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Trade ban will save two million wild birds

Landmark Legislation?

The trade in wild birds will be permanently banned throughout the EU because of fears for human and animal health.

The ban, agreed in Brussels on January 11 and to start on July 1 2007, means that up to two million wild birds will be saved from the pet trade which has caused the decline of species such as the African Grey Parrot*, the Yellow-naped Amazon and the White-fronted Parrot**. Other species imported into the EU included the Toco Toucan, made famous by Guinness adverts, the African Spotted Eagle Owl, the Crowned Hornbill, the Martial Eagle, the Green-winged Macaw and the Purple Glossy-starling.

The move has been welcomed by the RSPB, which has campaigned for a permanent ban for 20 years. Chief Executive Graham Wynne said: “This decision takes wild bird conservation a hugely significant step forward. Millions of birds will now be saved including the many that die before they even reach their destination. The trade has been a blight on the EU’s conservation and welfare record for far too long and this ban comes none too soon. Now, every European government must ensure that the ban is properly policed, that quarantine rules are fully enforced and that that there is no opportunity for unscrupulous traders to bend any part of the new law.”The wild bird trade was temporarily banned in the EU in October 2005 after birds at an Essex quarantine centre were found to have bird flu. It was made permanent by the EU’s chief veterinary officers at a meeting in Brussels this afternoon. The import of small numbers of wild birds into the EU by zoos and some pet owners will still be allowed. But traded birds listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – the world’s most threatened birds - should drop from about 800,000 each year to a few hundred.

Perhaps one million birds not listed by CITES were also traded annually. The import of those birds will be all but stopped as well. Additionally, up to 60 per cent of wild caught birds die before reaching Europe. They will also be saved. The trade in CITES-listed wild birds was banned in the US in 1992 leaving the EU responsible for 87 per cent of the trade.Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote to the RSPB in December 2006 promising to press the rest of the EU to make the temporary ban on the trade permanent. In the letter, he said “the RSPB’s campaign has graphically demonstrated that the catching and transportation of wild birds…causes unacceptable levels of suffering to the birds and can have a damaging impact on their wild populations.”

Sacha Cleminson, Senior European Advocacy Officer at the RSPB said: “This ban is wonderful news for wild birds. We will be watching closely all of the EU’s Member States to check that the ban is being properly enforced. An additional ban on conservation grounds would give wild birds even greater protection. We do not allow our blue tits and robins to be exported and we should do our utmost to discourage the export of other countries’ birds as well.”As many as five million wild birds were traded annually and parrots were the most frequently sold birds. More than 3,000 of the 9,600 bird species in the world are known to have been sold in recent years. The international trade in wild birds is a significant factor in the decline of 55 globally threatened birds. The 2006 IUCN Red List includes 36 per cent of the world’s parrots as threatened or near threatened and of the 94 at-risk species, 49 (52 per cent) are traded. Parrots lay few eggs and breed only once each year. The US ban caused poaching of wild birds in South America – a major source country – to plummet. The ban also sparked a much bigger trade in captive-bred birds and is likely to do the same in Europe.

Market research for by the RSPB by BMRB International found that 92 per cent of respondents in the UK and Germany disapproved of the trade in wild birds while just one per cent in the UK and two per cent in Germany approved. A Parrot Society survey in May 2006 found 75 per cent of parrot keepers in the UK favoured an import ban.*The African grey parrot is one of the most popular avian pets in the world because of its skill as a mimic and for its attractive plumage. According to CITES, almost 360,000 African greys were legally traded between 1994 and 2003. Many thousands more are exported illegally or die before they reach pet shops. Because of the pet trade, the African grey is declining in most of the 23 countries in which it is found. The species sells for up to £500 a pair in the UK. Between 1994 and 2000, the main export countries were Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Parrots lay few eggs and breed only once each year.**Three studies on the Nicaraguan parrot trade commissioned by CITES concluded that the wild bird trade is unsustainable and that populations of several parrot species are declining rapidly. Several parrot species suffered an 80 per cent decline between 1994 and 2003, including the Yellow-naped Amazon, Red-lored Amazon, Mealy Amazon and White-fronted Amazon. In that time alone, Nicaragua exported almost 54,000 parrots of which 83 per cent went to the EU. The Nicaraguan example also illustrates that the fact that the large-scale legal trade is used to mask the illegal trade. Between 1994 and 2003, Nicaraguan CITES export permits for almost 38,000 exported parrots (70 per cent of total exports) falsely declared the birds as ‘ranched’. Several in-country reports said that no parrots exported from Nicaragua originated from ‘ranching’ operations. Instead all birds were wild-caught specimens. The ‘ranched’ label is used by exporters in an attempt to circumvent prohibitions established by many airlines on transporting wild-caught birds.

4th July 2014