EU wild-parrot scandal
3rd January, 2009
A decade and a half after conservationists wrung from the European Parliament a commitment to end the trade, the EU remains the largest importer of parrots in the world.
Among the treasures that Alexander the Great brought back to Europe from his travels in the east around 400 BC were some longtailed parakeets tamed by the people his armies conquered. Parrots were also kept in ancient Rome, where the tongues of talking parrots were taken as a cure for speech impediments. Columbus brought parrots back from his 1492 expedition to the Caribbean, and presented some as gifts to his royal benefactor, Queen Isabella of Spain. Henry VIII of England had a parrot in his palace. A few of his subjects kept them too. As new lands were colonised, the supply of parrots grew and grew. Today tens of millions are kept by pet owners and enthusiasts worldwide.
So what’s the attraction? Why parrots? Certainly parrots are very beautiful. Most are acrobatic, and many show real intelligence. There is, however, one thing above all that sets parrots apart. They can talk. Language deﬁnes humans, and people ﬁnd birds that say words extremely appealing. While some dismiss the human-seeming sounds made by parrots as unthinking repetition, growing evidence demonstrates how some parrots use words to convey meaning. Perhaps the ﬁnest talker is the African Grey. The ability of these birds to master...
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