Controlling avian influenza is critical, but let’s not muddle the reasons for a ban on commercial imports of wild birds

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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 announcement of a one-month ban on imports of live captive birds other than poultry has also put a spotlight on the international trade in wildlife.

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.”

Links to official decisions of the European Union:

For more information: Contact Juan-Carlos Vasquez at +41-22-917-8156, +41793786540 (cell) or [email protected]; or Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528 (cell), +41-22-917-8242 (office) or [email protected]


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