'Ivoire. The species has been previsouly listed as occurring in Mali, but this appears to be erroneous (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2005). Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia are thought to hold the largest populations (Dändliker 1992). It appears to have disappeared completely from the forests on and near Mt Nimba in Nimba County, Liberia; surveys between 2008-2011 in the East Nimba Nature Reserve and nearby forest failed to find the species, and there was no indication from locals that they have been present in recent times (B. Phalan and F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012). The species was surprisingly scarce in the Nimba area as early as the 1970s (Colston and Curry-Lindahl 1986). In Côte d’Ivoire, there have been declines in Tai National Park and the complete disappearance of the species from some areas near human settlements (Martin et al. 2014). Gatter (1997) estimated c.1,400 birds smuggled from Côte d’Ivoire annually between 1981-1984, over 99% being P. timneh. In the Gola Forest area in Sierra Leone it persists but never seems to have been particularly abundant, with groups rarely reaching double figures (J. Lindsell and F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2012). Trapping for the wild bird trade and high rates of forest habitat loss are presumed to be driving rapid declines throughout the range.
Although typically inhabiting dense forest, individuals are commonly observed at forest edges, clearings, gallery forest, mangroves, wooded savannah, cultivated areas, and even gardens (Juniper and Parr 1998), but it is not clear whether these are self-sustaining populations. They may make seasonal movements out of the driest parts of the range in the dry season.
The species has been heavily traded: since 1975 reported exports are greater than 1.3 million individuals; during 1994-2003, over 359,000 wild-caught individuals (combined total of erithacus and timneh, the majority erithacus) were reportedly exported from range states; and exports in 2005-2014 have been 199,070 individuals (UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database 2005; R. Martin in litt. 2016). Together with P. erithacus, it is one of the most popular avian pets in Europe, the United States and the Middle East due to its longevity and unparalleled ability to mimic human speech and other sounds. While there has been some domestic demand within range states, most impacts seem to be due to international trade, probably owing to the high value of this species. The Animals Committee of CITES recommended a two-year ban from January 2007 on exports of timneh from four West African countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea), and since then all of these countries continue to have zero export quotas recommended by CITES. Guinea-Bissau has not issued any export permits since 2000, however these restrictions have been circumvented and exports of wild-sourced birds have continued under the guise of legal trade (R. Martin in litt. 2016). For several years Guinea exported significant numbers as ‘Captive-bred’ despite there being no commercial-scale breeding facilities in Guinea (CITES 2012). Additionally, multiple shipments have been made from Mali despite the species not naturally occurring there. In late 2015, a shipment of 89 Timneh Parrots that originated in Mali was confiscated in Dakar (R. Martin in litt. 2016). In addition, despite there being no legal avenues for commercial exports of wild-sourced birds, some traders continue to advertise exports of recently obtained birds (R. Martin in litt. 2016). The import of wild-caught birds into the EU was prohibited in 2007, leading to a fall in exports of P. erithacus and P. timneh, but the number of exportations rose once again in 2008 and 2009 (Anon. 2011), and since then exports have been re-oriented to the Middle East (R. Martin in litt. 2016). In 2009, Ghana largely ceased legal exports of P. erithacus in the early 1990s, and around that time trappers and traders from Ghana also moved into other countries. As a result there was additional trapping pressure. Since Ghana ceased commercial exports, P. timneh range states (and Mali) have exported 122,868 individuals, with Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea each exporting around 46,000 (not all P. timneh as some were P. erithacus) (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Legal trade as monitored by CITES may represent only a proportion of the total numbers captured from the wild.
Habitat loss is undoubtedly having significant impacts throughout the range. Allport (1991) estimated that c.77% of the Upper Guinea EBA forest cover had been lost at the time of that study. Regional forest loss has continued since that date at a high rate (H. Rainey in litt. 2010). In Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, preferred species of nesting trees are also preferred timber species (Clemmons 2002), which is a threat to the stability of breeding populations (Lopes 2015; Lopes et al. 2018b). An analysis of the factors that predict the distribution and abundance of Timneh Parrots on the Bijagós islands of Guinea-Bissau found that the proximity of a permanent human population had a strong negative effect on this species, suggesting human activities are a threat to populations above and beyond the impact they have on forest cover (Lopes et al. 2018a). A recent study predicted that this species could lose approximately 60% of its range by 2050 due to climate change (Freeman et al. 2019).
Conservation Actions Underway
P. erithacus, prior to an acknowledgement of the split of P. timneh, was on CITES Appendix II with all Psittaciformes in 1981, at the request of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Due to concern about the effects of the large numbers of this species traded, it has been the subject of several CITES significant trade reviews (Inskipp et al. 1988; R. Martin in litt. 2016), and has now been listed on CITES Appendix I (S. Chng in litt. 2016). The Animals Committee of CITES imposed a two-year ban from January 2007 on exports of P. timneh from four West African countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea), and the importation of wild-caught birds into the EU was prohibited in 2007 (Anon. 2011). In 2009 Guinea exported 720 P. timneh, despite having a quota of 0 (Anon. 2011). Legal trade as monitored by CITES may represent only a small proportion of the total numbers captured from the wild.
The species occurs in a number of protected areas. In Guinea-Bissau, management of protected areas in participation with local communities has been active for several years. As part of this programme, since 2013, former parrot trappers have been employed as nest guards and in other conservation roles, which has had a positive effect on levels of nest poaching in key nesting sites and nesting trees have been protected during land clearance for shifting agriculture (Henriques and Lopes 2014). Research into breeding biology and diet in Guinea-Bissau is ongoing. Ecological surveys and community outreach has been carried out throughout the archipelago, laying the foundation for future monitoring and the expansion of community-based conservation efforts (R. Martin in litt. 2016). Martin et al. (2014) surveyed nationals of all range states including ornithologists, field researchers and conservation practitioners to establish information on research initiatives underway and the status of populations. Since that initiative, surveys have been additionally conducted in Guinea-Bissau (Lopes 2015; Lopes et al. 2018a) and Liberia (Freeman 2014; Freeman et al. 2018). A study assessing distribution, abundance and impacts of trade and habitat loss for P. timneh was due to begin in 2011 (Anon. 2011).
A mottled grey, medium-sized parrot. It has a large bill with a light, horn-coloured area to part of the upper mandible, and white mask enclosing a yellow eye. The tail is a dark maroon. Similar spp. P. erithacus is larger and paler grey, with a bright red tail and all-dark bill. The native ranges of the two species do not overlap, but escapes occur.
Text account compilers
Chng, S., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Freeman, B., Lindsell, J., Lopes, C, Marsden, S., Martin, R., Phalan, B., Rainey, H., Symes, A., Westrip, J.R.S. & Wheatley, H.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Psittacus timneh. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 09/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 09/12/2022.