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The ringleader of an illegal wildlife trafficking operation has received a seven-year sentence for the importation and illegal possession of African grey parrots.
The offender, 36-year-old Bobs Mbaya Kabongo, a Congolese national, pleaded guilty to charges that included importation of wildlife specimens and unlawful possession of protected species contrary to the Uganda Wildlife Act of 2019.
African grey parrots, native to the lowland moist forests of tropical East, West and Central Africa, are one of the most heavily trafficked wild birds, highly desired as pets due to their appearance and ability to mimic human speech. Over 1.3 million of these parrots have been detected in international trade since 1975.
The internet has made it easier for buyers and sellers to communicate and set up trade routes. It is estimated that 20% of wild African grey parrots are taken for the pet trade each year, and the constant demand is taking a tremendous toll on wild populations.
The massive population decline pushes the once common species on a path to extinction. In 2016, African governments and regional and international NGOs successfully persuaded global organizations like CITES to offer utmost protection for African grey parrots. The parrots were uplisted to CITES Appendix I, designated as an Endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Reports of a suspected trafficker attempting to sell parrots in parts of Western Uganda led to investigations by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Conserv Congo and World Parrot Trust with support from the Wildlife Trust of India and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), and in collaboration with Uganda People’s Defense Forces, and the Uganda Police Force. Mbaya was arrested on April 16 in Kisoro District, importing 122 African grey parrots from the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC through the Bunagana Border into Uganda without a valid CITES permit.
“Offences relating to wildlife protected species in Uganda carry a maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding 10,000 currency points, or life imprisonment, or both a fine and custodial sentence,” stated Moses Olinga, Uganda & Horn of Africa Program Manager for IFAW.
Three parrots had already died when Mbaya was arrested. The other 119 parrots are being rehabilitated at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre, where they will be released to the wild.