Three crocheted parrot sitting on a tree bark

Crocheted parrots help women support their families while saving endangered birds

Crocheted parrots are serving a double lifeline role: They provide a livelihood for the women who knit the cute toy birds while also helping raise funds to save the endangered Cape parrot species.

The women of Ukuthunga Handmade, a self-sustaining non-profit community-based organisation, make crocheted toys and home decor items in Msholozi, outside White River in Mpumalanga. Their handiwork helps put food on the tables for their families.

The proceeds from the sale of the hand-crafted Cape parrot ‘knitties’ also help conserve the Cape parrot. This bird appears nowhere else in the world. There are fewer than 2 000 remaining in the wild, with current threats to the species including degradation of the yellowwood forests, their natural habitat – this means the loss of food and nesting sites. The Cape parrot has been selected by BirdLife South Africa as 2023’s Bird of the Year.

The Wild Bird Trust‘s Cape Parrot Project has partnered with Ukuthunga Handmade to supply crocheted male and female Cape parrots. Funds raised through this initiative allow the project to conduct research to fill key knowledge gaps and implement conservation action, including empowering local community members. 

The project supports community nurseries to grow up indigenous tree seedlings, which the project then buys back for its restoration activities. The seedlings are planted back into degraded forest habitats, by the partnering local communities to restore forest habitats. 

Ukuthunga employs about 60 women from the various communities in Mpumalanga. Many of these women joined Ukuthunga Handmade in order to gain new skills, build a sense of value and belonging, and provide entirely for their family through crocheting.

6 women on a field in a rural area with 2 crocheted parrots each in their hands.

Dr Kirsten Wimberger, director of the Cape Parrot Project and trustee of the Wild Bird Trust, says: “Each crocheted male and female Cape parrot is different from the other, making it a one-of-a-kind crocheted toy.

“Given that many women exclusively rely on crocheting for income, we are happy to be partnering with Ukuthunga Handmade because it will enable us to benefit numerous disadvantaged families in various communities.”

This Women’s Month, the Cape Parrot Project is proud to honour these women.

Lucia Mkhabele, one of the women working at Ukuthunga Handmade, says: “I enjoy crocheting because it is an art that can be used to create new things. My husband and I lost our jobs at a restaurant during COVID-19. To help my family, I was inspired to join Ukuthunga Handmade. I am a mother of six children and a breadwinner to my family.”

She adds that she received assistance with crocheting from various women in the group, which further developed her skill in crocheting. “Crocheting a placemat takes two hours, while a Cape parrot takes three to four hours because I am more experienced. I love to crochet.”

You can purchase these Cape parrot ‘knitties’ via the Wild Bird Trust e-store.

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