Monday, Aug. 8, 2011

Beautiful Birds Threatened by Poaching for Pet Trade, Habitat Loss

Washington, DC ““ In a big step towards the end of the global trade in birds, all members of three parrot species will gain vital protection under the Endangered Species Act tomorrow. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose to list the Philippine cockatoo and the yellow-crested cockatoo (including all four subspecies) as “endangered” and the white cockatoo as “threatened” due to a variety of threats, most severe among them the illegal collection of these attractive birds from the wild for the pet trade. A fourth parrot species included in the finding, the crimson shining parrot, was found “not warranted” for listing.

“Endangered Species Act protection is key for foreign species taken from their homes for the pet trade,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Demand for these attractive, intelligent, and vocal birds in countries including the U.S. drives poaching in their home ranges.”

Listing the cockatoos will restrict their importation severely, and thus protect them from being traded commercially within the United States, said Lee Hall, legal director for Friends of Animals, the group that filed the initial petition to list three communities of birds.

But under certain conditions, exceptions for domestic trade and importation for “conservation” purposes may be allowed, Hall said, because federal agencies focus on “overutilization” and the “illegal” trade. It may remain legal to trade specimens bred in captivity in the United States, for example.

“Every bird cooped up in someone’s house is deprived of a free life with other members of their natural communities,” said Hall. “So we ask advocates in the United States and worldwide to complement our work with awareness campaigns to understand birds – no matter where they were born ““ as inappropriate pets.”

Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians, with the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic, reached a settlement with the Service in July 2010, in which the Service agreed to provide overdue 12-month listing decisions for twelve parrot species petitioned by Friends of Animals. This finding is the first of three batches ““ two more sets of findings will be made before Nov. 30, 2011.

“We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally acted to protect these increasingly rare birds,” said Professor Mike Harris, Director of the Environmental Law Clinic. “It is fitting that those who have profited from caging these beautiful birds will now face some ‘cage time’ themselves.”

The Philippine cockatoo, white with a striking red undertail, was known to exist on 52 islands in the Philippines. Now, its range is likely reduced to just eight islands. In addition to poaching for the pet trade, this species faces threats from logging, development, biofuel production, and conversion of forests for agribusiness, all of which have destroyed much of the lowland forest and native mangroves that the species needs.

The four subspecies of yellow-crested cockatoo are native to Indonesia and Timor-Leste (an independent state adjacent to West Timor). They all have similar brilliant yellow, forward-curving head crests and they all face significant threats from both poaching for the pet trade and deforestation. The yellow-crested cockatoo has declined substantially across its range and is feared to be facing extinction on several islands including Sulawesi, Sumbawa, and Flores. Yellow-crested cockatoos are most common in Komodo National Park and have been known to tangle with the Komodo dragons that prey upon their eggs.

White cockatoos, with their signature large, backward-curving head crests, were inhabitants of six islands in North Maluku, Indonesia (also known as the Moluccas or the Spice Islands). They now inhabit only two of these islands. Removal of individuals from the wild is particularly harmful to the white cockatoo, a monogamous, long-lived bird that may not begin breeding until six years of age. But as the white cockatoo is proposed for listing as “threatened,” the Service plans to include a Special Rule under the ESA which would allow continued import or export of birds held in captivity prior to the listing date and of captive-bred birds.