Protecting the forest home of one of the smartest birds in the world!

The wild population of African grey parrots has greatly reduced due to the pet trade, hunting and habitat loss.

And in some parts of Nigeria, there is a growing substantial risk of even more habitat loss, due to Government plans to expand palm oil plantations. Because the expansion plans include habitats of these amazing parrots and other wildlife.

However, there is a project underway to help decision makers better understand the impacts of this proposed expansion on biodiversity.

And while guiding a government may seem like a daunting task, for Ifeanyi Ezenwa, it’s a dream come true.

Ifeanyi Ezenwa, a Nigerian conservationist. Credit: Ifeanyi Ezenwa.

Introducing Ifeanyi Ezenwa

Ifeanyi Ezenwa is a Nigerian conservationist. From his early years he had a keen interest in wildlife. As he recounts, “During my childhood, one of the television channels that most thrilled me was the wildlife expository. And ever since then, I longed to contribute to wildlife knowledge.”

His early passion for wildlife influenced his academic choices. He completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Zoology at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and is enrolled for a Master of Science in Environmental Quality and Management at University of Benin, Nigeria. As he explains, “these programmes exposed me to the fundamentals of ecological studies in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.”

African grey parrots in Abigborodo. Credit: Ifeanyi Ezenwa.

Lighting the spark of conservation

Despite Ifeanyi’s early passion for conservation, it was a few years before he really got involved in the sector. When he did, it was by volunteering as a field assistant to Dr Iroro Tanshi – an award-winning Nigerian biologist and bat conservationist. This had a significant impact on him, as he describes, “this opportunity is what spun me into action and gave a boost to my conservation activities.”

In fact, the volunteering gave Ifeanyi his first opportunity to lead a conservation project in Nigeria. A project that explored the population status, threats, and trafficking of African grey parrots in Nigeria, which formed “the bedrock” of his successful application to the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Team Awards. His CLP award landed him $15,000 in project funding as well as training, mentoring and networking opportunities in support of his work to safeguard the future of these amazing birds.

Palm oil cultivation

The threat the project wants to help mitigate is from the Nigerian government’s interest in investing in oil palm cultivation, to further enhance revenue generation and diversification of the economy.

While this makes sense economically for the country, there are downsides when it comes to nature. There is a high overlap between the areas suitable for oil palm cultivation and the habitats of the African grey parrots. As Ifeanyi confirms, “the expansion without due consideration of the welfare of biodiversity will lead to destruction of remaining ecosystems that support wildlife.”

And while this is a significant challenge, Ifeanyi hopes his project can help to mitigate the negative impacts of oil palm expansion on African grey parrots. His project looks to adopt two approaches including land sparing and land sharing, to inform the government on sustainable steps needed to reduce the impact on biodiversity.

Not only does he hope the project will help the parrots, but it should help other impacted species, as he adds. “I want to use African grey parrots as the flagship species to protect the habitats of wildlife in the southern part of Nigeria. And to explore more means to integrate parrot-friendly management into sustainable palm oil certification systems in Nigeria.”

African grey parrots feeding on oil palm fruits. Credit: Dr Rowan Martin.

Giving a voice to parrots

So why African grey parrots? What makes their conservation so special? Ifeanyi’s interest in parrot conservation comes from his passion to contribute to knowledge and science. As he says, “ever since I got myself involved in parrot conservation activities, I have come to envisage that parrots need a voice to stand up for them and protect them from the threats caused by changes in the environment created by people. 

“I have volunteered to be their voice and to invest my time (one of my most precious resources) to attend to this critical need of Afrotropic parrot species,” he adds.

Typical day

Ifeanyi has been involved in the project from the start. And he describes a typical day as having two peak time activities. “First is in the morning between 6.30am – 11.00am when we conduct line transect surveys (a common sampling approach) for observation to record the activities of parrots at the oil palm plantations and the adjoining forest.  

The second activity is between 5.00pm – 7.00pm where we interview the plantation workers using a semi open-ended questionnaire.”     

African grey parrots in flight in Okomu National Park. Credit: Ifeanyi Ezenwa.

Every challenge is an opportunity to learn

Despite the fact that the conservation activities expose people to harsh conditions, Ifeanyi has never regretted any action he has taken because of his passion for the job. In fact, he “sees every challenge as an opportunity to learn.” And feels “super-excited whenever being consulted in respect to parrot conservation.”

And as he shares, “working in conservation is a privilege because not everyone can leave their comfort zone to embark on such exercise. It pays thus to do it with sincerity and try as much as you can to avoid side distraction.”

And his advice to other conservationists? “Don’t be afraid because there is hardly a place you will visit that humans have not visited before. Just apply caution and learn of the various safety tactics required to accomplish any given task. Be courageous to take uncommon tasks to join the Heroes of this world.”  

To learn more about Ifeanyi and his amazing work click here.


Author Profile | Marie Conroy

Marie is a communications professional from Ireland. She is a keen traveller, loves sailing and exploring the natural world, taking lots of wildlife photos along the way. Her dream is to enable conservation projects by combining her skills in communications and passion for writing, with her lifelong love for nature.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation