Breaking the law in plain sight
An illegal trade in indigenous parrots continues in the open at Mammee Bay, St Ann, 10 months after it was first highlighted by the Jamaica Observer, and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) says, while it is aware of the activity, its efforts to apprehend the culprits have not been successful.
“As recent as October 2023, an officer of the agency attempted to confiscate a bird being sold in the area, however, the young man ran away after realising what the officer was about,” NEPA said in response to Sunday Observer queries on the matter.
“We have brought this issue to the attention of the police and requested their continued assistance. Consequently, several attempts were made, with the assistance of the police, to arrest the problem. For example, in February 2021, the agency, in collaboration with the police, conducted an operation in relation to this matter; however, the men ran away and left the birds behind,” NEPA said, adding that it continues to work with the Jamaica Constabulary Force to address the problem.
In January this year the Sunday Observer had reported that three species of parrots, which are indigenous to Jamaica, are being captured from their natural habitat by unscrupulous people and sold for between $8,000 and $10,000 each to bird lovers.
The endangered yellow-billed parrot, the black-billed parrot, and the Jamaican parakeet (otherwise known as the olive-throated parakeet) are protected by law, and it is illegal to capture, sell, and have them as pets without a permit.
However, this wildlife crime has been ongoing for a number of years, and in recent times sellers have become even more barefaced, advertising the endangered birds for sale on social media platforms, along with videos of the captured animals, the newspaper reported at the time.
The article had given wildlife advocates hope that more would be done by the police and NEPA enforcement officers to administer the law; however, over the past month more videos of the young men selling the parrots from the roadside in Mammee Bay have been shared with the Sunday Observer.
In one of the videos sent to the newspaper on October 20, a young man is seen holding a stick with two parrots. When asked by a motorist, who recorded the encounter, what type of parrots they are, he said “talking parrots”.
He also told the motorist that he was selling one of the birds for $10,000 and the other for $12,000.
The motorist, who had no intention of buying the birds, told the young man that he would need to get in touch with him again to make the purchase, upon which the bird seller gave him a cellular number and told him that when he called he should “just ask for Birdman”.
The Sunday Observer dialled the number on several occasions, and while the calls were picked up, the only audible sounds were male voices in the background.
In another video posted to YouTube and shared with the Sunday Observer on October 26 by BirdLife Jamaica President Damion Whyte, a man demonstrates a method of making gum, which is placed on tree limbs to catch birds.
The man explains that the final product needs to be “brown”, because if it comes out white, the birds will easily see it and won’t perch on it because tree limbs are not white.
“Please remember to like, share, and subscribe,” he appeals in the just under six minutes video which he says is made “for all the bird catchers”.
Whyte said that one avenue open to NEPA is to inform YouTube that the video is facilitating the commission of crime and as such the social media platform would take it down. When the Sunday Observer asked the agency if it has approached YouTube, it said it is not aware of the gum-making activity and would appreciate it being brought to its attention. “Nevertheless, the option of making contact with YouTube will be reviewed with a view to restricting the publicising of this egregious activity,” NEPA said.
However, Whyte expressed surprise that NEPA is not aware of the gum-making video as he and other environmentalists have posted comments about the activity on social media platforms and have been asking what is being done to arrest the problem.
“If NEPA is not aware, that means it is not using social media. It needs to start using the platform or engage people who are using it to find out what is happening,” he said, adding that the men who are making videos showing illegal activity relating to the capture of protected parrots are not hiding.
“Just type in Jamaica parrot on any of these social media sites and you see how many hits come up,” Whyte said.
“They obviously have no fear of the law. They are operating in your face. People stop and make videos and take pictures of them on the street side. I have stopped there at Mammee Bay and made videos of the men selling the parrots. The police, who have gone out there to arrest them, need to change the way they operate,” Whyte argued.
YouTube, on its website, lists a number of regulated goods and services, among them endangered species or parts of endangered species, and advises that content that aims to directly sell, link to, or facilitate access to any of them is not allowed. The platform provides advice as to how the public can report any offender.
The Sunday Observer has been told that one of the young men in the videos is already before the court in a case brought by NEPA. However, when the agency was asked about that it said, “We cannot comment on details related to matters before the court, as this would constitute a breach of the sub judicerule.”
The agency did, however, disclose that over the period 2019 to 2023 approximately 18 people have been prosecuted or are currently being prosecuted under the Wildlife Protection Act for various offences across the 14 parishes at the parish court level.