According to the study, between 65,000 and 78,500 parrots are illegally trapped in the wild in Mexico every year, and thousands are smuggled across the border into the United States.
The illegal trade is the second-biggest threat facing parrots in the wild. Only habitat loss rates higher. But until now, few studies have effectively documented this threat. The numbers detailed in the report were a shock. As shocking is the discovery that Mexico is becoming a major consumer of wild-caught parrots. About 90 percent of illegally trapped Mexican parrots are destined for the Mexican market. Plus, over the past 10 years, illegal imports of exotic species of parrots—from South and Central America, for example—have exploded, with more than 100,000 parrots smuggled into Mexico.
This is a major change from the 1980s, when almost all Mexico’s illegal trade in parrots was destined for the United States. Twenty years ago, as many as 150,000 parrots a year flowed across the border illegally. Stronger laws and more enforcement along the border after 9/11 has clamped down on the traffic. But smuggling still remains a problem: Today as many as 9,400 parrots a year are still smuggled into the United States. Eight of the top 10 species that cross the border are endangered in Mexico—and traffic in these species seems to be increasing. “The yellow-headed Amazon is endangered,” Cantu says, “and its main market is the United States.”
For the tens of thousands of birds captured every year, the trade is cruel and wasteful. Traffickers treat the birds not as living creatures but as merchandise. Cantu estimates that 75 percent of the birds captured illegally in Mexico die before they find a home—as many as 50,000 to 60,000 individual parrots each year. They can die from the stress of capture, whether taken from the nest or caught in nets, but most die during transport, when they are stuffed in boxes and cages without food and water.
The effects of the illegal trade on wild populations are equally disturbing. Parrots are the most endangered family of birds in the world. In Mexico, 20 of the 22 species of parrots are at risk. And the trade directly targets 19 of these endangered species.