Breeders and Pet Stores Are Decimating Populations of Wild Parrots

 It is most certainly the demand for parrots as pets that drives the illegal trade of these beautiful wild creatures. The breeders and pet merchants are the middle men of that multi-million dollar black market. (The illegal trade of all wild animals is in the billions of dollars.)

The protections of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ("CITES") have reduced commercial export and trade in a number of parrot species. In the U.S. the Wild Bird Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. §4901-4916 implements the CITES protections, but there is an exception for importation of captive bred wild birds if they are determined to be "(1)…regularly bred in captivity and no wild-caught birds of the species are in trade; or (2) the species is bred in a qualifying facility." 16 U.S.C. §4905. There are few regulations on what constitutes a qualifying facility other than the conditions must be humane and "not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild." 16 U.S.C. §4906. The exporting country must be a member of CITES.

It is not known whether these laws have had much effect on smugglers. Indeed, the illegal trade of these increasingly rare birds appears to be on the rise. The U.N. recently called for stepped up enforcement of laws against the illegal traffic of these birds. But the penalties are simply too insignificant to be a deterrent especially in light of the profits. And enforcement of these laws is simply not a priority in many countries. Few resources are devoted to protection of wild parrots, birds and other animals from illegal traders.

Moreover, smugglers now target the most protected species because they are rare and bring the highest prices. Breeders and pet merchants pay top dollar for rare birds. These rare parrot populations are so decimated that even a few smugglers can have a devastating effect. Smugglers who remove a handful of parrot chicks of a rare species where only a few hundred are left, could drive it to extinction. And, smugglers often take eggs from the nest. An official from U.S. Fish & Wildlife noted eggs are easier to smuggle. Also according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife official, breeders can simply hatch them and establish a breeding pair and no one is the wiser that they are from eggs taken from the wild.

In fact, breeders openly bid at auctions of wild caught parrots and birds confiscated from smugglers by U.S. Fish & Wildlife. There are reports breeders complain when these confiscated wild caught parrots and birds are not auctioned off but sent instead to parrot rescues and the like.

Breeders dismiss arguments that they have any role in driving many species, more than a third of the 330 parrot species, to extinction. Many claim they breed captive born birds and have no impact on wild populations. But that is not true. These are wild birds regardless that they are born in captivity. They are not domesticated like cats or dogs. The domestication of an animal is an evolutionary process that takes thousands of years. It is not a matter of a few generations of breeding. These animals belong in the wild. To the extent breeders keep them from their natural habitat, they are contributing to the decline of these birds in the wild.

Also, there is simply no evidence breeders help maintain declining populations of parrots. The breeders and pet merchants are driven by profit, and they breed the most coveted or popular birds. They do not necessarily make an effort to breed species that are on the verge of extinction. And, the statistics indicate parrots and birds captured and then bred do not become established as a species. One expert made a study of the orange-flanked or grey-cheeked parakeet from western Ecuador and extreme northern Peru. She observed, "It was heavily exploited during the 1980s before which it was abundant in the wild in its limited area of distribution. Then from 1983 to 1988 at least 60,000 birds were exported. Most of these had been taken from nests and hand-reared. They were very popular as pets in the USA. Despite the tens of thousands exported, it is now a rare bird in aviculture, with probably fewer than ten breeders in the USA. Last year I made extensive enquiries and advertised in several avicultural magazines in the UK but I was unable to locate a single bird…. The total population of the Grey-cheeked Parakeet, which is now classified as Endangered, is estimated to be only about 15,000 birds- just one quarter of the number exported in that five year period. In this case trade had a lasting impact on its numbers and, due to deforestation, there is now no possibility for recovery. " The Wild Parrot Trade: Stop It!, by Rosemary Low

The orange-flanked or grey-cheeked parakeet species was not established at all despite that 60,000 were exported to breeders during a five year period. Indeed, its numbers were decimated, and the parrot was driven out of existence.

Moreover, the taking of parrot chicks and eggs destroys nests, and there is evidence that after a nest is invaded, a nesting pair does not nest again. Also, the trapping and smuggling of parrots are outrageously cruel. At least 60% of smuggled wild birds do not survive the trip. There is nothing about taking these birds from the wild to breed and sell that contributes to their conservation.

There is also a great risk of disease among captured and captive bred parrots. As a result they are poor candidates for conservation programs to breed wild parrots. The horrific conditions in which parrots are transported and kept have led to the high incidence of disease. Once captured, these parrots are also exposed to viruses with which they have no experience and die as a result. It should be noted these captive parrots bring the danger of disease to other birds and poultry.

Sadly, for some parrot species, whether they continue to exist at all is up to breeders whose motive is generally profit. A case in point is the Spix’s Macaw. This Brazilian bird, a species of parrot, was nearly extinct by the mid-1980s with only eleven remaining and they were in captivity. The Brazilian government kicked off an effort to save the bird, inviting private breeders and collectors in possession of Spix’s macaws to take part in a conservation program. A collector or breeder in possession of such a rare bird almost certainly acquired it through illegal trade. It was thought, though, a program to re-introduce the birds to the wild would fail if they relied only on the eleven in zoos. Hence the invitation to private breeders and collectors. But the breeders were simply not dependable. Some reneged on their agreement to participate in the program and even sold their Spix’s macaws to collectors; the government has not been able to trace some of these collectors. The program has stalled.

Breeders as well as pet store companies have contributed to the many thousands of homeless and unwanted parrots and other birds. Most people do not realize these wild animals can be messy, noisy, and aggressive. Most people are simply not equipped to take care of a wild bird. And the birds are as a result abused, neglected in small cramped cages or abandoned.

Indeed, for all of these many thousands of parrots and other birds, whether they are wild caught or captive bred, they live their lives not in the wild but in small cages in a breeder’s facility, a pet shop or someone’s home. These intelligent birds suffer isolation. They suffer terribly from forced confinement. Most captive bred parrots are not even parent-raised. Instead they are mass produced and warehoused in small cages. For the lucky few, there may be an aviary with limited room for flying but still no opportunity even to nest and raise families.

Despite the many thousands of neglected and abandoned parrots and other birds, breeders continue to breed them. Pet stores continue to market and sell them as if they are a new toy. The movement to promote adoption rather than the breeding and sale of cats and dogs has not caught up to birds.

It may be the bird flu that leads at least to regulation of the conditions in which breeders and pet stores raise and keep wild parrots and birds or inspection of their operations. In October, 2005 the European Union finally banned the importation of all imports of captive exotic birds because a parrot died of the bid flu, H5N1 strain. During the Convention on Biological Diversity held in March, 2006 in Curitiba, Brazil the UN called for increased monitoring of the wildlife trade because of the spread of bird flu.

In the long run to protect these beautiful wild parrots and birds we must reduce the demand for them for breeding or pets. We must create a demand they be left in the wild, a demand their habitat be preserved, a demand they be allowed to fly free.