I have fond memories of The Senegal parrot because I helped save one from an almost certain life in captivity. It was back in October 2005. We were preparing to open the lodge and busy making preparations for a new season. This year we wanted to provide our team with pushbikes, all 20 of them. We were in the Serekunda market looking for bicycles because they have many shops selling bicycles. And I knew we had the best chance of finding what we wanted as well as getting the best price.
Shopping for bikes
We arrived at a shop called A-Z, so named I assume because it sold pretty much everything. Electronics, car batteries, tyres, cookers, solar panels, fridges and pushbikes. While chatting with the owner to establish a/ did he have 20 bikes and b/ can we have a bulk purchase discount, I heard an electronic sound coming from under the counter which just wouldn’t stop. It was kind of interfering with our discussion and I asked the man if he could turn it off.
It’s my parrot!
He said, “no this wasn’t electronic”, it was his Senegal parrot, whereupon he reached under the counter retrieving a small cage and placed it on the counter. Inside was a dishevelled looking parrot with what I can only describe as a wicked glint in his eye. I was quite surprised to find this bird in such a small cage and also knew that keeping a bird in a cage is actually illegal in The Gambia. I said to the man, “do you know you can be in a lot of trouble keeping a Senegal parrot caged in your shop?”
He said that he knew the law, but wanted to explain his reasoning for keeping this bird in a cage. He told me that a few weeks back, some local boys came into his shop with the parrot. They told him they found the bird and its wings had been cut so that it could not fly. Could he take the bird or it would die. They added that he should give them something for their trouble.
Non-locals tend to be easy prey
This is unfortunately something that happens in poor countries. Local boys know that non-locals tend to be easy prey when it comes to animals suffering. He paid the boys and took the bird to care for it. And here he is, in the shop each day. I can understand why he did it. But the worst part is that this simply wouldn’t happen if people didn’t pay. Yes, a bird or two would die. But before long the boys responsible for these acts would soon stop if there was no money to be found.
My friend Ron
I said to the man I would like to take the bird but worried about the consequences I knew what I had to do first. I drove to ask the advice of my friend Dr Camara at Abuko Nature Reserve. He said I could keep a Senegal parrot for the purpose of rehabilitation and that he would give me a license that said just that.
Armed with my newly provided license I went straight back to the shop to collect the parrot. We took him home to Footsteps and built him an outdoor aviary under the restaurant staircase. He was free all day but at night he needed protection so this was the best we could do.
I wish I could fly!
We called him Ron, don’t ask me why but it seemed to suit him. Because he couldn’t fly, he walked everywhere. Just like a puppy, he would follow me all day. Whenever I sat down the first thing I saw was Ron waddling toward me and when he reached where I was sitting he would climb to my shoulder using his claws and beak. The guests just adored him, and he adored them too. Mainly because they would feed him banana and nuts whenever he wanted.
I remember it was about a year later and his wings were looking much better. He would let me fan his wing so I could see the new growth. The day had come, it was time to teach Ron how to fly.
No time like the present
I walked with him to the centre of the lodge with him perched on my finger. Raising my hand I said ready in one, two, three and off he went. He was flying for the first time in at least a year. Flapping his wings for all he was worth, I felt so proud. Until, with an almighty thump, he flew straight into the Giraffe hut. Ouch!
Now Ron was a tough bird, I indeed thought he had done himself serious harm. But no, he dusted himself off and simply starting walking straight back to me. Climbing up my leg once more and onto my shoulder, I thought, enough for one day, we can try again tomorrow.
We tried every day and every day he got a little better. He got stuck in trees quite a bit and also took a while learning to land. Because he spent a fair amount of time on tables he thought they were a good place to land. But instead of landing, he would go skiing straight off again. It was hilarious once I knew he wasn’t hurting himself.
Approximately one year and eight months from the day I found Ron, he flew away. I don’t think Ive ever felt so happy and so completely sad all in the same moment. It was during one of his training sessions that he flew past the roundhouses. I ran watching him as far as I could but he wasn’t turning back. For days I looked for him, checking his home under the stairs to see if he had returned but he never did. I hope he is alright and maybe he has a little family of his own somewhere.
I had no idea when I first decided to help this little bird that he would play such an important part of my life. And whilst I miss him still. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to experience having a wild parrot as my friend.