Cruelty Of International Bird Trade
People are fascinated at the sight and chirping of birds in pet shops and are willing to pay huge sums just to own an exotic species.
But “bird lovers” show hardly any concern at the trauma suffered by birds captured in their country of origin, during transportation and mortality before reaching the country of destination.
The cruelty and suffering involved in the capture and export of birds is shocking! One moment a bird is flying free: the next it’s caught in a net with wings beating frantically as it tries to escape. Captive methods are often cruel resulting in deaths.
Various methods of capture are used; one is the use of live decoy birds of the target species, which are tied by a foot to a peg in the ground with wing tips hacked off to prevent escape. Another is liming; coating a branch with a sticky substance from fresh fruit and honey. Birds trapped in this manner die a slow death as they hang upside down for hours.
More commonly used is the mistnets. These nets spread across the flight paths of birds are often left up for long periods, resulting in slow agonising deaths if the birds are not removed quickly when caught.
Attempts to escape result in broken wings and legs.
Birds suffer from suffocation because catchers do not understand the dietary requirements and force feed them to death.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported that during a feeding session in Argentina, bay fronted parrots were force-fed a mix of maize and water from plastic ketchup bottles resulting in the choking of six birds, one ended with a broken neck and one suffocated.
During capture and on long journeys to the airport, wild caught birds die of shock, dehydration, starvation, diet change, abuse, stress and disease.
Those hardly enough to survive are shipped by air crammed in wooden crates with hardly room for standing, insufficient food, water or ventilation to survive the long journey.
The EIA recorded a shipment of parrots transported in a cage measuring 120cm x 50cm x 40cm.
The thriving illegal bird trade
Once they arrived at their country of destination, the remaining birds may not survive the period of quarantine, and again in the pet shops death may occur.
Mortality rate is high because smugglers will do anything to avoid detection of their captured booty.
Although Australian species of parrots are now bred in captivity in substantial numbers around the world, there is still a demand for wild specimens for the pet industry.
However, for species which are more difficult to breed in captivity and where demand exceeds supply there is an incentive to smuggle.
Frank Antram, Director of Traffic Oceania stated in his report in Oct – Dec ’91 of Animal Liberation, that birds are drugged with phenobarbitol or valium, stuffed into short lengths of plastic or wire mesh tubing, then put into suitcases modified to allow air circulation and be carried by hand.
They are then taken on normal passenger flights to intermediary places like Singapore or Thailand or to their country of destination.
In Thailand which is a signatory to CITES, there is a serious lack of control on wildlife trade, thus it is easier to export the birds openly from there to their final destination with documents declaring them to be “captive-bred.”
Besides parrots, red and blue lories are seriously threatened by trade, apart from critical habitat loss. The Traffic Bulletin April/May ’93 reported that Traffic South East Asia first detected the trade in red and blue lories in Singapore in 1992. The birds were believed to be the first shipment arriving from Indonesia.
Subsequently, Traffic SEA traced more red and blue lories in Singapore in July, October and December 1992, involving five importers.
Approximately 435-485were traced in Singapore. The Traffic report also stated that 140 birds were exported into Malaysia.
Bird trade in Malaysia
While Malaysia’s wildlife trade comes under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, it is also covered under the Malaysian Customs Act of 1967 and Customs Regulations 1997. Under the latter a minimum fine of RM5,000 or a year’s imprisonment or both for making an incorrect declaration is imposed on offenders.
A tax of RM5 is also imposed on protected wildlife entering or leaving the country. Since species in trade are considered protected in Malaysia, each bird passing through the country would be taxed.
This generally serves as a disincentive towards Malaysia acting as a transit point for most wildlife. On the other hand it could be an incentive towards smuggling to evade tax.
Stephen V. Nash in his report: Sold for a Song: The Trade in Southeast Asian Non-Cites Birds, wrote that while legal Malaysian bird trade is relatively small, uncontrolled illegal trade in Malaysian birds occurs regularly.
A case in kind is the straw-headed Bulbul where native Indonesian populations appear to have been exterminated through trapping, but this species is widely available in Indonesian bird markets. Traffic’s investigations discovered the source to be Peninsular Malaysia.
Here they are illegally trapped and exported, laundered in Singapore and re-exported (legally) to Indonesia, a practice involving an estimated 6,000 birds annually.
The other two species observed in trade in Singapore are the oriental white-eyes and the white-rumped shamas, both species highly in demand and widely sold as songbirds in Singapore.
Malaysian authorities on the border state of Kedah have expressed concern that white-rumped shama are facing extinction as the only birds left where in forest reserves. The species mentioned are protected by law.
Records of birds imported legally into Malaysia from New Zealand, Guyana, Tanzania and Netherlands obtained from the Penang Department of Wildlife and National Parks listed the following: CITES and Wildlife Act Protected Species: parrots — 104; finches — 400; others — 112, total: 616.
Non-Protected Species: hornbills — 14; pheasants — 91; pigeons — 13; ducks/swans — 38; finches — 442; cockatiels — 100; budgeri-gars — 235; love bird (hybrid) — 90; others — 236, making a total of 1,259. There were however no detailed record of mortalities of birds.
Import ban the only answer
The bird trade legal or illegal is ultimately driven by demand. Demand combined with short supply motivates dealers, and in some cases breeders, to cash in on the monetary gains.
To satisfy the demands of consumers, birds are also flown across the world in the cargo holds of planes. It is difficult to know the extent of the real suffering inflicted on birds in air transport because hardly any case is brought to the attention of the public.
In a move to halt the shipment of wild caught birds, a call for unified action to halt the shipment of birds came from the airline industry.
Problems associated with the trade would be reduced if consumers refused to purchase captive birds.