Limiting Feathered Imports

Exotic birds as pets may be harder to come by if bill to curtail international trade passes Congress

MOLUCCAN cockatoos, African gray parrots, and hyacinth macaws are among the exotic birds Congress is trying to protect from the international trade that is killing them at high rates.

The House of Representatives recently held a hearing on the proposed Wild Bird Conservation Act, which would curtail imports of wild birds for the pet industry. The act, introduced by Rep. Gerry Studds (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of the subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife conservation and environment, would regulate imports of birds into the world's largest market, the United States.

The bill is intended to bridge the gap left by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, which regulates international trade in wild life, but has not been effective with the bird trade, committee experts say.

From 1988 to 1990, more than 1.4 million wild birds were imported into the US, according to Department of the Interior statistics cited by J. Michael Hayden, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. He added that for every bird offered for sale in a pet store, up to five died along the way.

The bill calls for a four-year phase-out of the wild-bird trade, but it faces formidable opposition from more than 50 conservationist and humane organizations including the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, who have called for an immediate end to the commercial trade in wild birds for pets.

Rep. James Saxton (R) of New Jersey, a member of the subcommittee, says he is in favor of any bill that would protect wild birds from being mistreated, but he is still considering the legislation. Although Mr. Saxton is in favor of the spirit of the legislation, he says he still has questions on how it would be implemented and over what time span.

It appears now that the bill will be signed in less than four years. The legislation is not likely to prompt a complaint under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

One of the contributing factors in the push for this legislation is the reluctance of airline carriers to ship birds for the pet trade. In 1989, airlines carried more than 80 percent of the total US bird imports. But at least 73 airline companies and cargo carriers worldwide have voluntarily agreed to stop shipments of wild birds for commercial sale as pets.

Dr. Gerard Bertrand, president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, told the subcommittee, "This shows that the industry has already made substantial adjustments in anticipation of a total ban on future wild bird imports."

Legislation on the subject will be taken up next in the Senate; one expert says that it is possible that the bill "could go through the House and Senate before everyone adjourns" for the year.

Some other groups testifying before the House include: the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the World Wildlife Fund, and the American Ornithologists Union.

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