Canadian Government Silencing Critics of the Seal Hunt?

 Though the Canadian government seems oblivious to the cruelty of the continuing seal hunt, it has decided to put on trial five critics. 

Beginning this week 2 Canadians, 2 Americans and 1 Briton will face charged in Isles de la Madeleine in Quebec for coming within 10 meters of seal hunters, a violation of federal regulations concerning marine mammals. These defendants, representatives of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or Humane Society International (HSI) are represented by Clayton Ruby said the charge could mean a fine of $100,000 Canadian (also $100,000 US)

For more on the terrible cruelty of the seal hunt and the violations of even the meager anti-cruelty regulations that are ignored by Canadian officials, click here. It’s Time to Stop the Canadian Seal Hunt


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Finds the Polar Bear is a Threatened Species

polar bearUpdate: The polar bear is now listed as a threatened species. For more on this and what this listing could mean for the polar bear, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier reports below.

Original report: On January 9, 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, 15 USC 1531 et seq.; 72 FR 1064.

They should be listed as an endangered and not just threatened species.

At any rate, USFWS took public comments until April 9, 2007 on this proposal. USFWS has now re-opened for two weeks only or until October 5, 2007 for additional public comments.

Click here to sign a petition and offer additional comments in support of the listing of polar bears as a threatened species.

Throughout the Arctic, polar bears are known by a variety of common names, including nanook, nanuq, ice bear, sea bear, isbjorn, white bears, and eisbaer.

The total number of polar bears worldwide is estimated to be 20,000-25,000. There are 19 populations of polar bears, 13 of which are in Canada. They are otherwise found in the East Siberian, Laptev, and Kara Seas of Russia; Fram Strait, Greenland Sea, and Barents Sea of northern Europe (Norway, Greenland, and Denmark); Baffin Bay, which separates Canada and Greenland, through most of the Canadian Arctic archipelago and the Canadian Beaufort Sea; and in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas located west and north of Alaska.

For the most part, polar bears remain on the sea ice year-round or spend only short periods on land.

Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act, 16 USC §1533 and regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth procedures for adding species to the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species. Under section 4(a) of the Act, a species may be listed on the basis of any of five factors, as follows: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. 16 USC §1533(a).

The term "threatened species" means "any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." 16 USCS § 1532 (20). The term "endangered species" means any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act does not define the term "foreseeable future." 16 USCS § 1532 (6)

USFWS has found all 19 populations of polar bear may be threatened within the meaning of the Endangered Species Act. The threat is from global warming. There is also danger to polar bears from increasing oil and gas exploration and production.

USFWS notes, "Arctic regions are being disproportionately affected by higher levels of warming…. Observations of Arctic changes.. includ[e] diminishing sea ice, shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, and Arctic greening".

"The National Snow and Ice Data Center….[,] affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Geophysical Data Center[,] …report[s] that the amount of sea ice in 2006 was the second lowest on record (since satellites began recording sea ice extent measurements via passive microwave imagery in 1978), and the pace of melting [is] accelerating".

"The winter maximum sea ice extent in 2005 and 2006 were both about 6 percent lower than average values, indicating significant decline in the winter sea ice cover. In both cases, the observed surface temperatures were also significantly warmer and the onset of freeze-up was later than normal. In both years, onset of melt also happened early ….A continued decline would mean …a warmer ocean in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean. This in turn may result in a further decline in winter ice cover".

"Average air temperatures across most of the Arctic Ocean from January to August 2006 were about 2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit ([degrees] F) warmer than the long-term average across the region during the preceding 50 years, indicating that ice melt is accelerating".

"Results of a new study by a team of scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and two universities…suggest that abrupt reductions in the extent of summer ice are likely to occur over the next few decades, and that near ice-free September conditions may be reached as early as 2040".

"[T]he ice season is decreasing…..[T]he length of the melt season is increasing at a rate of approximately 13.1 days per decade".

"A number of climate models have been developed that project future conditions in the Arctic, as well as globally…. All models predict continued Arctic warming and continued decreases in the Arctic sea ice cover in the 21st century … due to increasing global temperatures".

"Further, due to increased warming in the Arctic region, accepted models project almost no sea ice cover during summer in the Arctic Ocean by the end of the 21st century …More recently, the NSIDC cautioned that the Arctic will be ice-free by 2060 if current warming trends continue".

"Predicted Arctic atmospheric and oceanographic changes for time periods through the year 2080 include increased air temperatures, increased precipitation and run-off, and reduced sea ice extent and duration".

In view of thinning, melting ice, warming temperatures and increasing rain, the polar bears are threatened as a species. They face the loss of habitat, denning and prey. Global warming greatly damages their health including the ability to reproduce, and puts them at risk, for example, of drowning.

Federal protection for U.S. polar bears could mean designation of critical habitat. Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act requires "federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat." 16 USCS § 1532(5)

The listing of the polar bear as a threatened species would subsequently lead to regulations designed to conserve the bears and could include the development of a recovery plan. 16 USCS § 1533

Federal protections could mean, with exceptions, prohibitions on the take and import or export or other commercial activity involving polar bears. The Act defines "take’ to mean "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or to attempt to engage in any such conduct." 16 USCS §§1532(10),(19);1538

Submit written comments to the Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Office, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503.

Individual respondents may request that we withhold their names and/or home addresses, etc., but if you wish us to consider withholding this information, you must state this prominently at the beginning of your comments. In addition, you must present rationale for withholding this information. This rationale must demonstrate that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy. Unsupported assertions will not meet this burden. In the absence of exceptional, documentable circumstances, this information will be released. We will always make submissions from organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives of or officials of organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. Comments and materials received will be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office

Email comments directly to USFWS at: or to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at If you submit comments by e-mail, please submit them in ASCII file format and avoid the use of special characters and encryption. Please include "Attn: Polar Bear Finding" and your name and return address in your e-mail message. Please note that the e-mail address will be closed at the termination of the public comment period.

USFWS seeks, in particular, comments concerning:

(1) Information on taxonomy, distribution, habitat selection (especially denning habitat), food habits, population density and trends, habitat trends, and effects of management on polar bears;

(2) Information on the effects of sea ice change on the distribution and abundance of polar bears and their principal prey over the short and long term;

(3) Information on the effects of other potential listing factors, including oil and gas development, contaminants, ecotourism, hunting, poaching, on the distribution and abundance of polar bears and their principal prey over the short and long term;

(4) Information on regulatory mechanisms and management programs for polar bear conservation, including mitigation measures related to oil and gas exploration and development, hunting conservation programs, anti-poaching programs, and any other private, tribal, or governmental conservation programs which benefit polar bears;

(5) The specific physical and biological features to consider, and specific areas that may meet the definition of critical habitat and that should or should not be considered for a proposed critical habitat designation as provided by section 4 of the Act;

(6) Information relevant to whether any populations of the species may qualify as distinct population segments; and

(7) The data and studies referred to within the proposal.


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.

Parrot Smuggling

It was the rare happy ending. In December 2004 in an agreement negotiated for months between the U.S. and Mexico, U.S. Fish & Wildlife escorted 90 red-headed and lilac-crowned Amazon parrots to Tijuana.

They were met by an official of the Mexican government who picked them up to return them to the wild in the Mexican tropics. These parrots were illegally captured in the wild and smuggled into the U.S. in paper bags and black metal boxes found in a pickup truck. They spent months in captivity while the two countries negotiated their fate.

It is not typical for wild parrots smuggled into the U.S. to be repatriated. Most will never fly free in the jungle or rain forest again. Usually they are auctioned off by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or adopted by zoos. Or they may be sent to shelters or the few sanctuaries if there is room available. That is, if the smugglers are even caught. It is estimated only a small number of parrots smuggled into the U.S. are found.

In fact, most do not even make it alive. One Mexican official estimated only one in six parrots, 16.6%, survives the trip across the U.S./Mexican border. It has been estimated 60% of all wild birds worldwide die upon capture or while they are being sneaked onto the market. One recent report estimated of all wild animals caught and illegally traded around the world, 75% die during the trip. One group of researchers in Nicaragua has found smugglers there plan for the deaths of parrots by capturing four times as many as make it to market.

Many of these parrots die just from the shock of capture and confinement. These intelligent, lively birds are captured and smuggled in horrific conditions. The parrots have been found secreted in everything from toothpaste tubes, stockings, hair rollers, and toilet paper tubes to thermoses, glove compartments, hubcaps, false compartments in dog crates, and tire wells. The birds are drugged or given alcohol such as tequila to keep them quiet during the trip. Or their beaks may be taped shut. Sometimes their feathers are pulled out to keep them from flying. Some have been found with holes poked in their eyes to keep them from singing in reaction to light. No food or water is provided to them during the journey. They often can barely breathe. The baby parrots have pinfeathers which hold blood; they are handled so roughly during the trip, they often bleed to death. And, more recently, smugglers have been found sneaking parrot eggs out of nests in the wild. Apparently, the eggs do not present the problems for smugglers as live, noisy animals.

A Black Market in Parrots

It is believed parrot smuggling worldwide is actually on the rise. In an October, 2005 U.N. report it was noted of the millions of wild birds captured each year, a significant portion are illegally caught and traded. The trade in wild animals worldwide as a whole is valued at $25 billion annually. In Italy alone it is a $500 million a year industry. It is estimated one third of the worldwide total is attributable to illegal trading. One U.N. report observed the illegal trade of wild caught animals including parrots is second only to drugs and arms trafficking. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated parrots and macaws "are a prime target for this black market".

The Mexican government has reported a substantial increase in confiscation of animals captured for smuggling to other countries. The Italian police have over a four year period confiscated growing numbers of animals smuggled from Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. A January, 2006 report revealed hundreds of thousands of animals are captured each year in Indonesia for illegal trade. The most popular species sought by smugglers are native parrots, the Papuan black capped lorys, yellow or sulphur crested cockatoos, and electus.

In Spain it is reported that collectors will pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000,000 for a large macaw. A pink macaw taken from Brazil will sell for as much as $2,000 in Italy. In the case of a smuggler captured in 2004 with 125 live birds including 48 lilac-crowned Amazon parrots, he claimed he paid $3,000 for the birds. In southern California the birds had a retail value of $39,600, about $316 each. Blue-fronted Amazon parrots sell wholesale in the U.S. for about $350 and retail for $650 or more. One U.N. official has said of the illegal wild animal trade, "We have many examples where the products are smuggled are worth — weight for weight — more than cocaine, heroin, gold or diamonds."

The demand driving this lucrative black market in parrots are collectors and breeders but primarily average citizens who want them as pets. And the desire to keep parrots as pets is killing them off. A study released by the Worldwatch Institute, Winged Messengers: The Decline of Birds, concluded "almost a third of the world’s 330 parrot species are threatened with extinction due to pressures from collecting for the pet trade, combined with habitat loss." (Parrots are actually part of the Psittacine Order with 330 species worldwide, also including parakeets, macaws, cockatoos, rosellas, amazons, conures, and lorikeets; they all possess a downward-curving upper beak, and many have brightly colored feathers.)

A 2001 study in the journal Conservation Biology entitled "Nest Poaching in Neotropical Parrots" concluded that, "Poaching of parrots from the wild is an economic activity driven by a combination of the market demand for parrots as pets, the large profits to the pet industry, and the rural poverty in many countries with wild-parrot populations." A January, 2006 report revealed in Indonesia, "Despite a current ban on importation of birds, demands from international enthusiasts for illegal exotic birds or wild specimens continue. Many Indonesian wild animals are facing extinction. The primary cause is habitat loss due to deforestation for global hardwood demands, land clearing for agro business and mining, but hundreds of thousands animals are also trapped each year to supply illegal exotic pet markets or for human consumptions." In a 2006 U.N. report it was revealed trapping parrots for pets is a threat to one third of all parrots worldwide.

(The U.S.’s only native parrot, the Carolina parakeet, became extinct more than a century ago. They were hunted to extinction largely for their feathers which were used in women’s hats.)

Howard Youth, author of "Winged Messengers: The Decline of Birds" was quoted in a 2006 U.N. report as saying "we are witnessing the worst wave of species extinction since the dinosaurs disappeared from Earth 65 million years ago." He is referring not only to parrots but also to the one in eight species of all birds in danger of disappearing in the next twenty years.

Laws to Stop Smuggling

There are legal protections in place. All but two parrot species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This global agreement, which involves some 169 member nations, regulates international trade in species listed on any of its three appendices. Forty-five parrot species are listed on CITES Appendix I, the Convention’s highest level of protection. All commercial trade is prohibited because these birds face an immediate threat of extinction. All other parrots except two species are listed on CITES Appendix II. These species cannot enter trade without export permits from their country of origin.

Recently, the Mexican lilac-crowned parrot and the yellow-crested cockatoo from Indonesia were moved to Appendix I because their numbers have been so decimated, in large part, by illegal trade.

Also, in 1992 the U.S. passed the Wild Bird Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. §§4901-4916. The Act was passed, in part, to implement CITES protections. The importation of all birds listed in CITES Appendix I is banned. In fact, the Act and subsequent regulations ban imports of birds listed in any CITES Appendix as well as some others. 58 FR 60534; 50 C.F.R. 15.2- 15.53. There are exceptions for certain captive bred species, particular birds from countries with approved conservation programs, those from or for approved captive-breeding facilities and some others which require a permit for importation.

Many of the birds protected by CITES and the Wild Bird Conservation Act have also been declared endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, 16 USCS §§ 1531-1543, meaning they cannot be imported or sold interstate without a specific permit from U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

It is not clear what effect these protections have had on smuggling. But since the Act there has been a drastic reduction of legal importation of wild parrots into the U.S. It is debated as to whether this is really attributable to the law or instead, the decimation of bird habitat.

In any event, according to a 2003 UN report the European Union is now the world’s biggest market for wild-caught parrots. Most of these parrots come from Mexico and Central and South America. The British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes that hundreds of thousands of birds are smuggled illegally into Britain every year. One third of the 35,000 wild animals including parrots brought to Italy every year are smuggled into the country.

The most highly prized by consumers and so smugglers are those given the most legal protection, for example, the parrots on CITES Appendix I.

The U.N. has recently called for stepped up enforcement against all illegal wildlife trade.
Few resources are allocated to enforcing these laws, however. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is woefully under-funded and understaffed. The penalties for smuggling are simply not significant particularly when compared to the profits. In the U.S. civil fines range from $500 to $25,000 depending on the violation. Criminal penalties include fines and jail time from 6 months to 2 years, again, depending upon the violation. The government may be able to charge under other statutes, but all in all, there is little deterrence for smugglers. The penalties vary in other countries, but in none are they significant: six months to six years in prison in Mexico, five years in Spain, or two years in Italy. In Brazil, for example, a violator may pay a bond of $100 and then do community service.

Curiously, the fear of bird flu may lead to stepped up enforcement against illegal smuggling of wild caught birds. 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. And, in October, 2005 the European Union banned all imports of captive exotic birds because a parrot died of the bid flu, H5N1 strain.


There is some good news. A conservation strategy, ecotourism, shows promise as a way to reduce public demand for parrots as pets. Ecotourism is basically travel to natural areas that conserve the environment. It allows people to see for themselves birds including parrots are far better off living free in the wild. Ecotourism can demonstrate the importance of conservation and habitat preservation. It can show people the many problems of keeping birds in captivity. And it supports local economies, reducing pressures to trade, legally or illegally, in the wild animals of the area. The people who take pride in their indigenous wildlife are far less likely to tolerate smuggling of precious parrots and other animals. Indeed, ecotourism is already a $3.5 trillion industry and growing.

Also, some countries have tried making local parrots and other wildlife "stars" or "celebrities". On the island of St. Lucia a move was made to save the wild parrot, the jacquot. The parrot was billed as a star in the local media. After much hype, the islanders began to see the importance of the jacquot and got behind efforts to save large areas of the rainforest, its habitat. Parrot hunting was banned, and people turned in their jacquots to be freed in the wild. The jacquot population has soared!