THE STORY OF PARROT EXPLOITATION BY HUMAN ASTROLOGERS
From Madurai to Guntur to Visakhapatnam, parrot astrology is a centuries-old custom prevalent in southern India, with the birds considered to be clairvoyant. “I learnt parrot astrology from my father. It is our family profession and I have been doing it for the past 14 years.” The Hindu newspaper covered Shiva’s story on October 15, 2016. He belongs to Tirunelveli, lives in Madurai, and travels in the interior to Pollachi near Kerala border for this work. Parrot astrology using specially trained parrots to draw tarocards from a deck, is a centuries-old tradition in southern India, famous in Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Most astrologers come from the Kambalathu Naicker community worshipping Goddess Jakkamma, also, the Goddess Durga.
This very popular diety, also Madurai Meenakshi Amman, holds a parrot in one of her hands. The method of astrology is more like tarot reading or soothsaying with sets of 27 cards symbolizing stars in the cosmic system. Cards contain pictures of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Depending upon the card the parrot picks, a fortune for the customer is
predicted. In Visakhapatnam, these astrologers use images of Mother Mary or Jesus as well. The parrots exploited are sparsely fed grains like rice and wheat to keep them constantly
“performing.” Parrots bought at temples are considered auspicious in the profession. Female parrots are traditionally used in astrology; however, VSPCA has rescued many exploited male
parrots in this harm-inducing trade.
For one reading, there is a meager charge of a minimum Rs.20/-, and in a day, about 20
customers seek a telling. After marriage, many astrologers cannot afford to be in this profession.
They take up other work to support families until they reach hard places when they come back
to parrot astrology. Customarily, one member of the family must pursue “Kili Josiyam (கிளி
ஜோசியம்)” –parrot card reading in Tamil. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/travel- leisure/article/3014466/clairvoyant-parrots-india-dying-breed-astrologers-birds
In our busy techno-scientific world of today, parrot astrologers/fortune tellers make much more
money during ongoing “Krishna Pushkarams,” a festival at River Krishna, held every twelve years (like the Kumbhamela). The road leading to the ancient Amara Lingeswara Swamy Temple from the Pushkar Ghat at Amaravati is dotted with numerous fortune tellers busy with customers approaching them for their fortune. Pressure from elders, has young people give fortune-telling by parrots a try. Pilgrims, after a holy dip in the river, make a beeline for astrologers, caged parrots, and a deck of cards containing the images of deities. Admitting that their profession lost glory with the advent of technology and computerized horoscopes, one parrot astrologer in Visakhapatnam told VSPCA, Pushkarams where a congregations of
people throng, help them make decent money for several months, camping at the venue. Ladies are interested in marriage prospects.
From both parrot and human perspectives, this is a sad video from The Atlantic by Andy Whitlatch.
Most interesting is that TV soaps build storylines from parrot astrology predictions, which shows
the religious ideology seepage into the mainstream—increasing the exploitation and cruelty the
birds must face.https://www.zee5.com/global/tv-shows/details/suryakantham/0-6-1933/a-parrot-astrologers-prediction-suryakantham/0-1-259930
VSPCA (Visakha Society for the Protection and Care of Animals) and The Parrots in
Liberation of Parrots from Slavery
The word slavery entitles “owners” of live animals to use them as “property.” As property, they
are deemed not conscious, becoming commodities. Living beings are not commodities to do as
humans please. When rivers and corporations have been fought for as agents of their own being
to gain their rights, how do we continue to allow animals to hold property status in the Law?
Thanks to VSPCA and several animal rights activists, clairvoyant parrots in India are a dying
breed with astrologers’ birds seized by conservation officials and NGOs like VSPCA leading the
way using the Law?
VSPCA’s work in Parrot Liberation began in 1996. Thus far, 323 Alexandrine parrots have
been rescued from the trade with another 458 parrots, being of other parrot species found in
this region. Parrots are protected in Indian by the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972),
Based on tradition, adaptive parrots have been commonly enslaved by “fake” astrologers,
according to VSPCA, whose members have fought hard for their liberation for over twenty-five
years. Pradeep asks, “What is the meaning of astrology?” He knows some colleges teach this
subject, but asks, how widely is this accepted science, especially in utilizing living parrots for
astrological predictions? (His interests are in animal protection and care, and prevention of
animal cruelty. VSPCA does not mean any harm or offense to people who believe in astrological
Through surveys and research on parrots, VSPCA has revealed facts that center around abject
cruelty to this species. The Rose-ringed, Alexandrine, Plum-headed, Blossom-headed, Blue-
winged, Grey-headed, and Red-breasted parrots are seen in Visakhapatnam and the east coast of
India. The Rose-ringed and Alexandrine are most common species in Visakhapatnam.
As Pradeep and his team began to observe wandering parrot-carrying astrologers, they decided to
study the tradition and the capture process of these parrots, the communities that do this work,
their alternate means of livelihood, survey the city precincts to locate the haunts of these men,
and research the parrot species to lay a plan to protect these species.
A note: The parrots mentioned, are not of concern as endangered species on IUCN lists of
protected species at the moment. As parrot rescue became VSPCA’s solid project (via strategy,
tactics, and operations that involved rescue and rehabilitation), Pradeep and team members began
to corner the astrologers. Earlier on, these men complained to the City’s District Collector about
harassment and obstacles to their livelihoods. The VSPCA team did not budge from their mission to rescue the birds, who upon further befriending of the astrologers, were found to be
kept in miserable conditions. According to VSPCA, this is a year-round “business.”
The job of parrot capture was usually left to specific tribal communities of this region, who knew
the forests and trees the parrot made homes in. Once caught, the parrots were cruelly transported
in very small cages/drawers/boxes/cartons; sometimes, many were stuffed in one larger container
as apples in a box, with no movement space. They barely saw the light of day, until “training
time.” At training, in desperate hunger and thirst, they were not given food or water. Snatched
away from their parents and family, wings cut or broken crudely, the process of training takes
place under unimaginable cruelty. Over fifty percent (50%) of parrots die due to these harsh
methods of handling. The surviving birds were then sold to the so-called astrologers, similar to
the case of our Cobra story, last week. Many parrots caught cage diseases due to their weakened
immune systems. Broken/cut wings would never grow again, taking away their very beingness of
a parrot. Their basic function of flight and their social nature in parrot community, was robbed
from them. They had to survive among humans, pretend to be human-ly intelligent, do things
humans wanted them to do, and speak like humans. (If the situation was reversed, no human
would survive as a parrot.) With no food and water for long spells, many parrots rescued by
VSPCA over the years were completely dehydrated, found in abject conditions in summers.
Once the District Collector took up the matter, Pradeep started the legal process filing lawsuits
and reports on these men—around the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960), Wildlife
Protection Act (1972) Schedule IV, and The Indian Penal Code (1860)—using the legal model
for VSPCA’s Parrot Liberation project. A two-year moratorium was placed on this case for
authorities to tally the information Pradeep and his team brought forth, to deem this is a real case
by Law for the protection of these birds. VSPCA team paved the path to their protection when
without the authorities needed to do this research, genuinely in their expertise. VSPCA’s job is
to protect, rescue, care, rehabilitate, and release when possible. It is not to supply the authorities
with oodles of research, which is time-consuming. However, VSPCA does as much as it can, to
bring the Law on its side to enforce animal protection city-wide.
The two-year moratorium gave Pradeep time to do an in-depth survey, research, and prepare an
effective action plan, while carrying out awareness and education among the tribals and the
astrologer communities about the importance of these animals to the socio-ecologic
sustainability of Nature in this region. For such activities, men folk in selected groups, sects, and
castes were involved, making up a fairly large network of illegal activity.
Pradeep is working on laying out his research on the castes and types of people who indulge in
this kind of livelihood of convenience, exploiting innocent animals. These people come from far-
off places as seen in the route on the map above. He has brought to the courts more than thirty
(30) families, whose ” business” this is. Their sons are well-built and can easily work in other
legal professions; however, this has been an easier way forward for many of them, which they
refer to as their tradition. By rail, they have been observed getting off the trains at 7 am, applying
chalk powder on their forehead, arms, and legs, and changing their regular outfits to the “dhoti”to look like sages. Their “dressing room” is a railway wagon. They then fan out to pre-
determined zones in the city heading home only after sunset.
Since childhood, Pradeep has watched “fake” astrologers (as he terms them) slinging on their
shoulders, tiny boxes to fit small parrots who can hardly move. These men walk the by-lanes,
beaches, tourist spots, meander in exhibitions and museums, and weave their way through
crowded places. Visakhapatnam is a tourist haven making it conducive for the men to earn their
living via the poor parrots. When a parrot dies, they have been seen to bury birds in beach sand.
In peak days of such illegal practice, a spot known as Chitrayalaya Cinema Theatre would have
more than twenty-five (25) of these men lined up along the pavement to display their live parrot
“trophies” with tarot cards. The “work day” for the parrot too, would begin at 8 am and go on
After the moratorium was over, VSPCA courageously and persistently carried out raids on these
gangs of men, which involved chasing them and seizing their loot. Raids were carried out by
about four (4) VSPCA staff. In complicated cases where many hundred parrots were found in
cartons, the Police and Forest Departments were involved. This was followed up by filing cases
with the State Forest Department and Police Offices. Just like our story on Cobras, Pradeep has
been attacked by several of these (drunken) men when they barged into his offices with rage.
Many were subsequently arrested by police.
Parrot capture is now banned in Visakhapatnam, and these astrologers are not seen in the
city. Some are still seen to read fortunes through scriptures; however, without parrots speaking to
gullible humans about the future. VSPCA monitors this to ensure the ban is upheld.
Parrots appear to present a new perspective on what is it to be human/nonhuman?
Parrots in the hands of wandering so-called astrologers in Visakhapatnam are stark examples of
embodiment extended to animal experience. This is not anthropomorphizing. Captured from the
forests, wings violently cut/broken, made to select tarot cards for humans seeking answers about
their fate, the parrot is unable to retain its beingness (that of a parrot). To survive, the parrot
succumbs to human coercion, learns to speak human language, and picks up specific tarot cards.
This new knowledge is embodied within its broken body that cannot perform many of the
parrot’s own basic functions. On cue, parrots learn to enact human-like behaviors. They can
speak and even pattern-recognize the tarot cards. Hypothetically, on the other hand, humans in
parrot captivity would be unable to embody parrot behavior with their own bodies, without tools
We encourage our readers to think about the embodiment of experience – How do we feel
privileged; How do we feel pain? especially, when someone cannot understand/acknowledge
this; How do our institutions help us embody our superiority through racial, classist, casteist, and
(dis)abled systems; How does one body fluidly walk through a space when another hesitates to
do so, simply because they are not privileged-enough to enter this? Why??
Observing a blind person who learns to use a walking cane and integrates this instrument into
their bodily synthesis: the blind person cannot see what a person with vision does. However, they
manage to “see” or perceive the world with their cane. Without making any comparisons of the
parrot to the blind person in any way or form, the parrot perceives human supremacy, adapting to
it for their navigation and survival. This may provoke scientists; however, more examples at
VSPCA offer cues into the animal embodiment of human-like experiences.
We must contemplate interspecies coexistence in multispecies geographies. Other-than-
human animals show certain adaptability to human-managed spaces like VSPCA’s animal shelter
and human-congregated areas like cities. Humans distort animals’ beingness unless they are
relatable to human intelligence and behavior. This is something we humans must overcome in us
– to live in harmony with all living beings who are also trying to live in the city.
It is tragic to find humans believing on what is written on a card picked by a little (broken-in)
parrot. This parrot appears to have as much intelligence, pattern recognition skills, and human
speech skills, compared with a human.
We would like you the reader, to think about this. Everything we thought animals could not do,
science and our encounters with them, are showing they can!
VSPCA has built a special aviary for parrots who can never fly. There are forty-eight (48) parrots
here. In this peaceful space, they are expected to live out their lives over twenty-five (25) years.
In one incident, the VSPCA team stopped several nomads and confiscated over three hundred
(300) Alexandrine parrots from their stuffed baskets. Parrots are not stuffed toys.
We continue to fight for their rights to freedom, habitat, family, and community. VSPCA’s
Kindness Farm is a natural habitat for the wild and free parrots too, growing in number because
of fruit-bearing trees and catchment water points along the farm’s boundaries.
We thank VSPCA staff, especially the late Mr. Narayan Rao (who passed away of CoVid-19 after 40 years with VSPCA), Mr. Virendra Nath, Mr. Hari Varma, Ms. Sridevi, Ms. Sarada, and many others at the Shelter and Kindness Farm, who helped care and rehabilitate rescued parrots. We thank Mr. Vivek for helping us
monitor the astrologers’ doings in the city.