Animal Aid

BIRD SALE TO GO AHEAD? Over 150,000 dead bodies!

Posted 1 July 2003
Protesting outside the 
        council offices of Solihull MBC.

Elaine Toland asks for your help in a campaign to end the UK's biggest bird fair.

Our campaign against pet markets has gathered enough support to enable us to shut down or prevent most bird or reptile sales with relative ease. So we thought that the time was ripe to try to finish off the big one.

The big, bad, bird market takes place over two days annually - usually in December - at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), near Birmingham. It is organised by the magazine, Cage & Aviary Birds.

At last year's event it is believed that around 70,000 birds were subject to trade. Of those, it is estimated that at least 50,000 had been trapped in the wild. It can be safely assumed that for every bird that survived brutal capture and transportation, a further three would have died. This indicates that around 200,000 birds may have been snatched from their natural habitat for this one event alone and that three quarters of that total would have died en route.

These shocking figures have failed to convince Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council not to license this year's fair. Neither has the fact that the event itself is illegal, since the law does not allow traders to carry on a business of selling pet animals in a public place. Bizarrely, the council is claiming that the National Exhibition Centre is not a public place!

The council was apparently provided with legal advice from an independent barrister. However, a senior local authority officer advised Animal Aid that the council did not wish to make the advice public in case it was used as 'ammunition' against them.

The fact that the council has been highly secretive about their legal advice will hardly inspire confidence and if anything will fuel suspicion about the council's decision-making process. Local authorities are obliged to justify any decision that they make and therefore their commissioned legal opinion should be in the public domain.

Maybe Solihull Council did not want to take on the might of IPC Media, the publisher of Cage & Aviary Birds? (We are doing that for them anyway!) Or maybe the Council failed to reckon on the strength of public feeling against the vicious trade in wild birds? We intend to mobilise this sympathy and intensify the campaign against Solihull MBC until it is compelled to revoke IPC's licence.

The protest begins

It can be safely assumed that for every bird that survived capture and transportatation, a further three would have died. Credit: Environmental Investigation Agency

In March, we organised a well publicised protest outside the council offices of Solihull MBC, which involved dumping a net of synthetic 'dead birds' on their doorstep. We hoped that it would make them think carefully about sanctioning the destruction of thousands of real living creatures and their habitat. We then leafleted the town centre and broke the news to shoppers that their council were in favour of granting a licence for an illegal wild bird sale.

Although IPC claims that the welfare of birds at the NEC event is paramount, they don't actually keep records of the total number who die over the two days. How then, can they measure how high, or low, the standards are? We guess that this data would be so damning that it would not be in their interest to keep figures. For a start, it would certainly call into question the claim that last year there were only 8,000 birds offered for sale and that most of these were captive-bred canaries and budgerigars. Our expert ornithologist, Peter Robinson, agreed that most, if not all, of the budgerigars and canaries would have been captive-bred. So would a small number of the larger parrots and some of the finches. However, there were many other species on sale who were recent imports from Africa, Southeast Asia, South and Central America and elsewhere. Several of these were internationally classified as under threat of global extinction.

More evidence against the trade

Removing birds from their natural habitat involves the use of cruel trapping methods. Sometimes birds are used as decoys, tethered to the ground in order to draw in others of their kind who are attracted by distress calls. Decoys are used repeatedly until they die. Other birds are trapped on branches coated with powerful sticky glue (bird-lime), or are trapped in nets and snares.

After capture, they then pass through a series of dealers, exporters and importers and end up eventually in the EU (mainly Belgium, Holland and Germany). From there, many enter the UK. Once dealers acquire them, they are transported around the country and offered for trade at various events until they are either sold or they die. This is the fate of countless thousands every year.

As part of our submission to Solihull Council we produced a video in which we interviewed a number of experts, including a vet, an animal and public health consultant, a biologist, a bird behaviourist, an ornithologist and a barrister. They all put forward a very strong case. We also showed undercover footage from last year's sale - taken by the Captive Animals' Protection Society - plus film of the wild bird trade obtained by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

'Jumble sale' of birds

The NEC event itself could best be described as a huge jumble sale of birds. Visitors go along out of curiosity, to see species that they haven't seen before, or else to get a good bargain. Much of the trade relies on impulse purchases and buyers' ignorance. Traders are rarely experts on bird husbandry and will not know or care whether their customers have the first idea how to look after their new pet.

At other bird fairs we have monitored, no guarantees are given and often sales are made without a receipt - despite the fact that some species will be sold for many hundreds or even several thousands of pounds. When birds become sick or die within a few days of purchase, the buyer often cannot trace or contact the vendor. This is typical of most pet markets.

At the NEC itself, birds are frequently kept overcrowded in cages that are too small. Groups of parrots are seen huddled together; obviously petrified by their experience.

Wild-caught species are especially frightened of humans and will view people as predators. They will feel trapped and vulnerable. Others offered for sale are clearly sick. It is illegal for pet animals to be subjected to these levels of suffering.

Stringent controls?

Parrot from NEC show. Credit: Environmental Investigation Agency

Although Solihull Council claim to have been satisfied that IPC can fulfil all the stringent conditions of its licence, it was clear during a licensing committee meeting at the end of March that they could not. With a team of around a half a dozen vets charged with the well-being of over 70,000 birds, the problems are patently obvious. The vast majority will not receive any veterinary inspection or attention. This is particularly disturbing as the NEC event also provides a perfect environment for the spread of a number of diseases. Thousands of stressed, immune-deficient birds are brought together in the same air space for two to three days, subject to cross-contamination from a number of infections. Amongst the possibilities are salmonella, psittacosis, psittacine beak and feather disease, polyoma virus, aspergillosis, exotic Newcastle disease and fungal crop infections. Some of these have the capacity to cross the species boundary and may have profound implications for human health.

Help us to deliver a blow that will knock the UK bird trade sideways. For the many thousands of birds whose lives have already been claimed by the NEC event, please support our campaign.

Take action

  • Write to Solihull MBC and ask them to revoke the licence for the NEC wild bird sale.
    Mr S Lawson, Principal Environmental Officer, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, PO Box 19, Council House, Solihull B91 3QT, email

  • As part of our submission to Solihull council, we produced a video which sets out our case. You can watch the video here.

  • Support our boycott of IPC magazines and write to IPC to explain why.
    Sylvia Auton, Chief Executive, IPC Media Ltd, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS, email

  • Send for a free campaign pack.

  • See the NEC campaign index for latest news and updates.

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