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Jamaican Parrot Gets Listing Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the yellow-billed parrot, endemic to the island of Jamaica, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The small parrot sports a green body with white facial markings, a blue cap, bluish primary feathers, and a pink throat and upper breast in addition to its yellow bill. Its vivid coloration is believed to contribute to its high demand in the illegal pet trade. "On the international black market, the price for individual parrots range from $5,300 to $20,000 U.S. dollars," according to the listing.

The bird is also threatened by deforestation, mining, hurricanes and diseases and competition from non-native species. Jamaica's forested areas have shrunk from 97 percent to 31 percent. The yellow-billed parrot lives in mature broadleaf forests, and uses existing holes in old growth trees for nesting. Recent devastation from hurricanes has further fragmented habitat areas decimated by agriculture, logging and mining. "Today the yellow-billed parrot population is estimated to number 10,000 to 20,000 mature individuals, although the data quality is poor," the listing noted.

Because "Jamaica is now believed to be a trans-shipment point for illegal trade in animals from Central and South America...nonnative species not only introduce diseases to native wildlife..., but escaped individuals also pose a threat through hybridization and competition for food and nesting sources," the listing said. As an endemic species, the parrot is especially vulnerable to the effects of introduced diseases.

The listing comes as a result of a settlement with the Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians, which sued the agency in 2010 for failure to issue timely 12-month findings on a 2008 petition to list 14 parrot species.

"After their meals of nuts and berries, blossoms and figs, yellow-billed parrots disperse the seeds that generate Jamaica's woodlands," Lee Hall, Vice President for Legal Affairs with Friends of Animals was quoted as saying in the group's press release. "In contrast, human landowners remove these birds' woodland habitats to plant crops, such as Blue Mountain Coffee, and to graze cattle and goats. On top of that, parrots are snatched and shipped off to live as caged pets. We're optimistic that this milestone listing will promote genuine change."

The "addition of a foreign species to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife places restrictions on the importation of either the animal or its parts. Listing can also generate conservation benefits, such as increasing awareness of the species, prompting research efforts to address their conservation needs, or funding conservation in range countries," the USFWS noted in a statement.

"Endangered Species Act protection is key for foreign species taken from their homes for the pet trade," Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians, remarked in the group's prepared statement. "Demand for these attractive, intelligent, and vocal birds drives poaching in their home ranges."

The listing is effective April 11.

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