Durban - More than 750 African Grey parrots worth about R2m died on a flight from Johannesburg to Durban.
The news has caused shock waves among conservationists, bird breeders and those involved in the aviation industry. The parrots died on December 24 on a flight operated by 1time.
Dr Steve Boyes, director of the organisation World Parrot Trust Africa, said steps should be taken to ensure that something like this never happens again.
The parrots were part of an order of 1 650 adult African Greys which were caught in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to be sold to South African breeders.
Ben Moodie, a well-respected Boksburg lawyer, alleges the birds were to be imported for his business Iceland Industrial Projects. He said he was only informed of the birds' fate on December 29.
"At the OR Tambo quarantine the birds were fine and I was informed that on arrival at King Shaka they were dead. I can understand a few casualties along the route, it happens. (But) this doesn't gel and I can only satisfy myself if they show me the carcasses," a distraught Moodie told The Witness
Altogether 800 of these parrots were imported to South Africa in November. A further 850 are still being held in the DRC, ready to be brought to South Africa.
In mid-December the parrots, which were then being kept in quarantine for 30 days at a state facility in Kempton Park, in accordance with legislation, became the focus of a long-standing dispute between breeders and in two urgent court applications.
The result was that Hendrik Matthews, a Roodepoort breeder who alleges the birds were intended for him to cover outstanding debt, had the parrots loaded on December 24 to be taken to a private quarantine station in Umhlanga.
On that day the quarantine station at Kempton Park closed until February 1 for cleaning and upgrading.
According to Michael Saltz, Matthews' lawyer, the birds were healthy when they were loaded at O R Tambo airport for the one hour flight on 1time to Durban. All the requirements for the transport of living cargo were met.
At King Shaka airport in Durban there was no movement to be seen in the crates when they were unloaded.
When the crates were taken to Express Air Services' store and opened, only 10 of the birds were still alive, and an hour later only one had survived, said Boyes.
Small dog survived
According to Anya Potgieter, spokesperson for 1time, the airline then decided it wouldn't transport more than four living animals per crate any longer, and exotic animals will only be transported if arrangements are made ahead of time.
According to The Witness
she ruled out that the birds might have died from carbon dioxide inhalation, as the birds were travelling in a hold with an oxygen supply.
The airline denies that something could have happened on the plane to cause the tragedy.
A small dog travelling in the same cargo hold was perfectly healthy upon arrival.
Saltz, however, said parrots from the same group in two crates which were transported by another airline were healthy.
According to him there are indications that a lack of oxygen or dangerous gases could have caused the deaths of the birds.