...we could say it's the economic system under which we all live that allows us to cause harm to other habitats, other peoples and other parrots. It allows us to do this to the parrots. And then we might even say deeper that it's our disconnection and sense of separation of humans from all of life that allows us to be victims, co-victims, in a market economy that extracts and harms... - Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner

Dr LoraKim Joyner in GuyanaDr LoraKim Joyner in Guyana

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner has worked in avian conservation in Latin America for over 35 years as a wildlife veterinarian. The beauty of the power of the people and parrots there drew her to be in solidarity with them and to witness and share their struggle to be a better partner in promoting the health of individual beings and biotic communities, LoraKim became an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister, a certified trainer in nonviolent communication, and a member of the two year Unitarian Universalist Entrepreneurial program. These skills and experiences aid her in promoting the health of humans, for, as she says: “without the flourishing of people, the parrots do not stand a chance, without the flourishing of life on Earth, humans will live narrower, less vibrant lives”. Dr Joyner is also the co-founder of the conservation organisation One Earth Conservation.

Parrots are exotic, charismatic, intelligent animals. It's no wonder that people love them, but they actually love them to death. A third of parrot species are threatened with extinction while around half of parrots currently live in cages. Some do not even make it to a cage as they die while being trapped in the tropics in South America and Africa to be sold to North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia. The "lucky" ones that make it to a cage frequently outlive their owners: the larger sized parrots can live up to 100 years only to starve or be euthanized when the owner dies. Others are euthanized a lot earlier, as owners find them too difficult to handle or even violent. Laws are in place in some countries, including EU countries, that ban imports but apparently these laws are not very effective. As long as possessing captive parrots is not illegal, as long as there is demand, this will continue. The Internet, unfortunately, helps illegal traders find consumers and importers at the other corner of the Earth, while most parrot species can still be legally traded under the CITES convention, so it only takes a falsification of documents to trade parrot species. Yet there are brave visionaries like Dr Joyner who help bring about change a parrot at a time. Can poachers become eco-guides? Can zoos become sanctuaries? Should parrots be recognised as persons? Who and how should fund parrot conservation? Is there enough funding and can tourism help? Let’s find out!

Antonis Petropoulos (Ecoclub.com): It's an honour to interview someone like you who is from the front lines of conservation. Let’s start from the very beginning. What first attracted you to parrot conservation, and when did you decide that this was going to become a full time job or a vocation for you?

LoraKim Joyner: Thank you for having me here and for that lovely introduction, I often get that question, “why parrots”. It started off with just birds as a whole. When I was a really young child, I dreamt in birds. I just wanted to be with birds. I wanted to be around birds. I don't know where that came from. And then, when I was in elementary school, I don't know, seven or eight, I had already been collecting books on how to care for birds in captivity, even by that age. And I saw a show about the Eskimo Curlew going extinct - it was a cartoon show years ago back in the sixties - I said that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to help birds not go extinct. And the reason why I drifted towards parrots was because they're the most endangered group of birds on the planet. And so that's where a lot of the work is. Of course, they're really fun birds too, so that's part of it. So I just followed the need of what group of birds needed the most work. I would say, as you said, it's more of an avocation, it's more of a calling. I don't even get paid all that well, so it's not really a full time job as much as it is more than full time calling to work with parrots and conservation.

Antonis Petropoulos: So over these years, have you seen the global status of parrots somewhat improve, or rather worsen, and in what ways?

LoraKim Joyner: Throughout this interview, I'll always be saying it depends on the species, it depends on the region, depends on the culture, depends on many, many things. There's like 400 species of parrots, so you can't really say specifically, but I would say in the 35 years it has worsened greatly, it's just a disaster. We're losing our parrots. I tell the story of Guatemala. When I first worked there, maybe there were 50 to 100,000 yellow naped Amazons in the countryside, but with 100% poaching over decades, we're down to 400 birds, maybe in the whole countryside. And this is a country that still has that species. Others do not have it or have lost other species, such as the scarlet macaw. So it's greatly worsened, and it seems to be getting more and more desperate as the years go by. Having said that, there are some success stories in areas where there are resources and really targeted specific conservation. They've been able to bring the bird back, even reduce the poaching in some areas. And what has improved in parrot conservation? We were one of the first parrot conservation organisations working 35 years ago, and we were all by ourselves and people said, “What, protect parrots?” And now it's like it's in the culture. There are many people working with parrots that have awareness about this or working in research and conservation, maybe because it's gotten so desperate and the people who live with the parrots are going, “Oh, my gosh, we're about ready to lose our parrots”. So there's a real huge resource right there because we have so many people involved and greater awareness in the scientific community. So in that way, conservation has gotten easier. And again, we've been able to protect certain parrots  in Australia, New Zealand, the Spix's macaw which they're able to release in Brazil. Of course, it's endangered because of the collectors, but now the collectors and the scientific community are helping to bring that back. It's a mixed bag, but generally it's really scary for most of our birds. Over 50% of the parrot populations are in decline and over a third of them are endangered.

Antonis Petropoulos: So in the places where the situation has worsened, how do you explain it? What is the underlying reason? Is it for social reasons? Is it the effect on the environment, industries encroaching the environment, poverty, war, civil strife? What are the main threats?

Teaching villagersTeaching villagersLoraKim Joyner: And again, you have to kind of go parrot by parrot and area by area and there have been some papers on that. And the two biggest reasons are the wildlife trade. And where I work in the Americas, that's usually the number one cause. The parrots would be doing sort of okay if we didn't trade them. We also have habitat destruction. And then when you put the two together, between habit destruction and the wildlife trade, in many places there is nowhere left to release them to bring them back. But that's sort of the symptom. What's fueling that trade? Well, it would be the demand for parrots as pets. That's the cause. And then we could even say it's colonialism and extraction economies that say we have the right to pull resources out of one country and bring them into another because of our desire and our demand and not having a local economy to say we don't want to lose our parrots because of the economic market. So then we could say it's the economic system under which we all live that allows us to cause harm to other habitats, other peoples and other parrots. It allows us to do this to the parrots. And then we might even say deeper that it's our disconnection and sense of separation of humans from all of life that allows us to be victims, co-victims, in a market economy that extracts and harms.

Antonis Petropoulos: So I understand that demand is a major problem that supports the wildlife trade. So education is probably needed in terms of lowering this demand as far as the citizens are concerned, not the even, for example, the fashion industry that may use exotic birds. Maybe they need to be educated as well, like the fur trade that has moved to fake fur. In terms of limiting the supply, would an absolute ban work better or does Mexico's solution of a licensing system make sense? I believe they have a wildlife trade licensing system where they are allowed to catch a quota of wildlife, including parrots, and trade them with legal means. Is this a solution or does it help facilitate the illegal trade?

LoraKim Joyner: Again, it depends on the country, the culture. About Mexico, I have to admit I was a little confused with that question because the way I understood it, Mexico has a total ban on any trade of parrot, capture, breeding and captivity, selling them, of their native 22 species, not of like, lovebirds and cockatiels. And I double checked that with some colleagues of mine in Mexico the last couple of days, and that's true. So Mexico does not have a partial ban. It's 100%. And that's a real interesting country because there's been a lot of data done on when they closed that down completely, 100%, and they've been able to document that that the 100% ban has decreased the illegal trade in parrots - a paper just came out this year - so they were able to say the ban didn't just make it all go underground and increase the demand and have more birds poached. That's just Mexico. So we do need to look at every country and look at the human dimensions and what's causing the extraction, what's causing the problems, and go, will a ban work or won't it work? Will it backfire in our faces? And one thing that I know in the various countries I work, I even work in some countries where it's legal to trap parrots: in Guyana and Suriname. It's very unusual that that's allowed in some countries. The illegal traffic mixes up in the whole general trade and it's hard to distinguish the legal from the illegal trade. And so some people feel that a ban might diminish the legal trade and it might make it harder for birds to sneak through the legality. That's the general sense of it, because many of these countries don't have the capacity to support their laws. And so there's some argument to say that a complete ban would be helpful. But if you have a government that can't follow through, what are you going to do? And then if you continue to have the demand - I work in countries where it's been illegal to trap parrots for decades - and the international demand on the prices for Macaws continues to go up, it just makes the extraction pressure greater and greater to overcome any country's ability to stop the trade. So it's really hard to say if we should have a ban or not, but let's take it from the parrots perspective! What does the parrot say? What does the parrot want? And the parrot would say, don't trap me, don't trade me. I have families, I'm smart, I suffer. We just did a huge paper on trapping guidelines for the country of Suriname. And we went through all the literature to identify how all along the chain from poaching or trapping to ending up purchased by a consumer, where parrots have a chance to suffer and where their welfare is low and it's consistent all the way through, we can't do it in a way that is good for them. From an animal welfare standpoint, it's not in the bird's interest to not have a 100% ban. 

Antonis Petropoulos: Since you brought up the viewpoint of the parrot, which is a highly intelligent animal, there is the argument that, like higher primates, parrots should have some sort of legal personhood. Some countries have recognised special rights for higher primates, "great ape personhood". Do you believe parrots should also be afforded special protection, “parrot rights”?

LoraKim Joyner: Yeah. So there's a lot of strategies to improve the welfare of wild animals, and some people take that strategy, a legal strategy of legal personhood. I'm going to answer this in a couple of different ways. One thing, we've gotten really much more knowledgeable about parrots behaviour, their physiology, as you say, the actual intelligence. We know in some tests, they outsmart college students and they equivalate some of them to a four or five year-old human child. And the way the studies on their brain and their brain structure and how they use coevolution to become a lot like primates, and the way they have neurally dense brains, that depending on the great ape you're talking about humans or chimps or gorillas, the parrots can often out-test them, out-socialise them, they can out-communicate in many ways. So we know they're very intelligent and very complex. And so if we don't want chimps or gorillas or whales in captivity because of their ability to suffer. Studies show us that the greater the cognitive ability of a wild animal, the greater they're suffering in captivity - there have been studies on that - so we would say if we're going to ban the trade of whales and chimps and we don't want to put human children in cages at the age of four and five, it would make sense that it's not in the best interest of the birds to do the same thing to them. And then, of course, do we want to make it legal? Let's say they have personhood? It depends on the country, whether that kind of argument is going to work, probably what would work best. And we're about ready to kick off an international campaign on this. No matter the strategy, people need to be aware at an emotional level about the lives of parrots and then to have the cultural expectations change that it's not okay to have birds in cages. Just as we did the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign and we were trying to get cetaceans out of aquariums and zoos. That's probably more effective than actually doing the legal battle. Oh, I don't know if it's more effective, but it's another approach. No matter the strategy people need to know what parrots are saying and what they want and let's change the cultural expectations, so we reduce the demand. That's a 50-100 year project. So we have to do band-aid conservation in the meantime, so we have some remnant population still there for when the demand lessens. 

Antonis Petropoulos: Perhaps the personhood argument may reduce demand by current or prospective owners of captive parrots, if they start to feel bad about having imprisoned, such a clever being, and if the requirements for keeping a parrot in a cage become more stringent, perhaps this could make an incentive for people to hand in those parrots. And this brings me to my next question. What should be done with this half of the global parrot population which is imprisoned, captive? Can they be released in sanctuaries? Can they be truly rehabilitated? Relearn the instincts, the ones that have been born in captivity? Can they learn to fly, to find food? What is your knowledge and experience on this?

On boat in GuatemalaOn boat in GuatemalaLoraKim Joyner: It is certainly a mess. What do we do with the birds that are already in captivity? And every parrot is an individual. Some birds might do better in some situations than others. Some parrots are in love with humans and will never mix with another bird. Others just get no benefit from a human relationship and they need to be with other birds. So we take it on a bird by bird basis. Now, if you have a parrot that's not in a country where they naturally free fly, you can't let them go. They don't belong in Greece, they don't belong in Europe. Now they are there because people have let them go and the birds have escaped. But you do not release birds into an area where they're not native. Also because it's not good for the bird, because it takes training and learning. There's a whole science behind training parrots so that they have the best chance to survive. So you don't want to just open up the door and let your bird out, especially if your bird loves you and is attached to you and has a sense of family. So whenever we work with people that feel bad about their birds in captivity, we just ask them about their bird and their family life and help them make the best decision. But you can't just let them go. And the regulations say you can't just ship them back to the country where they're from. It's rare that that is allowed and it's very expensive. And we also don't want to move parrots around the world because they bring diseases for each other and for other wildlife. So it's really hard to get the permits to move birds around. Now, in countries of origin, that's where I usually work all the time getting confiscated birds or pet birds that have been relinquished. And it's amazing how some birds really can be released. It takes time with some birds, and there's an art to it. And you want to release them in groups, and you want to release them into safe areas where they're not going to get trapped or hunted. And you want to release them in areas where there's education and awareness. But people do it. People do release confiscated parrots back into the wild, and we do everything we can to release every single bird that we find that can be released to get them back in the wild. 

Antonis Petropoulos: So are there any large sanctuaries? And in that respect, what is the role of zoos also in terms of assisting this, but also in terms of funding conservation? Do you consider them allies in terms of funding or foes in terms of creating demand and presenting the wrong example to young visitors who see parrots in cages and may then say, "Mommy, please buy me a parrot!"

LoraKim Joyner: Who doesn't want a parrot in their home? I totally get that. One thing is your first question was about sanctuaries. At least in the United States, I'm going to imagine. Well, certainly in the countries where I work, it takes so much money to take care of birds in captivity at a higher welfare level that our sanctuaries are just overfull in the United States. You can find places to turn the birds in, but usually what each sanctuary is trying to do is rehome. When the owner dies and you don't know what to do with the parrot, so you can call a sanctuary and they will try to find someone who will adopt your parrot because we're just over-full of people who don't want parrots. And so that's the problem with the sanctuary, but you can find them. And if you really, really want a parrot and you want to help the parrot, adopt one that has been given up, I mean, that's a way to do that. Now, zoos are complicated. They're complicated, and there have been studies done on "do zoos really help with conservation?". So one thing is zoos decide where their money goes. Some are public zoos, but they're generally driven by funders or by a board of directors or something. It's not the countries of origin that decide how they want the money and how much they need to protect their parrots. It's people collecting birds from outside of the country. So we're a little suspicious of funders, any funders, not just zoos that are dictating where money goes because it's not their country. They're sort of making decisions without including often the people there. Zoos, of course, have been part of the system of collecting and harming wildlife. We know that that's just sort of the history of zoos. There have been studies to say, do zoos do more education and awareness or are they really there for entertainment? And many people go for entertainment to do something with their children and then does it do more harm to show the birds in captivity versus free flying? So there's a mixed message with Zoos. There's definitely a mixed message. Having said that, some zoos, they've really changed. They're really trying, they're trying to do more conservation, they're trying to be more ethical about it. But they have a 200, 300 year history of not being there for the wildlife, but being there to produce money for the zoos and have an entertainment. I've worked in several zoos, trying to help them with their conservation and consulting. So I know that there's good people there trying really good things and they've had some success. At the same time, I personally will not go visit a zoo. I do not believe we should be showing animals in captivity unless we absolutely have to put them in captivity for their own welfare. And it's not clear that zoos ethically can consistently do that across all their many species, although they certainly are trying these days. 

Antonis Petropoulos: So is there a chance for zoos to be transformed into rehabilitation, into animal hospitals, parrot hospitals, sanctuaries? Could they do this or do they not have the space? 

LoraKim Joyner: They don't have the resources, say in Europe, for instance, or North America. They can't take in relinquished pets. It's just like the sanctuaries are full and it costs money and it's expensive and they can't do that, they just don't have the finances for the hundreds and thousands of parrots that would come in if they did that.

Antonis Petropoulos: So if zoos do not have the funds, who should fund, ethically also, because Zoos have a question mark over them, who should fund parrot conservation, ideally? Ecotourists or big companies? What needs to be improved in terms of funding for parrot conservation and is there enough funding available? Does it matter who the direct or indirect funders are? Would you mind being funded, for example, by a fossil fuel company or a defence company?

LoraKim Joyner: Let's see, the funding is a mess in conservation. We work for a nonprofit. So when people have disposable income like individual donors, where does it come from? It comes often from extraction economies, from their stocks and bonds, from companies that are hurting the world. So we know we are accepting money that's been tainted. I mean, we know that, right? So whether it's got the oil Exxon name on it or not, we know we've got money that's been part of the harm. There's no way around that system. Also, many of our funders in Europe and many other places, such as Arabian countries, the money is being dictated how it will be spent by rather wealthy or privileged people outside of the countries of origin. And in my case, I can say white, because I come out of Europe, these white people are deciding how brown people spend their money on their parrots. And they get to choose because they're the ones that have got all the money. And people like us and our nonprofits, we have to change all these objectives. So they'll just give us a little bit of money and it's nowhere close enough. There's not enough money out there in conservation to even begin to save our species. It doesn't exist. We're all fighting for just a little pot of money from founders, funders and grants. There's not enough. There's not enough money because what conservation has to do is we have to change the economic system, we have to change the culture expectations not only in the local community, but in the demand market. So there's not enough money anywhere to do all that work. Now, if the governments decided to cut their military budget, if they could, I know it's hard, but as an example 5%, there would be enough to do this work. If people in the United States had one tenth the number of dogs and cats and birds, if all that money got diverted to conservation, we would have enough. There are enough resources in the world to bring our birds back and do the education and awareness, but we aren't diverting the funds in an ample enough way and there's very little money in conservation. So we are really hurting. Having said that, the sum of money we get from grants and zoos, and from many other places, we can actually save a bird’s life today. We can help pay for education and medicine for the children that are taking care of the parrots. It is saving lives. What we need is enough money to completely restructure our society in relation to nature. It's something that's called transformative conservation and that takes the participation of many people and a very long term, integrated, intense program to do that, not just some little organisation like ours working with parrots in the Americas.

Antonis Petropoulos: How would Ecotourism, Voluntourism and Volunteerism even fit into this regenerative conservation model? Because there are also ethical doubts about, for example, voluntourism and volunteering stealing local jobs if volunteers are not given complex tasks or they do not bring value added knowledge, et cetera, et cetera. But as you explained, you don't have the funds, so what's the problem with tourists coming and assisting with their small grants and donations in kind sometimes. But is Ecotourism an effective way to support parrot conservation?

Teaching vet studentsTeaching vet studentsLoraKim Joyner: What do we think about Ecotourism? In parrots there hasn't been a comprehensive study on what works in parrot conservation or why we think it works. One is there hasn't been the money to test it proactively or even retroactively to say does the parrot population go up? Are the people doing better? How did their lives improve? How did their jobs go up? We don't have studies on that. We're just now putting out a survey this year to try to see what works and what doesn't work. So we don't know the answer on ecotourism across the line and all these different projects. What's working? I believe it can be really helpful in some areas. In other areas it will not work. I work in parts of La Moskitia Honduras. Where you don't want to go. I have to go in with the military. So that's not conducive to ecotourism, right? It's not stable enough of an area or there aren't the resources to keep even the backpacker tours healthy and well. It's not going to work everywhere. And then can we get enough income that will actually offset the traffic and the international demand that keeps rising the prices? How can ecotourism contribute with income enough across, enough families in enough areas to actually do all the work that needs to be done? It doesn't mean you shouldn't try, it doesn't mean it can't work in some areas, but it's not the magic solution. Nothing in parrot conservation is the magic solution. We just have to try everything and see what works in one area. 

Now for instance in Nicaragua where we're leading a pilgrimage in December that seemed to be the best opportunity to have Ecotourism offset the problem to the parrot and the wildlife. One, it's already a huge tourist destination. Two, it's like the safest place, one of the safest places in Nicaragua. Three, it's got a whole system of guides that have been set up to deal with this international tourists that come there, lots of hotels, lots of infrastructure, safety, and beauty. It's an incredibly beautiful island. And the eco guides are our main conservationists that work with the parrots. So it's got everything, everything that could develop Ecotourism to really help protect this island's parrots. But then between Covid and the civil unrest we haven't been able to get that going. So would Ecotourism really work there? We haven't been able to play it out. One area where we could say that tourism helps: Costa Rica has been fairly successful. They still have a lot of poaching, the birds are still in trouble, they need to be really careful. But that's helped. And the presence of internationals doing conservation there and of tourists, it has helped. People have really helped. Yes, they use earth's resources. Yes, they're killing the planet with jet fuel. Maybe they're taking jobs away from others, but they're also contributing to jobs. A group that I work in Guatemala has tons of interns come in for their veterinary program and their wildlife rehabilitation programs. That money supports the wildlife rehabilitation of those people coming in and wanting to put their hands on monkeys and on parrots. So again, every area is different and we have to try and we try Ecotourism in all our projects just to see if there's any way that this could happen. Now I just said Honduras was really very kind of dangerous and complicated to go to in La Mosquitia. Yet one of our partners is developing, we built an ecotourist centre years ago in this place and they're trying to develop scientific tourism where universities and students come in and they learn all about wildlife and their income of paying people and guide actually provides an income to the local villages. So we're doing that, we're pursuing that and I bet it is going to be successful as long as the civil unrest can stabilise there. 

Antonis Petropoulos: Yes, safety is a major issue, but safety again, is a result of political tensions, that are a result of poverty and so on. If I understood well, your ecotour in December in Nicaragua,  is being organised by the community, you're not organising it by yourselves, you're not a tour operator obviously. Based on your efforts and the conversations and communications with the community, what are the key challenges they, and you together with them, are facing in terms of setting up and promoting this startup, this new ecotour service? 

LoraKim Joyner: I think our biggest challenges have been the civil unrest in Nicaragua and Covid. If I can get beyond that, this group is just amazingly gifted and they know what they're doing. And I guess the other big challenge would be getting the word out that it is a great thing to come here and do parrot tours. I mean, it's a great place to do monkey and bird tours. There's a lot going on there, but it's just going to take time to get that word out and it's going to take partners and it's going to take people like yourself helping to get the word out. And so word grows and people go, this is a great place to go. They have several packages for parrots. You get to climb a nest tree, you get to see wild parrots, you get to count parrots, you get to see a volcanic island, you get to go snorkelling, you get to go birding, you get to do all this great stuff. And so I would say time and partners, international partners that can help get the word out.

Antonis Petropoulos: I see. And in terms of training, self training of the guides who will do the actual, are they ornithologists because it's a community, do they have the knowledge? How does it work out? 

LoraKim Joyner: In particular in Nicaragua, the people who are leading the conservation, they are trained ecoguides, so they're kind of, I don't know what, say a level up. But they're the trained people that are leading the conservation and eco guides. They also hire the local community members to help do all that. So we sort of have the college-trained, experienced bird people running it, but then they definitely involve everyone, cause they live within the same community where they're guiding and so they involve all the people in being part of the program. And when we talk about jobs, I think one of our most successful pieces that we've done in the short term for our conservation project is to hire people. It changes people. They need money, they need respect, they love teamwork. They go, "Oh, I can get paid to love parrots and work outdoors. I don't have to trap them, I don't really like trapping them anyway." And the infusion of money changes people and it changes their children and it changes their family members. But how can one conservation group hire 20 villages worth of people to stop the poaching? How do we have the ability to change an economic system that's based on extraction and colonialism? Well, we can't. The world needs to change. We need the government to be less corrupt, we need the drug traffickers to not be there, paying people more money than we can for doing the parrots, but in the short term, paying people to work. So if eco guides don't work, what we say is for what amount of money would it take to hire one ranger in the United States? We can hire rangers in eleven communities to protect the parrots on the same salary. It makes economic sense! Maybe we can't bring eco guides there, but we can hire them to protect our world's parrots. 

Antonis Petropoulos: And as you said, is it realistic to retrain or to hire ex-poachers to become ecotour guides? Has it happened, have you seen it happening?

LoraKim Joyner: Of course, all over. And not just eco guides. We also mean conservationists. They're some of the best parrot people out there. They love parrots in their own way. Not all of them. Some are purely mercenary and business people. But generally they love the hunt, they love being outdoors, they want to be on a team and they go, "Oh, I can make even more money being a conservationist, or maybe similar than trapping the bird, so I'm going to go join the conservationist". And I would say most of our projects have people that are ex-poachers. Most of them have, or their family members have gotten some income from poaching and they convert easily to becoming a conservationist, because they come from that outdoors orientation towards birds.

Antonis Petropoulos: I just want to ask something about the point you raised earlier about Scientific Tourism. This is also very interesting. Perhaps you could get some tours to be accredited for university students who study ornithology and they could get credit by participating as volunteers, even on this tour?

LoraKim Joyner: I don't really know much about how it works. My partners in Honduras are working with only one or two universities and there's money involved. People can pay, the students can pay and it helps the local communities quite a bit and it probably helps raise money for the universities as well. And there's so much scientific work that needs to be done so that could well be a helpful way to go. 

"Prion" by LoraKim Joyner"Prion" by LoraKim JoynerAntonis Petropoulos: You have talked about regenerative conservation, changing the system, the economic system, changing the way we treat nature and animals because it also affects us. In your latest book, "Prion, a futuristic fable of parks, pandemics and promise makers” seems, what is the key message you are trying to deliver? Do you mean that if we don't change our ways we'll get more pandemics? Are all these zoonotic diseases directly related to some sort of nature's revenge or defence against what we're doing to her?

LoraKim Joyner: It's a medical thriller, right? The parrots carry a contagion that could wipe out humanity. And so yes, it's about that. That's truly the case. But what I think it's mostly about is raising the awareness of how much trouble our parrots are in, and, you know, Antonis, it's hopeless. Basically. How can we change the economic system in time? We're losing our parrots, we're losing our planet Earth. We're down to remnants and catastrophe. So what can we do? Why would we do it? I wrote this book to talk about the incredible possibility that's in people who make a commitment and fall in love with life around them and with each other. And it's solidarity at all costs. We have what we call unconditional solidarity. It's sort of the theme of the book and they see parrots as having inherent worth and dignity and they commit their lives to helping those people and those parrots where they live. And you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know. You don't know. And I'm not going to tell you either. You have to go get the book! But it's about I'm both optimistic and fatalistic, and, Antonis, there's no way we're going to turn this around and yet the seeds are there that we could. And that book is about that possibility and hopefully it's a little bit of fun too, 

Antonis Petropoulos: I'm sure and I plan to read it. Sorry, I didn't have time to read it yet. I wanted to ask two last questions: for young people that will be watching or that will read the interview. They will become inspired but may have two practical questions. First, what can they do? What individual and collective action can they take to assist parrots? If they are really interested in improving parrot conservation, what course of study should they choose, or should they go and volunteer first? And the other one is do they need to be heroes? Because hands-on conservationists like you have to brave war zones, civil strife, criminal gangs, poachers and more, as you explain in your fascinating book "Conservation in a Time of War". What skills should they have? Will they become heroes along the way out of necessity? I mean, are you afraid, were you ever afraid over these 35 years?

Surveying parrot nestsSurveying parrot nestsLoraKim Joyner: Yes. When I first started, I was just sort of a suburban middle class person from North America and I went to Guatemala and lived there during the civil War. And I was scared all the time. I was not used to that. I was scared of everything. I came back with post traumatic stress syndrome. I think we understand that now. I was just terrified and I didn't have the tools to deal with it. And so what gave me the tools for that? Not everybody moves to war zones, so not everybody does that. But we all take risks, right? It's all pretty scary out there. Are we going to have enough money, is somebody going to like us? Am I going to stay healthy if I go somewhere? We all have risk and what helps develop the hero in all of us is to be open to the beauty and tragedy of the world around you. I mean, that's actually a practice we can all do, to be so swept away by the beauty, so in love with the animals and the people that you're working with, that it grows your commitment and it changes your neural wiring a little bit over the years. So you go, oh, that's not so scary, I can risk that. And it gives you tools to have the resilience to do that kind of work, to offer the commitment. And so I would say it was just over time that I was able to become a little less anxious in travelling and being present and just being so in love with the people and the birds. That's what sort of helped me do those areas. But you don't have to go to risky areas. There's so much you can do just where you are. And of course, one of the easiest things to do is: don't buy a parrot! Just don't have a parrot at home. And if you do have one, take really good care of it. They live to be 100 years, like you said, let's take care of them. You can spread the message. There's a lot of education and awareness. We're going to be doing an international campaign like ‘save the whales’ and there's all kinds of ways to get involved with that. Social media, putting on presentations, there's all things you can do, you can generally - this is very diffuse and it may not be very rewarding - reduce your consumerism overall. Because even if you're not buying a parrot, the more we consume is taken out of the parrot's habitat. And so just, you know, we want to live low on the scale as much as we can to help our Earth stay alive and say, well, if you have disposable income, invest wisely. Don't invest in companies that are taking out the forest where the parrots live and where the people live. Just do socially wise investing. And that's a thing now, you can certainly do that. I also know that no matter what you do, even a little change of behaviour, or even if you're helping children instead of parrot children, it's all connected. Health is all connected. So no matter who you're helping, you're helping all of us. And maybe parrots aren't your thing. So go help children or go help butterflies. And be aware that the domination, power- over societies are at the root cause of all these beings suffering. And so be aware of that and share the story. And let's try to change our societies in the way we live in time so we don't lose everything or so we don't lose any more than we have to. Contact us, get on Facebook, email us. We're pretty good at trying to connect people to what it is they can do. 

Antonis Petropoulos: How did your experiences interact with, and have been supported by, your spiritual beliefs (Unitarian Universalist). And how has your training in Nonviolent Communication helped you in your work? 

LoraKim Joyner: It has helped a lot. You know, the number one cause of conservation failure is conflict and lack of interpersonal relationships more than lack of funding or climate change. It's how we get along with each other. So any ways that we can develop organizational intelligence helps our conservation. And so being able to work with people in a non-judgemental way, holding them responsible, but in a non-judging way helps people work together better. And it also helps you maybe not be as hard on yourself, and on others, because working in conservation, you're dealing with people that you're angry with all the time and they're irritated and they're not doing their job and they're killing people and shooting at people you love. There's no getting around that. And so anger can help motivate us. But there's also a resource of accepting that this is the way humans are. And in a Zen paradox, it allows us to have even greater energy to stay engaged. So I think for me, nonviolent communication helps with an acceptance of why people do things and why you do things has helped a lot. It helps me be present with poachers, it helps me be present with consumers, be present with myself, and to not just give up and run away and say, it's too hard going. I can find some energy by connecting to the beauty and the tragedy of the human and the parrot experience. And so that has helped a lot. And Unitarian Universalism is all about accepting people where they are and having resilience and being able to connect to what is common in our lives with other people and with other parrots and also both of those groups provide community and I can't do this alone. That's one thing I learned coming back from the civil war in Guatemala is I needed a community that could help me hold the beauty and tragedy. And so that's where the work with the congregation has helped me because we can't do it alone.

Antonis Petropoulos: It's been an honour and a pleasure to discuss these important issues with you and I hope things improve for the local communities and the parrots and wildlife and of course, we don't get any more pandemics and nature stops having to defend herself. Let me remind our readers and viewers that you are organizing this very interesting tour. The dates are:

LoraKim Joyner: December 10th through the 13th (2022) And it's all kinds of eco tours, it's counting parrots and learning about parrot conservation and it also has a spiritual grounding essence to it as well.

Antonis Petropoulos: Will you be there? People will get to meet you also?

LoraKim Joyner: Yes, I am going to walk around. 

Antonis Petropoulos: One more reason to choose this ecotour! So thank you again and we remain at your disposal for promoting your work and especially these interesting ecotours, hope you organize more!

Some details about the tour are below:

Parrot Pilgrimage - Ometepe Island, December 10-13, 2022

We at One Earth Conservation invite you to come with us to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua this December 10-13th to participate in parrot conservation as we walk around the volcano called Maderas. As we journey, we will count parrots in the evening, meet with community conservationists, partake in local community celebrations and activities, and participate in reflection and discussion about life on earth and how we can cherish and nourish it, as well as ourselves. Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner, parrot conservationist and wildlife veterinarian with over 35 years of experience in parrot conservation in the Americas, will be leading this event along with our local partners, Biometepe and Fauna and Flora International. Come join us and experience seeing thousands of wild parrots and hundreds of community supporters, as well as local conservationists up close and personal. 

For more information please visit https://www.oneearthconservation.org/parrot-pilgrimage