Summary: Wildlife groups rebut
claims that EU bird moratorium adopted to head off bird
flu will impair bird conservation efforts or spur increased
About the Species Survival Network
The Species Survival Network (“SSN”) is a global coalition
of more than eighty organizations dedicated to ensuring
that the international trade in wildlife is conducted
legally, humanely and only when evidence demonstrates
that survival of the species and their role in the ecosystems
in which they occur will not be detrimentally affected
by trade. SSN member organizations are active in wildlife
conservation efforts in dozens of countries on every inhabited
continent. In recent years, many SSN members have grown
increasingly concerned with the emerging linkages between
wildlife trade and the spread of human and animal diseases.
Although SSN as an organization does not generally make
statements on public health matters, recent events related
to highly pathogenic avian influenza warrant an exception.
Background: Bird Imports and H5N1 Bird
H5N1 avian influenza is a highly pathogenic flu virus
that has proven deadly to humans. Although this strain
of the flu virus may have originated in wild waterfowl,
it has proved to be transmissible to a wide array of
bird species, including eagles, falcons, songbirds and
parrots. Some birds carry the disease without obvious
symptoms, making detection difficult. There are other
H5 stains of the flu virus that have occurred elsewhere
that are of little risk to birds, and pose no risk to
people, but have been widely reported by the media.
During the past several months, H5N1 has been detected
in caged and captive birds of several species, including
species imported into the European Union for use in
falconry or as pets. In the most recent such incident,
H5N1 was found to have killed dozens of songbirds imported
into the United Kingdom from a country reputedly free
of the disease. The outbreak was discovered by accident,
apparently when a valuable parrot may also have died
at a quarantine facility where the songbirds were housed.
There was some confusion about this as the samples tested
from the various species were accidentally mixed. Following
positive identification of H5N1 at this facility, the
European Commission imposed a precautionary moratorium
on commercial imports of captive live birds into the
On 28 October 2005, in response to this moratorium,
the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”)
issued a press statement expressing its concern that
the import prohibition would remain in place after the
health crisis had passed (http://www.cites.org/eng/news/press_release.shtml).
The Secretariat’s advisory argued that any prohibition
would impair conservation efforts for the world’s wild
birds. On 20 November 2005, the Secretariat went further,
asserting to reporters that adopting a bird import moratorium
could actually increase the risks of disease introduction,
thus threatening human health. The following day, the
wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC made
a similar pronouncement. Each of these statements has
been widely circulated in the press. Because they seem
clearly intended to influence international policy in
a way that may prove detrimental to human health and
commercial endeavor, SSN believes it important that
certain factual errors and unproven assumptions in these
statements be addressed.
Put simply, there is no evidence that the European
Union moratorium on bird imports will either harm wild
bird populations or spur increased smuggling of potentially
diseased birds. Such arguments should not be used to
justify premature termination of the ban. In fact, SSN
strongly believes the European Union’s action will benefit
both human health and the conservation of wild birds.
SSN believes the European Commission’s
decision to adopt a moratorium on bird imports during
the current avian influenza outbreak is a reasonable
precautionary measure in light of the potentially significant
risks associated with the spread of H5N1 and the demonstrated
potential of live caged birds of various species to
move the disease among countries and continents. The
bird trade provides an ideal environment for the spread
of diseases because stress and the crowding prior to
and during transport encourage the expression and transmission
of infectious diseases. As recent experience in the
United Kingdom demonstrated, species from different
countries are commonly mixed during trade or quarantining,
creating the risk that birds originating in disease-free
countries or regions may become infected before ultimately
entering the market.
Indeed, neither the Secretariat nor TRAFFIC
dispute that the importation of wild-caught birds increases
the risk of introducing potentially harmful diseases
such as avian influenza. Nor could they easily do so.
Instead, these organizations argue that an extended
ban on wild bird imports may have unintended consequences
both for wild bird conservation and for human health
by removing economic incentives to conserve wild birds
and encouraging increased poaching. These arguments
cannot withstand close scrutiny.
1. “The reality is that the international
trade in orange-winged parrots and the 1,700 other species
of wild birds regulated by CITES is well managed and
subject to robust and transparent monitoring for sustainability.”
FACT: The CITES treaty and its
associated resolutions do provide a robust framework
for monitoring international trade in wildlife, but
it is not accurate to suggest that their application
in practice has made the international trade in wild
birds either well-managed or sustainable.
Though SSN strongly supports CITES and
other multilateral conservation efforts, in practice,
CITES has proved insufficient to protect many bird species.
The scientific evidence necessary to make a non-detriment
finding—that is, a finding, required under CITES, that
export will not be detrimental to the survival of the
species—is poor or non-existent for most birds species
in trade. In the case of the example chosen by the Secretariat,
the orange-winged Amazon parrot (Amazona amazonica)
continues to be traded despite the absence of any evidence
that capture and trade is not harming wild populations.
The orange-winged Amazon parrot is not alone. More than
40,000 wild-caught Senegal parrots (Poicephalus senegalus)
enter international trade each year even though there
are no scientific assessments of the status of wild
populations of this species.
Contrary to the Secretariat’s claim that
international trade is “well managed,” trade
in most CITES-listed bird species has not been shown
to be biologically sustainable. The scientific basis
for non-detriment findings involving the export of most
species of wild birds is, therefore, questionable. It
is precisely for this reason that the CITES Parties
have established a Review of Species in Significant
Trade, designed to examine heavily-traded species for
the reasons why non-detriment findings do not seem to
result in sustainable levels of trade. If the statement
made by the Secretariat were true, there would be no
need for this process—one of the most extensive and
broadly-supported within CITES—to exist.
The process by which exporting countries
make non-detriment findings is not transparent or accessible
to the public, making independent assessments of the
validity of non-detriment findings difficult if not
impossible. Likewise, the non-detriment findings of
importing countries, where required, such as in the
European Union, also lack transparency and are made
without public consultation.
2. “When reporting on these facts,
a number of press articles have quoted claims that the
international trade has resulted in wild birds being
“traded almost to extinction” and that much of the trade
is illegal.” --CITES Secretariat
FACT: Many species of tropical
birds are experiencing population declines due to capture
for legal and illegal trade. Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta
spixii) was captured and traded to extinction in the
wild, with the last wild bird reported missing in October
2000 (Juniper 2002). Other bird species that have been
captured and traded to the point of endangerment include:
- The Endangered (IUCN 2004) yellow-headed Amazon
parrot (Amazona ochrocephala oratrix), listed
in CITES Appendix I in 2003, has suffered enormously
from trade pressures and habitat loss throughout its
Mexican range, and has undergone one of the most dramatic
population declines of any bird in the Americas (IUCN
- The Critically Endangered (IUCN 2004) lesser sulphur-crested
cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), included in CITES
Appendix I in 2005, has suffered an extremely rapid
population decline owing to entirely unsustainable
trapping for trade as household pets (IUCN 2000).
- The Critically Endangered (IUCN 2004) Philippine
cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), included
in CITES Appendix I in 1992, has suffered an extremely
rapid population reduction over the last 45 years
owing to extensive loss of its lowland habitats and
trapping for the cage-bird trade (IUCN 2000). According
to Birdlife International (2003) ...[H]uge numbers
were trapped in recent decades, and its populations
have plunged towards extinction in the wild... Nestling
cockatoos collected have a mortality rate of 50%.
- The Endangered Red Siskin (Carduelis cucullata)
is undergoing a very rapid population decline
as a result of trapping for the cage-bird trade
- One of the most commonly traded bird species, the
grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), has significantly
declined in parts of its range due to capture for
international trade and continues to be subjected
to overexploitation and laundering of illegally captured
birds into the legal trade. Despite scientific research
on the grey parrot in Guinea, commissioned by the
CITES Secretariat, that describes the species there
as seriously threatened by the combination of harvesting
and habitat loss (Clemmons 2003), and recommending
to suspend trade, CITES has yet to take action and
demonstrably unsustainable exports continue.
In addition to the legal trade, significant illegal
trade in wild birds continues in many parts of the world
(e.g. Shepherd et al., 2004). The legal trade provides
a cover for the laundering of illegally captured birds
into the international market.
3. “In addition, the temporary blanket
ban on imports for commercial purposes will require
intensified border controls, and since such measures
are known to drive part of the trade underground, this
may well cause birds to be imported without going through
quarantine.” --CITES Secretariat
FACT: The Secretariat’s claim that
trade bans ‘drive part of the trade underground’ is
unsubstantiated and refutable. Researchers have demonstrated
that when the United States enacted the Wild Bird Conservation
Act, which banned the import of wild parrots for pets
into the United States, there was a significant decline
in nest poaching throughout the Americas (Wright et
al., 2001); this research also demonstrated a strong
positive correlation between the existence of legal
markets for parrots and levels of illegal trade. Legal
trade provides cover for illegal trade. Prohibitions
on legal trade reduce opportunities for laundering of
illegally acquired birds and reduce smuggling.
4. “Many of the world’s poorest communities
earn a significant part of their income from trading
in wildlife, and without this income people living in
close proximity to wild animals may not have the same
incentive to protect them.” --CITES Secretariat
FACT: Exploiting wild birds does
not provide meaningful and equitable financial benefits
to people who live near these birds. The seasonality
of bird captures and the low value of exported birds
mean that the wild bird trade only provides a meager
income to people who live near the birds. Profits are
monopolized by a handful of middle men and importers.
For example, local trappers of blue-fronted Amazon parrots
(Amazona aestiva) earn an estimated US$10 per
specimen while these same birds sell for up to US$750
in Europe. Similarly, in Tanzania, it is estimated that
trappers earn 1-2% of the price paid for the same bird
in consumer countries (Mulliken et al., 1996).
Export values show that the bird trade is not important
to the economies of most range countries (Mulliken et
There is not one example of trade in wild
birds that has provided sufficient resources to fund
adequate, science-based monitoring and management of
an exploited wild bird population. The capture and export
of Amazona aestiva from Argentina is often touted as
an example of local communities benefiting from trade
in wild birds while protecting wild populations of the
species. However, despite almost ten years of operation,
the Amazona aestiva project in Argentina has
not produced the scientifically-based information needed
to manage the trade to ensure it is sustainable or to
demonstrate that the wild population is not being harmed
by capture and export.
In contrast, there are alternative ways
in which people who live near wildlife can benefit from
wildlife without harming wild populations, such as carefully
planned and regulated ecotourism (Vieta 1999). Whales
and sea turtles are worth much more alive than dead:
whale watching is ten times more profitable than hunting
(Hoyt 2001) and sea turtles are worth three times more
alive than dead (Troeng et al., 2004). Birdwatching
is a valuable source of tourist revenue in many parts
of the world, and it frequently provides opportunities
for local people to earn revenue as guides for visiting
birders. For example, in the Rio Grande Valley of South
Texas, the economic impact of birders at surveyed refuges
is estimated to be in excess of US$90 million per year.
An estimated 14,000 - 22,000 birders annually visit
the Platte River in Nebraska and contributed between
US$25 to US$50 million in the rural communities (WDFW
5. “While any government may impose
‘stricter domestic measures’ under CITES to limit wildlife
imports for human health or other reasons, international
wildlife trade – like other global environmental matters
– should be managed through multilateral action and
agreement.” – CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers
FACT: CITES is not an appropriate
venue for discussing the need to restrict trade in wildlife
for the purposes of protecting human health.
Countries that participate in CITES should
not be discouraged from acting unilaterally to protect
the health of their citizens or to address a threat
to the survival of a species after multilateral action
has proven ineffective.
Birdlife International. 2003. Saving Asias Threatened
Birds: a Guide for Government and Civil Society.
Clemmons, J.R. 2003. Status Survey of the African Grey
Parrot (Psittacus erithacus timneh) and Development
of a Management Program in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
CITES, Geneva, Switzerland.
Hoyt, E. 2001. Whale Watching 2001:Worldwide tourism
numbers, expenditures, and expanding socioeconomic benefits.
International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port,
MA, USA, pp. ivi; 1158.
IUCN. 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.
IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
IUCN. 2000. 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.
IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. As referenced
IUCN. 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.
IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. As referenced
Juniper, T. 2002. Spixs Macaw: The Race to Save
the Worlds Rarest Bird. London: Fourth Estate.
Mulliken et al., 1996. A global overview of the wild
bird trade: In: The live bird trade in Tanzania. N.Leader-Williams
& R. Tibanyenda (Eds.). IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
Shepherd, Chris R., Jeet Sukumaran, Serge A. Wich.
2004. Open Season:An analysis of the pet trade in Medan,
Sumatra 1997 - 2001. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Troeng, S and Drews C. 2004. Money Talks: Economic
Aspects of Marine Turtle Use and Conservation, WWF-International,
Vieta, Frances E. 1999. Ecotourism propels development.
Africa Recovery, Vol.13(1).
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Gonzalez-Elizondo, M. Albornoz, A. Rodriguez-Ferraro,
F. Rojas-Suarez, V. Sanz, A. Trujillo, S. R. Beissinger,
V. Berovides A, X. Galvez A, A. T. Brice, K. Joyner,
J. Eberhard, J. Gilardi, S. E. Koenig, S. Stoleson,
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WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife).
Retrieved 21 November 2005 from, http://wdfw.wa.gov/viewing/watchwld/watchwld.htm
--Prepared by the Species Survival Network, 24 November 2005.
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