For use of the media
not an official document.
Controlling avian influenza
is critical, but let’s not muddle the reasons
for a ban on commercial imports of wild birds
Geneva, 28 October 2005 – While avian flu and its potential
for sparking a global influenza pandemic is first and foremost
a serious human health issue, the European Union’s recent
of a one-month ban on imports of live captive birds other than
poultry has also put a spotlight on the international trade in
The EU action followed the discovery that a wild parrot imported
from Suriname died of the avian influenza strain H5N1 while quarantined
in the United Kingdom. Veterinary authorities suspect that this
orange-winged parrot (Amazona amazonica) was infected
by captive-bred birds that were imported from Taiwan, Province
of China, and being kept in the same quarantine facility.
When reporting on these facts, a number of press articles have
quoted claims that the international trade has resulted in wild
birds being “traded almost to extinction” and that
much of the trade is illegal. The Secretariat of the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) is concerned that such views are being used as an
argument to make the ban on live bird imports permanent after
the health crisis has passed.
The reality is that the international trade in orange-winged
parrots and the 1,700 other species of wild birds regulated by
CITES is well managed and subject to robust and transparent monitoring
for sustainability. Commercial trade in endangered birds is banned
by global agreement, while trade in birds that could potentially
be threatened by trade is regulated through a permit system.
Large-scale smuggling of live wild birds without a CITES permit
is difficult and relatively infrequent, although continued vigilance
is needed to prevent illegal activities. In addition, the temporary
blanket ban on imports for commercial purposes will require intensified
border controls, and since such measures are known to drive part
of the trade underground, this may well cause birds to be imported
without going through quarantine.
The CITES Secretariat has already received letters of concern
from wildlife-exporting countries about the future implications
of avian flu for their wildlife trade. Many of the world’s
poorest communities earn a significant part of their income from
trading in wildlife, and without this income people living in
close proximity to wild animals may not have the same incentive
to protect them. Developing countries need to be assured that
unilateral trade bans will only persist as long as there are legitimate
human health concerns behind them.
“While any government may impose ‘stricter domestic
measures’ under CITES to limit wildlife imports for human
health or other reasons, international wildlife trade –
like other global environmental matters – should be managed
through multilateral action and agreement,” said CITES Secretary-General
Willem Wijnstekers. “It is by working together through CITES
that governments and other interested parties can best protect
wildlife and maintain a sustainable-trade system that prevents
more plant and animal species from becoming extinct.”
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at +41-22-917-8156, +41793786540 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org;
or Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528 (cell), +41-22-917-8242
(office) or email@example.com.
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