Animal Aid

FROM RAINFOREST TO RETAIL - Wild Bird Trade

Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

In this fourth part of From Rainforest to Retail - a special Animal Aid report - we outline the problems with the wild bird trade.

Imported, wild-caught birds are typically cheaper to purchase than their captive-bred counterparts. Depending on the species, customers may be charged a price up to several hundred per cent more than the trappers received.

People who buy birds as pets invariably cannot distinguish between wild-caught animals and those bred in captivity. They will be unaware that, through their purchase, they will have contributed to a trade that involves cruelty and high mortality. The wild bird trade also threatens the survival of many species.

Properly monitoring and regulating the wild bird trade would cost more to enforce than it would generate in revenue. Therefore, regulations and laws designed to control the trade are poorly enforced in both exporting and importing countries. Bird dealers know this and rely on lack of enforcement to bend and break the rules.

The illegal trade often uses the legal trade as its cover. Many of the most common methods of smuggling endangered birds depend on a legal trade being in place.

Capture, confinement and transportation

Trapping methods vary from country to country and between species. Small birds are often trapped in bulk, whereas larger species may be trapped individually. Much cruelty is involved in bird trapping, partly in the knowledge that any animal who dies can be quickly replaced. Most methods are indiscriminate, and untargeted species are regularly caught. Heavy mortality occurs between capture and export, with estimates as high as 50% (1)

Wild-caught finches mostly originate from India and Africa and are either trapped in flight, using nets, or in baited trap-cages. In unskilled hands, the use of nets may result in high casualties. In some cases, non-target species have been caught or birds have been left for hours or even days struggling in the nets, sometimes dying of dehydration. Some bird trappers set up more nets than they can visit every two or three hours, which can result in more losses due to physical injury or predation (2) Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

Birds ensnared

Less discriminatory and more hazardous to trapped individuals is 'bird-lime', an adhesive substance applied to bushes or trees to ensnare any bird species. Unlike nets or trap cages, birds caught using bird-lime lose many feathers and the sticky substance finds its way onto much of the bird's remaining plumage.

Trapping usually takes place in remote rural areas and is carried out by native people wishing to supplement their income (3)

After trapping, birds are transferred into bags, baskets, small boxes or crates, in which they are moved to the trapper's home (4)

Birds are reported to spend up to eight months at the holding premises of exporters (5)(6)(7)

Fewer commercial airlines now carry live birds and, increasingly, they travel as freight. This is possibly because there are now more freight-only airlines. European bird dealers have been known to combine in the hire of freight aircraft for the international movement of large numbers of live birds.

Disease problems

During each stage, disease can spread from animal to animal via shared food, water, litter and other routes (8)(9)

Previously, all UK live bird imports were subject to a 35-day quarantine period. But the removal of EU trade barriers meant that live birds shipped to Britain from EU countries are mainly admitted without the need for quarantine - having already been quarantined within the EU. As from 1st November 2001, there is a 'harmonised' quarantine period throughout the EU member states of 30 days. How well this will be implemented is not yet known.

Copyright Environmental Investigation Agency

Welfare in the pet trade

According to studies carried out in the last ten years, most birds trapped for the pet trade never survive to reach pet shops (10)(11)

The appalling conditions and cruelty en route to the consumer have been well documented, but the long-term behavioural and physical problems that caged wild caught birds suffer have been less publicised. In the wild, foraging and preening occupy up to 90% of a parrot's daily activities (12)(13)

Isolated existence

In the wild, many social bird species, such as parrots, travel and feed in a flock. The flock brings to a single parrot many other things besides feelings of safety and security. It provides opportunity for frequent social interaction and learning skills. In captivity, these birds frequently have no contact with members of their own species. Depending on the species, the isolated existence can last for decades. Research quoted by the Environmental Investigation Agency in 1991 claims that wild birds have significantly shortened life spans in captivity (14)

One authority, writing in the Veterinary Record, states that,

'Non-domesticated species make very unsuitable pets... Keeping such animals in ordinary households may cause discomfort, distress and cruelty. Malnutrition commonly occurs due to ignorance of dietary requirements and larger animals often suffer from lack of exercise.' (15)

Greg Glendell of the Pet Parrot Consultancy, commented on what he believes to be the misleading illustrations in the Focus leaflet, 'Dr Petworthy's Guide to Parrots'. Notes Glendell:

'Cover illustration.

'This depicts an African grey parrot in a cage which, judging by the bar-spacing and the known size of the bird within, is about 20 inches square by 26 inches high. An African grey has a wingspan of 28 inches. This cage is so small that if such a bird were kept in this cage the owner could be prosecuted under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 or the Protection of Animals Act 1911. If a bird of this size were offered for sale in such a cage, via a licensed pet shop, the licensee can be prosecuted under the Pet Animals Act 1951-83 and the licence to sell livestock withdrawn. In addition to this cage being so small as to induce unnecessary suffering, it contains only one perch and no toys or environmental stimulation for the bird at all. It is precisely the kind of cage a parrot should never be housed in.

'Second illustration.

'This depicts an Amazon parrot on a person's shoulder. Readers would infer that to allow a bird to do this is acceptable. Birds should never be allowed to spend time on anyone's shoulder, especially a bird as large as an Amazon parrot. These birds can inflict serious facial wounds, which may require hospital treatment to be stitched up. It is grossly irresponsible to depict a parrot in this manner. Birds with frequent access to the shoulder will also become aggressive and will experience difficulty in adapting to the captive environment'.

The nutritional advice contained in Focus's 'Dr Petworthy's Guide to Parrots' has also been challenged by Greg Glendell who calls for the leaflet to be withdrawn immediately.

'Much of the information here is totally inaccurate. A parrot's diet should certainly be varied, but it should be low in fat (and consequently high in carbohydrate and with a reasonable amount of protein). A daily intake of around 80% carbohydrate and 12% protein and 8% fat is a good guide. A standard seed-based diet would result in around 50% to 60% fat being given. This would cause most parrots to become chronically sick (vitamin and mineral deficiencies) within a few months'.

In fact, 90% of birds presented to the Laboratory of Exotic Animal Services at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in the UK are reported to suffer clinical signs of hypovitaminosis attributable to an unsuitable all-seed diet (16)

The threat to species

'We have all become aware of and increasingly concerned about the environmental issues which threaten our world: global warming, ozone depletion, pollution of air water and land, dwindling resources, habitat destruction, and deforestation. As a responsible national retailer we recognise that the products and resources we provide and use contribute to these environmental pressures. We appreciate the long term consequences of ignoring these pressures and understand that it is essential to introduce measures which will reduce their impact.'

FOCUS DO IT ALL website: www.focusdoitall.co.uk/about/environment.htm

In the part 5 of From Rainforest to Retail we look at CITES and the bird trade, and conclude this special report.

References:

  1. EIA (1992) Flight to Extinction - Wild-caught Bird Trade, Environmental Investigation Agency London.
  2. Bathia Z, Morton K, Peters H (1992) Aspects of the Tanzanian Wild Bird Trade with Special Reference to Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis Fischeri. RSPB
    EIA (1992) Flight to Extinction - Wild-caught Bird Trade, Environmental Investigation Agency London.
  3. 3.

    Brookland J, Hora C and Carter N (1985) Injury, Damage to Health and Cruel Treatment. EIA Report.
    EIA (1991) The 1991 Investigation into the Wild Bird Trade in Senegal. Unpublished report to the RSPCA.
    Bathia Z, Morton K, Peters H (1992) Aspects of the Tanzanian Wild Bird Trade with Special Reference to Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis Fischeri. RSPB.
    Steinmetz M, Peutsch M and Bisschopinck (1998) Untersuchungen zur Transportmortali-tät beim Import von Voegeln und Reptilien nach Deutschland. Mit einer Studie zu den Prä-Export-Bedingungen in Tanzania. Bundesamt für Naturschutz, Germany.

  4. Carter N (1987) The Trade in Wildlife Mortality and Transport Conditions. A second report by Envionmental Investigation Agency, London.
  5. Schouten K (1995) The status and trade in Psittacenes, and other birds, from Suriname. Animal Exporters Association of Suriname, Paramaribo. 79 S.
  6. Bathia Z, Morton K, Peters H (1992) Aspects of the Tanzanian Wild Bird Trade with Special Reference to Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis Fischeri. RSPB.
  7. 7. Nilsson G (1991) From forest to living room. In: Nilsson, The Bird Business. Animal Welfare Institute, pp.1-34.
    Jensen M (1991) The importance of transport conditions for the mortality in tropical birds imported by air - Kopenhagen (University, PhD thesis).
    Knights P (1991) A Study of the Trade in Wild-caught Birds in Argentina. EIA.
    Knights P (1991) The Wild Bird Export Trade in Senegal. Unpublished EIA report.
    Steinmetz M, Peutsch M and Bisschopinck (1998) Untersuchungen zur Transportmortali-tät beim Import von Voegeln und Reptilien nach Deutschland. Mit einer Studie zu den Prä-Export-Bedingungen in Tanzania. Bundesamt für Naturschutz, Germany.
    Bathia Z, Morton K, Peters H (1992) Aspects of the Tanzanian Wild Bird Trade with Special Reference to Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis Fischeri. RSPB.
    EIA (1992) Flight to Extinction - Wild-caught Bird Trade, Environmental Investigation Agency, London.
  8. Cheville N F (1979) Environmental factors affecting the immune response of birds - A review. Avian Diseases 23: 308-314.
  9. Keymer I (1972) Unsuitability of wild animals as pets. The Veterinary Record.
    Cheville N F (1979) Environmental factors affecting the immune response of birds - A review. Avian Diseases 23: 308-314.
  10. RSPCA (1991) Animal Life - Official journal of the RSPCA.
  11. Clubb S (1984) Multifactional disease syndrome in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) from Ghana. In: Proceedings of Association of Avian Veterinarians. Toronto, Canada.
  12. Birchall A, (1990) Who's a clever parrot then? New Scientist, 125, 38-45.
  13. Coulton L E, Waran N K and Young R J (1997) Effects of foraging enrichment on the behaviour of parrots. Animal Welfare, 6(4), 357-363.
  14. EIA (1991) The 1991 Investigation into the Wild Bird Trade in Senegal. Unpublished report to the RSPCA.
  15. Keymer I (1972) Unsuitability of wild animals as pets. The Veterinary Record.
  16. 7. Meredith A (1995) Welfare of caged birds. The Veterinary Record. Nov 25th, 571.

Note: All of the above references were taken from Prepared & Shipped> by Dr Barbara Maas (2000) - excluding Roger Cook (1992) Pity Polly - Documentary programme for Central Independent Television plc; and RSPCA (1991) Animal Life - Official journal of the RSPCA.

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