One of the most critical policies that separates a parrot sanctuary from other organizations that are centered around parrots comes down to a sanctuary’s commitment to non-exploitation. The most immediate indication of non-exploitative practices is straightforward: Does the organization harm any parrots, either intentionally or unintentionally?
When one considers harm committed against parrots, they may immediately think of practices that The Open Sanctuary Project refers to as “direct harm”. The other category of harm may be more complex to immediately bring to mind, but it is harm nonetheless; The Open Sanctuary Project refers to this category as “indirect harm”.
It is important for sanctuaries to be aware of both categories of harm to ensure that they do not promote or incidentally cause harm against parrot residents or other members of their species.
Direct harm is committed against individual animals. This includes intentional actions such as abusing, injuring, or even killing parrots, but also includes neglectful actions such as not providing safe food, water, or supplementation, not keeping parrot living spaces clean, allowing parrots to become injured or ill from preventable diseases, or not providing residents with adequate space sufficient to make flight not only possible, but appealing as flight is necessary for physical and psychological well-being.
Direct harm is typically easy to identify because the consequences can be seen firsthand in the individuals being harmed. However, with parrots, some direct harm, such premature heart failure due to lack of adequate exercise, may go unrecognized until necropsy. In the case of behaviors such as plucking, self- mutilation, steady screaming, and aggressive biting, all of which can have diverse physical origins, but direct harm may also be caused by inadequate meeting of the parrot’s needs.
Indirect harm adversely affects members of a resident’s species beyond the boundaries of a sanctuary. It is typically caused by advocating for harmful practices, or promoting the use of parrots or what comes from them. This often happens at well-meaning organizations in the form of suggesting that there are exceptions to exploitative practices, given the right circumstances or conditions. This could include actions or policies such as:
- Advocating for or suggesting that it is okay to purchase parrots from a “humane” breeder
- Advocating for the sale of feathers, selling feathers, or giving feathers away in instances where they might be used as commodity (for instance, someone takes them and turns them into earrings, unintentionally promoting parrot feathers as an acceptable form of fashion)
- Advocating for keeping parrots as “pets”, or suggesting that parrots make good “pets”
- Posting “cute” parrot videos out of context, of parrots singing, talking, swearing, playing peekaboo, dancing, or cuddling with humans. We all want to share the wondrous individuals in our care with others. If you do post videos of residents like this, consider adding a spoken and captioned message to the video that educates the audience, telling them parrots are wildlife and although there are many parrots in many homes, the ideal place for them would have been in the wild. You may want to add an “adopt don’t shop”
The Problem With Promoting Indirectly Harmful Practices
While these practices may sometimes seem innocuous, or like a “lesser” form of exploitation, they carry significant cost to parrots outside of the sanctuary. When a sanctuary promotes the use of parrots or their products for human benefit, it perpetuates the belief that a parrot’s value comes from what they can provide for humans. Additionally, these practices indirectly harm non-captive parrots in that they can unintentionally perpetuate wildlife trafficking. This trafficking can result in wild birds being caught and killed, or sold and held captive, with their children then sold as pets or their feathers sold.
Indirect harm can also perpetuate the belief that there is no cost to a parrot or species being exploited as long as they are treated kindly, which ignores the inherent harm that human-directed breeding has inflicted upon many species. It may, for instance, perpetuate the belief that it is okay to breed parrots as pets as long as the hatched children are allowed to be cared for by their parents for a certain length of time.
And while a parrot’s feathers may fall to the ground naturally, a sanctuary has the responsibility to not distribute what comes from animals to humans; doing so amplifies the message that there’s a reasonable justification for them to be caught or bred for their feathers.
We understand that it can be challenging to garner public support for a parrot sanctuary, and that some of these actions may seem like an innocuous enough trade-off in order to increase a sanctuary’s appeal to some visitors, but to view a resident’s inherent value in transactional terms, even indirectly, a parrot sanctuary risks becoming a zoo or wildlife exhibit and perpetuates harm to parrots.
For alternative, harm-free ways to fundraise for your animal sanctuary, check out our resource here!