The Wild Bird Conservation Act

By Phillips, Mark | Endangered Species Bulletin, July 1998 | Go to article overview

The Wild Bird Conservation Act


Phillips, Mark, Endangered Species Bulletin


The international wildlife trade has taken a heavy toll on many forms of wildlife and, in particular, exotic birds. As a result, many populations of exotic bird species have become threatened with extinction. Many of these heavily-traded birds belong to the Order Psittaciformes, which includes all of the parrot-like birds such as amazons, macaws and cockatoos. Most occur naturally in the tropics. Argentina, Guyana, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Senegal are recognized as the main exporting countries in the international pet bird trade, although Argentina's exports have declined in recent years. The United States has historically been one of the largest consumers of exotic pet birds. Past estimates of birds imported into the U.S. ranged as high as 800,000 per year.

All members of the Order Psittaciformes, with the exception of the budgerigar and the cockatiel, are afforded protection by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means that shipments of these exotic birds cannot be exported or imported without valid documents issued by the designated CITES authorities in the country of export and, for exotic birds listed in CITES Appendix I, the country of import as well. CITES requires the exporting country to determine that the export will not be detrimental to the species in the wild. Despite the best intentions of CITES, however, it became clear by the early 1990's that exotic birds were still being shipped internationally in enormous quantities without the required scientific findings or appropriate scientifically-based management plans.

In response to concern about the survival of these species, Congress passed the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) in 1992. This law, a significant step in international efforts to conserve exotic birds that are subject to trade, affords additional protection to all exotic birds listed in the CITES Appendices. Under the WBCA, all exotic birds protected by CITES are prohibited from importation into the U.S. unless the importation qualifies for one of the permitted exemptions provided in the WBCA or the bird species to be imported is included on an approved list pursuant to the WBCA. Exceptions can be made for scientific research, zoological breeding and display, cooperative breeding, and personal pet birds, but permits must be obtained in advance of import. In addition, the WBCA provides for the development of three approved lists for which no WBCA permit is required. These approved lists are for: 1) captive-bred species of exotic birds for which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is confident that all specimens in trade are captive-bred; 2) wild-caught species of exotic birds managed in a scientifically-based sustainable manner; and 3) captive-bred specimens of certain exotic bird species from approved foreign breeding facilities. …

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