A new report from World Animal Protection (WAP) details the destructive and cruel exotic pet trade, revealing that this multibillion-dollar industry continues to flourish. The suffering and transport of animals is enabled by irresponsible airlines like Turkish Airlines and Turkish Cargo, who are woefully failing to meet their stated commitments to fighting wildlife trafficking.

As part of their “Wildlife. Not Pets” campaign, WAP’s 12-month-long investigation focused on the illegal trade of African grey parrots, one of the most heavily trafficked bird species in the world in spite of its highly protected status.

They found that these birds are still highly sought after and that poachers have been using Turkish Airlines and Turkish Cargo to illegally transport wild-caught parrots out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria and Mali, destined for countries in the Middle East and Asia.

The airline has poor cargo checking procedures and fails to train staff adequately, making it easy for poachers to transport animals.

“Poaching animals for the exotic pet trade is happening on an industrial scale with devastating consequences,” says Ben Williamson from WAP US. “Worse still is that the illegal and illicit elements of the trade are often aided by government corruption and inadequate enforcement.”

In August 2018, a shipment of African greys was transported by the airline from Kinshasa to Kuwait; more than 60 of the birds were dead before they even arrived.

It is estimated that two to three million African grey parrots have been taken from the wild for the exotic pet trade in the last 40 years, resulting in a population decrease of almost 79 percent during that period.

To catch them, poachers lure the parrots with other birds used as bait. The wild birds land on a branch laden with sticky gum and are unable to fly away.

Very few birds survive capture and transport; WAP suggests that 30 to 60 percent  – possibly 70 to 90 in some situations – die before they are even exported. Even more perish during transportation, crammed into crates on long journeys.

Whether taken from the wild or bred in captivity, life as a pet is one full of suffering for an exotic animal. Deprived of their natural social groupings, and unable to grow, learn and fly, African greys develop severe mental and physical issues as a result of inadequate diets, boredom, and mental suffering.

“Animals suffer at every step of their journey to people’s homes: from capture to handling, transport, holding, breeding, sale and the lifetime of captivity in the home,” said Williamson.

WAP are urging Turkish Airlines and Cargo to stop flying all birds on their flights until they can be confident that African grey parrots and any other protected species aren’t being flown illegally.

“Most people buy exotic pets because they love animals – but any wild animal in the exotic pet trade experiences extreme suffering,” said Alesia Soltanpanah, executive director at WAP US. “We are urging people to not buy, own or breed a wild animal as a pet. A life in captivity is a world away from a life in the wild. Wild animals are not pets, they belong in the wild.”