From the Editor's Desk

Sheldon Dingle


Dear Editor,

It was with great interest that I read the recent exchange of opinions between you and Ken Graham and Connie Stone of Phoenix, Arizona (A.F.A. Watchbird, XII, 4, 1985). The ideas expressed in this exchange prompted me to contribute some personal thoughts that will, as I hope, help in clarifying some problems.

I saw that you quoted me in support of free enterprise being '' the best friend of conservation.'' I would like to somewhat qualify this statement. It is correct to say that one of the reasons for Australian parrots being most plentiful in aviaries today is free enterprise. When Australia banned all exportation of any of its wildlife, the few parrots living in aviaries outside Australia became extremely valuable, and breeding programs of Australian parrots became profitable, which contributed to a considerable increase of Australian parrots bred in captivity. Nevertheless, the first step in this for the Australian parrots favorable development was Australia's passing of a law that prohibits wildlife export and that impresses extremely harsh punishments on smugglers and on those who circumvent the law in any way. Only because of the rigorous enforcement of the Australian law could the free enterprise system of our economy bring about a development that is consistent with modern conservationist aims.

When discussing the relationship between free enterprise and conservation, it is important to remember the basic tenets of trade economics under the free enterprise system. On the one side, there is the supply of goods (e.g., wild parrots caught in and exported from Third World countries); on the other side, there is the demand for these goods (e.g., aviculturists and pet lovers wanting to buy parrots). Changes in the supply side or demand side of the economy will affect the volume and value of trading. If the supply is reduced (e.g., by banning exportation of parrots from Third World countries), but the demand for the goods remains the same, the price of the goods will rise. If the supply of the goods increases (e.g., by not regulating exportation of parrots) and the demand for the goods remains the same, the price of the goods will remain the same or even fall. Now let's look what happens when the demand side of trading is changed. If the supply of the goods remains the same, but the demand for these goods increases, the price of the goods will increase. This is what happened to the parrot trade during the last years. If, however, the supply of the goods remains the same, but the demand for these goods decreases, the price of these goods will also decrease. If the demand for these goods decreases to such a degree as to completely stop, the trade with these goods will collapse. For example, consider the hypothetical case that the U.S. would want to export poison ivy; we certainly have enough of it; and why not make some money out of it? But we cannot do this, because there is, understandably, absolutely no demand for poison ivy anywhere in the world!

After this simplified expose of trade mechanisms under the free enterprise system, let me return to the problem of parrot trade. Nobody can seriously dispute the fact that the catching and exportation of wild parrots depletes the wild populations. This fact can be illustrated by simple mathematics: If one takes away a certain number of parrots from a wild population, the remaining population consists of fewer individuals. That wild parrot populations are also diminished and threatened because of habitat loss, does not negate this fact, it only compounds it. Since both habitat loss and catching of wild birds for the pet trade affects the population size of parrots in the wild, but because we cannot realistically try to directly prevent habitat loss in foreign countries, it makes sense, from the conservationists' point of view, to at least regulate and eventually reduce the volume of trade with wild parrots. Until recently, legislation tried to reach this goal by imposing restrictions on the exportation of wild birds, in other words by reducing the supply side of the parrot trade. Unfortunately, we know too well that this approach has not been very successful. However, as we have seen in the previous paragraph, trading in goods can also be reduced by curbing the demand for these goods. This is exactly what the controversial New York law banning the selling of wild birds tries to achieve. For anybody who clearly understands the mechanisms of a free enterprise economy and the need for protecting the ever shrinking natural resources of our world, this New York law is neither a "joke" nor "ridiculous." Since we have not been able to reduce the volume of trading with parrots caught from the wild by regulating the supply side of the trade, we must now try to affect it by regulating the demand side of the trade. By making it illegal to sell parrots caught from the wild in New York, the demand for wild parrots will drop (assuming that aviculturists and pet lovers are law-abiding citizens).

Personally, I would also prefer not to have the need for any laws, such as the controversial one in New York, implemented. But I doubt that this is a viable solution today, unless aviculturists are ready to acknowledge that they themselves bear a great responsibility for the protection and conservation of parrots. The words here are self-regulation and integrity. Self-regulation would mean that aviculturists would limit themselves to a reasonable number of breeding pairs of a few selected parrot species, instead of trying to assemble an ever larger collection of ever rarer and more expensive species. Integrity means that we cannot continue to reject legislations by claiming that it would encourage smuggling of birds and at the same time not recognize that any smuggler would be immediately out of business if aviculturists simply refused to buy smuggled birds. As aviculturists we stand now at a crossroad where we must make a choice:

Either self-regulation and integrity or an escalating ''arms race" with legislations. For me, the choice seems clear.

I hope you will be able to publish my letter.


Dr. Dominique G. Hornberger Dept. of Zoology & Physiology Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 70803


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