Flight of fancy, pricey parrots

More Singaporeans willing to pay big bucks for birds that can cost up to $40,000 each

Many people would find having 35 birds squawking all day long a nuisance, but not Mr Cheong Boo Wee.

The 61-year-old parrot breeder has 35 parrots on his landed propety off Upper Changi Road.

Five of his birds are hyacinth macaws, which are among the most expensive parrot breeds in the world. They are native to central and eastern South America, and can cost up to $40,000 each.

The former president of a multinational company bought his hyacinth macaws in 2006, when they were less expensive at $35,000 a pair. A hyacinth macaw has a lifespan of about 60 to 80 years.

"They will definitely outlive me," says Mr Cheong. He is not alone in forking out big money for birds. Other Singaporeans have also been opening their wallets wide to buy such parrots in recent years.

Mr Daniel Kor, 29, an animal rescue officer and founder of parrot hobbyist group Flightmasters, notes that there has been a rise in members from three in 2010 to more than 50 today. The group meets about four times weekly at a field in Woodlands to free-fly their pets.

The number of macaws - the less expensive breeds cost $3,000 to $7,000 each - in the group has also soared. In 2011, when Flightmasters was just a year old, the group had only two macaws, one being Mr Kor's.

Today, there are about 20 macaws, two of them hyacinth macaws.

ANIMAL INSTINCT

They understand when they have done something wrong, and when they have done something right.

MR KENNETH NGIAM, an assistant manager in an oil and gas company, who fell in love with the hyacinth macaw and bought two of them in 2013.

Importing common birds into the country requires an import licence from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

But importing most parrots requires an additional Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora permit because they are protected.

According to parrot breeder Puah Leong Heng, 57, to legally import a protected bird species into Singapore, the bird has to be at least from the third generation. This means that if a parent bird is caught from the wild, only chicks bred from its chicks can be imported.

Bird enthusiasts do not seem to mind the hefty price tags.

Macaws are stronger than regular parrots and have tighter bonds with their owners, which makes them more reliable for free-flying, says Mr Stanley Tan, 37, a realtor who owns two hyacinth macaws.

He is one of the few owners who allows his hyacinth macaws on free-flights. This is in hope that they "eat better, sleep better and, hopefully, grow bigger".

Mr Kenneth Ngiam, 25, an assistant manager in an oil and gas firm fell in love with the hyacinth macaw when he was just nine, and bought two of them in 2013. He is impressed with their intelligence. He says: "They understand when they have done something wrong, and when they have done something right."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2016, with the headline 'Flight of fancy, pricey parrots'. Print Edition | Subscribe