On Banning the Importation of Exotic Birds

Teresa Gilroy

Abstract


Exotic birds. You have seen them sitting on a perch, docile and attentive in the pet shop window, and you have wondered why they do not fly away. Or you have seen them on T.V. in a sexy ad for a charge card, or maybe you have admired their brilliant feathers in a photograph. But whenever you see them you know one thing: you have mixed feelings. These animals are neither dog nor cat. They have established no voluntary domestic relationship to human kind. They are birds and in our soul we admire their birthright: flight-which is also to say freedom. This is a profound truth that serves as a most effective ally for the animal lover who argues that they should not be imported into the United States for the pet trade. But this intrinsically honorable protest fails, in its simplistic way, to differentiate between the various levels of people who work with exotic birds and to acknowledge the ongoing threats that exotic birds are presently facing in their own countries due to habitat destruction.

Exotic birds come from all over the globe, each with an astonishing degree of specialization in both color and physicality. Their almost garish color markings have gained them both value to and reverence from man, who has sought them out as intensely as he has other grand animals, such as the tiger or the whale. But birds, tucking themselves deep within unpenetratable rain forests, have never been threatened as have the previously mentioned mammals. They have carried forth their numbers exponentially through ages and ages, becoming as numerous as man, comparatively speaking. The Spanish explorers were astounded by the massive flocks of these flashy birds, the size of which we can only today imagine!1

We are still busy classifying them and naming them. While bird watching at one time was for kings and daubblers, bird watching today is bird counting. The breeze brings on it the scent of burning from all directions, burning of the jungle for farming and development-progress has arrived and it is merciless in its intentions.

 

The saddest fact about species extinction is that these animals who find themselves directly in the path of progress also become the victims of profiteering. Their very value lies in their diminishing numbers. As fires are lit at the edge of the jungle there are men whose business it is to precede the carnage, trapping stunned animals and picking through the nests of fallen trees. As long as there is rain forest to be encroached upon and destroyed there will be lots of birds. These animals are brought to town where they are purchased by animal dealers who ship them to quarantine in the country of their destination, where-once released-they are then sold to pet shops or breeders for a goodly profit.2 The animal is still wild, but he is healthy and he has embarked on a long journey in search of a home. He might be trained down to a workable tameness, or, if purchased for the purposes of breeding, matched up with one of his kind to produce young. The chick will be hand-fed and later sold as a very valuable "domestically reared" pet. Within the context of their fate in the wild, the above patterns of bird treatment are ideal. But there is another scenario.

Poaching. Poaching of birds is a nasty and cruel business that thrives on avoidance of governmental requirements and charges that can interfere with the balance of profit at the end of the road. In the U.S., imported exotics must be confined in quarantine for thirty days until deemed healthy and free from disease. If the U.S.D.A. finds an imported bird carrying Newcastle's Disease it is promptly destroyed. Although rare, this disease is a virulent and destructive virus that has laid low our poultry industry time and again at a loss of millions of dollars. It is the individual importing the bird that pays for this service and, given the gravity of the reasons for quarantine, there are no other alternatives. 3 Except poaching: stuff them in the hubcaps of cars or stuff them wherever possible to get them into the country. The fact that once in the dark a bird does not make a sound is favorable to poachers.

 Whether few of the birds brought in by poachers survive the trip is irrelevant. Profits are attractive and one can always find buyers, both aware and unaware that the act of purchasing these animals is no less illegal than smuggling itself. Poaching is cousin to the drug trade and poachers are serious criminals, but you wouldn't know this by the level of punishment assigned to the individuals who-caught in the act -are free to repeat the process within a matter of months. 4 To those who are responsibly dedicated to the management of wildlife in the best interests of the animal-whether zoo or private breeder-the poacher is the black sheep, the thorn in the side and the ghost association that will not die. Those up in arms over importation of exotic birds in general should be educated as to the two types. It would seem that a reexamination of the punishments legislated for poachers is more in order than a crusade against importation in general.

 

 


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