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A sell-out in paradise

Bird trappers are active worldwide in order to supply wildlife exporters in the EU with ornamental birds for sale in Germany (and elsewhere) so that people can have a touch of the exotic in their sitting rooms. It is conservatively estimated that several million birds are trapped each year for traders, collectors and zoos. The largest market is the European Union.

The consequences of this million euro business range from the destruction of existing population structures to the extinction of complete species. As early as the 1990s the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, together with the well-known World Parrot Trust, the Jane Goodall Institute and other organisations, called on the European Commission to declare a ban on imports of birds caught in the wild. An alliance of more than 200 organisations worldwide supported a petition demanding a wild bird declaration by the EU. The import of wild birds was finally banned in 2006.

But today birds caught in the wild and smuggled into the EU are still sold ‘under the counter’ or declared as captive-bred by inventive traders and thus traded in legally.

The parrot family, with more globally threatened species than any other bird family, suffers the most. The worldwide Red List includes 94 parrot species in the categories Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Trapping of parrots as domestic ornamental birds leads to dramatic declines in most populations in their home countries. Numerous studies from the tropics show that orders from Europe are primarily responsible for the trade. The sad fate of many Asian cockatoo species, or the extinction in the wild of Spix's Macaw, demonstrate in a dramatic fashion what a sad role non-selective mass trapping plays in the decline of these wonderful birds.

Existing control instruments such as the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) can only be partly enforced, and are worthless in terms of protection of endangered species in their homelands. CITES records suggest that the regulations are not based on up to date scientific data, are easy to circumvent, contravention is generally tolerated and sanctions seldom applied.

Smugglers manage to transport the coveted goods through the porous borders of the EU with ever-increasing success. Customs officers are often poorly trained to combat this form of environmental crime or are more concerned with trademark piracy or tobacco smuggling. The time available for species protection is ever shorter.