One of the most colourful and exotic-looking birds in the skies, the rose-ringed parakeet is also one of the most destructive.
Commonly known as the ring-necked parakeet, Psittacula krameri wreaks havoc with crops, vegetation and infrastructure, and is described by Dr Reza Khan, the director of Dubai Zoo and a bird specialist, as “one of the worst birds in the country”.
“They are terrible for the farmers, gardeners, city park managers and even road departments,” he says.
Flocks of the birds descend on farms, consuming everything in their path: buds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries and seeds – including dates at every stage of their growth.
Highly adaptable, they usually nest in tree holes. But any available high cavity will do, including wall crevices, masonry holes and under roofs.
In doing so, they can create a headache for the authorities. At one point in the late 1990s the birds discovered that the type of lamp post in use in Dubai at the time made an excellent home.
Across the city, the birds began to crawl into the posts, tearing out the electrical wires to use for their nests.
“They had to change all the lamp posts in Dubai,” winces Dr Khan, although he cannot help but be impressed by the parakeets’ ingenuity.
Native to the Asian subcontinent and parts of Africa, the birds were introduced to the UAE in the 1970s and 1980s.
At that time, despite the passage in India in 1972 of the Wildlife Protection Act, visitors to the subcontinent often returned with rare and wild animals – including the rose-ringed parakeets, whose splendid looks and ability to mimic human speech made them popular pets.
“Pet owners who became fed up with their parakeets and pet shop owners who could not sell them released them into nature,” explains Dr Kahn. “They thought they were doing nature a favour.”
The newly wild parakeets have thrived. “They are not shy of people and are used to living in farmland and urban edges in India,” says Oscar Campbell, chairman of the Emirates Bird Records Committee. “There was an unoccupied niche for them here when city parks and farms were created.”
Dr Khan adds that neither adults nor chicks have any natural predators, nor are they prone to disease.
The result is that feral populations can now be found in cities, towns and parks throughout the country.
“In 1990-91 there were just a few pairs in Dubai and none beyond Jumeirah,” Dr Khan says. “Now it has not only crossed Abu Dhabi, but flocks have reached up to Jebel Dhana in the extreme north-west.”
The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi and the Dubai government have both tried to control them, trapping and killing thousands of birds, to little effect.
“I received three truckloads of trapped or hunted down birds,” says Dr Khan. “But I don’t see their numbers going down.”
What is needed, he says, is a joint effort by all emirates and their environmental and wildlife agencies to stamp them out altogether.
“They need to be eradicated from the whole country. A co-ordinated effort which includes the designs of buildings, street lamps, types of trees planted in gardens, and destroying nesting sites needs to be undertaken.”
Not everyone agrees. Abdullah TP, 43, a supervisor at the Creature Oasis pet shop in Dubai, believes the problem is overstated.
“In India they come in big groups and destroy farms,” he says. “But there are few of them here and they are not as much of a problem or disturbance.”
Having worked with the birds for more than 15 years, he says they are friendly animals that make popular pets. “They are funny birds who don’t make too much noise but can talk and sing. They are good pets.”
Florend Sayo, 35, who manages the Barsha branch of Pet Plus, agrees that the parakeet is a sociable bird.
“They don’t fight with each other as much as other parrots, [and they] can be trained and hand held.”
He, too, is opposed to eradication. “All animals have a right to live, they just need to be brought to their proper environment.”
But Dr Khan wants them dead, and the importing of them stopped.
“There must be a uniform system in the whole UAE so that all pet birds and animals are tagged or micro-chipped and entered into a local and national database,” he says. “That would allow those that escape to be traced and hunted down or returned to the legal owners.”
Dr Khan believes harsh penalties must be handed out to those found intentionally violating this system.
“People tend to love pet birds but they and their birds have to be controlled and regulated,” he says.