The images in the following program are highly sensitive and may be as disturbing to viewers as they were to us. However, we have to show the truth about cruelty to animals, praying that you will help to stop it.

This is the Stop Animal Cruelty series on Supreme Master Television. Today we will examine the fate of parrots in the exotic bird trade, a devastatingly cruel industry which destroys birds’ lives.

All parrots, from the majestic 100-centimeter Hyacinth Macaw of South America to the charming 9-centimeter Pygmy Parrot of Papua New Guinea, belong to the order Psittaciformes, and possess high intelligence, sensitive natures and a great capacity for love. Through the ages, countless stories have been told of these noble birds’ fine memories, caring dispositions and great speaking skills.

In fact, parrots’ responses when addressed by humans can be amazingly precise and appropriate to the context. Parrots’ high IQs have been linked to the fact that their brain-to-body-size ratio is comparable to that of highly intelligent primates such as chimpanzees and humans. In addition, the cognitive and speaking abilities of parrots have been demonstrated through the pioneering work of Professor Irene Pepperberg of the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA.

Under Dr. Pepperberg’s instruction, her companion African Grey Parrot Alex acquired a vocabulary of over 150 words, could speak in full sentences, could accurately identify colors and shapes by saying their names, and understood the concept of “zero.” Based on Dr. Pepperberg’s studies showing Alex’s complex speech behaviors and advanced learning capacity, researchers now feel that parrots possess the intelligence and emotional maturity of a three- to four-year-old child.

As Wendy Huntbatch, President of the World Parrot Refuge in British Columbia, Canada says, parrots are also able to communicate effectively with others of their kind through their own species-specific language. When a bird first comes to stay at the Refuge, the residents gather around and warmly welcome him or her to their flock and their safe, loving home.

When they come in, they stay in their own cage usually for 48 hours. And all the other birds that are in that compound will come down and speak to them. And strangely enough, parrots that were hand-raised by people, that have never seen another parrot, when a member of their own species comes down, they speak in the language of that parrot. How they know this is beyond me. It is just unbelievable, but they do. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Sadly the exotic bird industry has created a situation where kind people like Ms. Huntbatch must operate rescue centers to shelter parrots and other wild bird species who lack a place to call home.

My wish, my dream is that people would understand that they have to stop breeding these birds and selling them for pets, because it is a very bad thing to do. As you can see, I have over 800 (birds). This should tell people they don’t make good pets. They should stop the importation of wild caught birds. It should be illegal. Hopefully that will happen. Go and visit them in the wild. To watch parrots fly in the wild is the most fulfilling emotion you will ever have.

Sophisticated wildlife trafficking operations in Africa, Asia and the Americas steal parrots from their native habitats, transport them under horrific conditions and then sell them across the world. In Mexico, it’s estimated that annually 65,000 to 78,500 parrots are illegally grabbed from the wild and smuggled to the US for sale. The problem is quite large in Uganda as well.

So we are now at a facility which is temporarily holding a part of the African Grey Parrot (population here). The birds are facing a problem because people are capturing them in the wild forests for illegal trade.

There were 500 birds captured at the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But they were already in Uganda. They didn't have valid permits. They didn't have valid certificates. They didn't have any proper documentation. So in a situation like that, when the customs officials learned of the consignment, they alerted the Uganda Wildlife Authority, which is the government body which is the custodian of all wildlife in Uganda.

They were packed in tiny, small boxes, which were not professionally done. And when we opened the boxes, some birds actually had died, because they had no space. They hadn't been fed. Some were sick. They were of different age groups. You have juvenile birds. You have adults. You have very tiny birds. They were varying in size, ranging from 150 grams, 200 grams to 600 grams (in weight). And then the big guys are 800 grams (in weight). They were all in those containers without any separation. So you can imagine there was a lot of stampeding, a lot of struggle. And because these birds are wild, they struggled a lot to come out.

Parrots are bred in captivity on a large-scale, with the chicks sold to pet stores. Like puppy mills, these bird mills are operations of enormous cruelty. The chicks never get to be with their parents and are fed with tubes instead of by their mother. Just like factory farmed animals, they are injected with antibiotics as a prophylactic measure to help them survive the utterly sordid conditions in which they are raised. The chicks are inappropriately fed seed-only diets to reduce costs which jeopardizes their well-being.

In the late 1990’s, I heard about one breeding facility in California (USA) that bred nothing but little Parakeets and they had 100,000 birds a year there. And they sent them out to the pet stores for US$2 a piece or whatever. And it didn’t matter if they lived or they died. They didn’t get medical attention because they had such little financial value.

Wild-caught or bred in captivity, the parrots may be adopted by people without any understanding of how to care for the species and thus the birds soon die or lead lives of absolute misery and pain. This situation is common throughout the world, as countless parrots are mistreated, abandoned, released and given up for adoption by people who can no longer care for them due to lifestyle changes, or who lack the patience or knowledge to deal properly with these sensitive, special beings.

In an interview with Supreme Master Television, Janet Trumbule, Executive Director of Administration at The Oasis Sanctuary in Benson, Arizona, USA discussed this problem in relation to a parrot that was released with a flock of other birds.

We believe he was actually released by his caregiver, taken to a field and released. There were some eyewitnesses that saw a gentleman releasing a lot of birds. And he’s a very cute little bird. He can be a little noisy, as most birds can, so you wonder if the person was fed up with the noise. But often we see birds come in that have been just thrown out the window, basically.

Parrots’ great love of chewing and ignorance on how to accommodate this desire leads people to abuse, abandon or release them.

Giving birds boxes and paper bags, they love climbing in them, and they chew them up. And the (African) Greys in particular really, really like shredding them. So, you can see the shred work they do. One really common issue with parrots in homes, and a lot of people give up their parrots because of this is when you look at a box like this, a bird would have no qualms doing this to a leg on your dining room chair, or your moulding around your window.

So, it’s very hard to manage when you have birds at home because it’s just very natural behavior for them to be chewing on something all of the time. So, people get frustrated with it and don’t know how to manage it and they ultimately end up giving the bird away.

Another consequence of making a wild animal a companion is possible aggressiveness that causes uninformed or impatient caregivers to maltreat or abandon a bird.

There are a lot of reasons birds could become aggressive. Actually even domestically-bred parrots today are probably three generations from the wild. So we call them domestically-bred, but they are still considered wild animals, and have these wild instincts. So I think a lot of the extra aggression we see is just from keeping them caged. They want to be wild animals and they’re not allowed to be that animal, and so they act out and they do that by biting.

How can we aid our parrot friends so they are no longer victims of the exotic bird trade? One solution lies in stopping the kidnapping of parrots in the first place.

So what a lot of places like World Parrot Trust and the Indonesia Project and other organizations are doing is going out there and trying to do eco-tourism and taking the poachers and teaching them how to give tours instead and how to preserve the birds and the wildlife so that they can earn a living and not decimate the population.

To end bird mills and even smaller-scale breeding operations, we can encourage those wanting a parrot companion to not buy birds from breeders or stores.

Adopt, don’t buy in every species so that we can put an end to breeding in this country. People can get a wonderful bird through an adoption program and the breeders aren’t making the money they used to make. They’re already making about half of what they were making 15-20 years ago per bird.

Before deciding to adopt a parrot as a companion, it’s vitally important to study parrots’ behavioral traits, special needs and unique qualities. If after extensive thought and research you still wish to have a parrot as a friend, remember that many species require a lifelong commitment from their caregivers due to their potential to live for many decades. Supreme Master Ching Hai encourages all to preserve and protect parrots and other animals as in this excerpt from an interview by journalist Louise Kings that was published in the December 16, 2009 issue of The Irish Dog Journal.

The animals come to this planet with a special role. Many of them are able to bring down divine power from Heaven, or love, just through their presence because they are very connected with the Divine at all times. They watch out for us quietly and humbly send blessings our way. Some of them are from higher levels of consciousness; they only came down in animal form to help humankind or other beings on Earth.

Of course, animals also have very noble, vital roles in the physical realm. Some animals, like zebras, monkeys, and wild parrots, help to disperse the seeds, while bees and other insects help to pollinate crops and other plants, and others maintain the health of the forests and oceans.

Our appreciation The Oasis Sanctuary, World Parrot Refuge, and the Uganda Wildlife Education Center for your benevolent programs that aid parrots and other exotic birds. Our winged friends truly thank you for your love.

For more information on the organizations featured today, please visit the following websites: The Oasis Sanctuary
World Parrot Refuge
Uganda Wildlife Education Center

Thank you for watching this week’s edition of Stop Animal Cruelty. May all humanity be blessed with abundant love and compassion for all our fellow beings.