Birds in Danger: Animal Trafficking Takes a Toll

As February approaches as a month full of bird-inspired observances and the upcoming World Wildlife Day, it is time to raise awareness for our friends in flight. Birds have become a important business for illegal wildlife traders. They are being smuggled out of their homes to live in cages as people’s pets. Not only is this dangerous and cruel for the birds, but it also significantly harms the ecosystems that they are being taken from.

The biologist and writer Abby McBride explained how in one summer, environmental crime officials in Latin America and Europe seized more than 8,700 contraband animals and arrested almost 4,000 people during raids at airports, post offices, pet stores, etc. throughout 32 different countries! The trade of wild-caught birds has a long history and it is often difficult to trace. Many countries, like the U.S., have laws that do not allow wild caught birds to be sold, only those raised in captivity. Despite this, illegal trade takes place all over the world. For birds, ones with beautiful song voices or extravagant coloring are often targeted. The desire for these wild birds has created a huge demand. In Brazil alone, an estimated 38 million animals are poached per year, destined as pets for people. Brazil estimates its illegal wildlife trade to hit two billion dollars each year. The desire for huge payouts that drives the traders to go to great lengths to hide and transport these animals is demonstrated by the practice of cramming small birds into medicine tubes or packing them in clothing. Many of these birds die or are severely injured during transport. The traffickers feel this is worth the risks because many of these birds draw $10,000 a piece or more. Once a bird is bought and caged, it is quite common that the animal is poorly cared for either by uncaring owners or by owners who do not know the proper needs of the bird. Often the bird is fed the wrong food, placed in a cage that is too small, or gets little or too much sun.

Not only does this hurt the individual birds being abducted and sold, but it significantly affects the habitats and ecosystems of the places from which the birds are taken from.

Ecosystems are thrown out of balance when too many animals are abducted out of their home areas. For example, when trappers aim for Painted Buntings, they look for the males of the species because they are beautifully colored. This skews the sex and age ratios in the population, which can significantly reduce the overall numbers of Painting Buntings much more than just the abductions. The constant pillage of these birds is altering local ecosystems, causing problems like inbreeding, stymied seed dispersal, inadequate pollination, and an imbalance in the predator and prey animals living in the area. In addition, transporting a sick bird or a bird that is a carrier of an illness can also lead to major issues. For example, Yellow Headed Parrots were smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico, and unbeknownst to the buyer, they carried the Newcastle Virus. The parrots infected local chickens, which eventually spread to twelve million chickens!

Many countries have very weak laws regarding the wildlife trade and penalties are too light for violations. Usually the traffickers spend a few weeks or months in jail or pay fines of $5,000 to $10,000. This amount is nothing when they make more than that off of one illegal bird sale! Governments around the world need to strengthen anti-trafficking laws by greatly increasing the penalties both in fines and jail time required. We need penalties that serve as a deterrent to smugglers. The conservation biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira, an emerging explorer for National Geographic, is trying to make changes in Brazil’s government regulations; she is strongly pushing for a national task force to combat the illegal wildlife trade. She dreams of a South American Wildlife Enforcement Network much like ASEAN to protect the vital animals that make our southern regions home.

In support of our world’s animals, celebrate the many beautiful and varied creatures of our world and the many benefits that conserving them will bring to our planet. Animal lives provide intrinsic value as well as ecological stability for our earth. Observe and get involved in the global celebration of World Wildlife Day and commit to being a supporter of the anti-wildlife trade.

Written by Megan Frison

Information was found at the following sources:

Daugherty, Susan. "Stepping Out of the Lab to Help Millions of Trafficked Animals." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 26 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

"Wildlife-Trafficking Bust Highlights Problems in Caged Bird Trade." All About Birds. Cornell University, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

"World Wildlife Day: 3 March 2015." World Wildlife Day: 3 March 2015. Greening the Blue, 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

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