Animal Aid


Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

In this first part of From Rainforest to Retail - a special Animal Aid report - we look at the background to Focus and the bird trade.

Focus, a leading DIY chain with more than 400 UK stores, moved into the pet trade around five years ago and over 70 branches now sell animals through their Petworld departments. Among the species it sells is a range of exotic birds. The company, previously known as Focus Do It All, has claimed that these are all bred in captivity.

Animal Aid, whose campaigning throughout much of 2000 forced Focus to drop the sale of reptiles, has now conducted an undercover investigation into the company's bird sales. In the view of our bird expert - a former chief investigator for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) - over three-quarters of the birds on sale at Focus are wild-caught and many of those species are threatened in the wild.

In addition, the livestock manager and a second employee of Safari Select - Focus's sole supplier of birds - both told Animal Aid undercover investigators that the DIY chain sells birds who are not captive bred. Animal Aid does not allege that Focus knows that wild caught birds are being sold in its stores.

Allegations denied

In 1992, Safari Select - which says it now supplies FDIA with approximately £60,000 worth of birds and cages each month - was the subject of a Roger Cook television investigation. On the programme, Safari's owner, Phil Dobinson, denied the allegations that he had numerous criminal convictions and that he had misrepresented as captive bred, birds who had, in fact, been wild caught in the Indonesian jungle. Dobinson refused to enter into a detailed discussion on camera.

Advice from Focus's sales personnel regarding the source of birds on sale remains confused. Some staff told Animal Aid's undercover 'customer' that all birds are captive-bred, while others said that some are captured in the wild. Others seemed uncertain - even confused - as to the origin of the birds on sale. This is despite the proud claim that the company 'invests a great deal in terms of training...' and that 'only competent livestock staff are employed.'

In a recent discussion with an Animal Aid representative posing as a customer, Phil Dobinson had less than flattering things to say about Focus staff.

'...all you've got to understand is that their staff are basically, 90% of their staff are stupid. They don't know very much about birds or animals. 90%. Not all of them but a lot of them.'

Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

Bird products

The treatment of wild birds captured for the pet trade is invariably crude and brutal, as is the 'warehousing' of these bird 'products' prior to the punishing air or overland journey to the country of import. An authoritative 1992 investigation conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency, and supported by the RSPCA and the RSPB, indicated that up to three birds die for every one that reaches a pet shop (1)


In February 2000, Animal Aid launched a campaign against Focus to oppose its move into the pet trade. Animal Aid's concern was that the company's emphasis on glossy consumerism and large volume sales was bound to encourage impulse buys which, in turn, could lead to welfare problems for the animals. The move by Focus into the pet trade - through the establishment of Petworld departments within existing outlets - will have caused additional pressure for UK animal shelters. These shelters were already struggling to cope with a year-round influx of unwanted animals.

As well as operating the Focus and Great Mills DIY stores, the company also now owns Wickes. The group is the second largest DIY business in the UK and has an annual turnover of £1.6 billion. Back in 1996, Focus purchased Petworld to 'set itself apart from other DIY retailers'. The company claimed to place an emphasis on encouraging 'responsible pet ownership'.

Diverse menagerie

Focus was looking to increase its market share by turning DIY shopping into a 'leisure experience' for all the family. Its new range comprised a diverse menagerie, including reptiles, spiders, exotic birds, cold water and tropical fish and small mammals such as rabbits, chinchillas, and hamsters. A wide range of pet food, cages, bedding, toys and books were also sold in the Petworld departments.

After a nine-month, high profile campaign by Animal Aid, reptiles and spiders were withdrawn from sale. The company admitted:

...'despite our careful safeguards, some reptiles are being abandoned and brought to sanctuaries because their owners are unable to manage them. We have therefore taken the decision to stop selling reptiles and would like to take this opportunity to urge all other animal retailers to follow suit.'

Focus Do It All - Press release.

Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

Exotic bird sales

Animal Aid has now turned its attention to the company's sale of exotic birds. The following claim is made in official Focus correspondence:

'Every Petworld Store across the country is supplied by one reputable breeder. All caged birds for sale in Petworld Departments from this supplier are captive bred.'

Confused advice

However, concerns were brought to us by an ornithologist, who claimed that certain bird species sold by the company were not captive-bred in large enough numbers to supply their stores.

An Animal Aid undercover team found that advice from the Focus shop floor regarding the status of its birds was confused and contradictory and so Animal Aid set out to discover the true origin of the birds sold by Focus.

In part 2 of From Rainforest to Retail we look at the bird species for sale at Focus and the 'profits in exotics'.


  1. EIA (1992) Flight to Extinction - Wild-caught Bird Trade, Environmental Investigation Agency, London.

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