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Import ban saves thousands of wild birds

Hundreds of thousands of rare and exotic birds have been saved from death or a life in captivity by the temporary ban on the wild bird trade, which today (October 27) reaches its first anniversary.

Parrots, owls, exotic starlings and even the Toco toucan, made famous by Guinness adverts, are amongst birds still alive in the wild because of the ban. Without it, and despite market research revealing disapproval of the trade, many of these birds would be pets in Britain and the rest of Europe, cooped up in cages for the rest of their lives. Many more would have died on the way.

Monitoring is poor and it is not known how many wild birds were imported into the UK before the Europe-wide ban was imposed.

What is known is that the pet trade is threatening 60 per cent of the world’s 350 parrot species and one in ten of the 1,200 bird species now at risk of extinction. There are 9,799 species of bird in the wild and at least 3,000 of them have been sold as pets.

There is a danger now that the import ban that has reprieved these birds will be lifted.

Sacha Cleminson, Senior European Advocacy Officer at the RSPB said: “The import ban has thrown thousands and perhaps millions of birds a lifeline and it would be a tragedy if the ban were to be lifted when it is reviewed in December.

“We already know that this could happen because the EU is under pressure from some of the countries that export exotic birds. If these states can prove that seizing wild birds does not reduce their numbers, there might be grounds for resuming a limited trade. But there is little evidence to prove this and if we are to stop birds from going extinct, the ban should be made permanent until there is.”

The ban was imposed last October after imported birds died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu while in quarantine in Essex. Two years earlier, two crested hawk-eagles, smuggled from Thailand to Brussels airport, were seized and found to have the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The EU is responsible for 87 per cent – about one million birds annually - of the trade in birds listed by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species with the trade in non-CITES birds thought to be even greater.

Wild bird populations are falling largely because of habitat loss and because controls on numbers taken from nests in Africa, South America and Asia are either non-existent or poorly applied.

A report commissioned by the Belgian government says that exporting countries could make up to €72 million annually by eliminating what costs there are for trade controls, increasing eco-tourism and boosting other, associated industries.

The report also suggests that a permanent EU import ban could generate more than €1 million a year by stimulating the business in captive breeding and boosting funds for conservation.

Julian Hughes, Head of Species Policy at the RSPB said: “Too many birds are taken too often because what curbs there are, are ignored. All countries are responsible for the conservation of their wildlife and those states with the most sought after birds, have the greatest responsibility of all.

“Up to 60 per cent of birds caught for the pet trade die before they reach their destination. This is an horrific toll, particularly when almost every bird wanted as a pet could be bred in captivity in the UK.

“There is overwhelming support for the unsustainable and squalid trade in wild birds to be outlawed. There is no justification for it particularly when birds bred in captivity make much better pets.”

Cath Harris | alfa
Further information:

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