Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Note: This blog also appears on the Huffington Post.
NBC Television's popular show "The Voice" is employing a Moluccan cockatoo to accompany Cee Lo Green.
As far as I'm concerned, this kind of animal exploitation doesn't fly.
By showing a cockatoo perched on a celebrity's shoulder, NBC is giving viewers the mistaken impression that these animals make good pets — or that they should be pets at all. Some viewers might even be inspired to "own" one too, thereby leading to increased trade in wild-caught Moluccan cockatoos in their country of origin and abroad. Owning a pet cockatoo is a huge problem.
For better or for worse, the actions of celebrities have a major impact on trends — what to wear, who to wear, what to buy, and what animal companions to have. We see this all the time. The last thing this particular species needs is promotion as a "pet" and an increase in sales.
Nearly the entire remaining population of Moluccan cockatoos is found on the tiny island of Seram in Eastern Indonesia. The population has declined as a direct result of their popularity as pets, which has led to severe trapping for trade.
My colleague at Born Free USA, Monica Engebretson, has twice traveled to the island of Seram for parrot conservation projects, and has seen first-hand the challenges this species faces.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in May 2011, and the birds have been on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix I since the 1990s. This action has curtailed reported trade at the international level, but has not eliminated the trade. In fact, Moluccan cockatoos remain one of the more sought-after birds for private ownership. They are traded within Indonesia and are still smuggled to outside markets that include Malaysia and Singapore.
Not only does the pet trade threaten wild populations. It also threatens the welfare of individual cockatoos whether wild-caught or captive-bred.
Moluccan cockatoos are beautiful, intelligent animals, but they are very challenging to care for — especially long-term — and are prone to considerable welfare problems. Many develop self-destructive behaviors, such as feather-plucking and self-mutilation, that are not known to occur in the wild. Many bird rescue organization already are filled to capacity with Moluccans and other large parrots.
Then there is the issue of whether it is even worth breeding these birds in captivity. Contrary to popular belief, captive breeding does not contribute to conservation efforts because most of it is done outside of official species survival plans or other directed conservation efforts.
There is no captive breeding release program for Moluccan cockatoos. Captive parrot breeding release programs are notoriously difficult and often fail. To have any reasonable expectation for success, such a program needs to occur in the birds' native country and in close proximity to native habitat and wild-free living cockatoos.
There is also something else to consider. Even when bred in captivity, exotic birds are not considered domesticated animals. They are the native species of other countries and, as such, all of their inherent behavioral and physical needs remain intact. Sadly, when it comes to birds, deprivation of their natural behaviors (to fly and flock, for example) is an inescapable component of their captivity.
Born Free USA encourages NBC, Cee Lo and "The Voice" to reconsider featuring a Moluccan cockatoo or any bird on the show. We believe that featuring a more appropriate companion animal, such as a dog, would be a better choice, and that featuring a rescue dog or a dog in need of a home would be doubly beneficial.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild — including Moluccan cockatoos. Give them a voice!