East Asia: Flourishing Illegal Trade in ‘Captive Bred’ Exotic Birds

Many endangered birds sold as captive bred have actually been caught in the wild and smuggled out of their original habitats under cruel conditions, according to a July 2012 report from the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC).

Wild birds traded as captive bred

More than 54,000 birds, mainly parrots and cockatoos, were imported from the Solomon Islands between 2000 and 2010 as ‘captive bred’. These included birds non-native to the Solomon Islands. However, local authorities confirmed to TRAFFIC that the islands have no substantial bird breeding facilities and that registered bird breeders there mainly use their premises as holding sites for illegally caught wild birds bound for export.

Thousands of native Solomon Islands birds were exported as captive bred. Image from TRAFFIC.

Thousands of native Solomon Islands birds were exported as captive bred. Image from TRAFFIC.

The Consumers Association in Penang, Malaysia described how wild birds are caught:

Various methods of capture are used; one is the use of live decoy birds of the target species, which are tied by a foot to a peg in the ground with wing tips hacked off to prevent escape. Another is liming; coating a branch with a sticky substance from fresh fruit and honey. Birds trapped in this manner die a slow death as they hang upside down for hours. More commonly used is the mistnets. These nets spread across the flight paths of birds are often left up for long periods, resulting in slow agonising deaths [..]
Birds are drugged with phenobarbitol or valium, stuffed into short lengths of plastic or wire mesh tubing, then put into suitcases modified to allow air circulation and be carried by hand. They are then taken on normal passenger flights to intermediary places like Singapore or Thailand or to their country of destination.

Trading route of wild birds

YouTube user vladi0361 shared the Environmental Investigation Agency's investigation of the illegal trade of wildly caught parrots in Africa and Southern America [Warning: This video contains cruel content]:

Many birds referred to in the TRAFFIC report are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which restricts trade in wild caught individuals. However, bird traders have been making use of the loophole of ‘captive-bred’ to get around the international regulations. The TRAFFIC report described the wild bird trading routes:

Over the past decade, Singapore and Malaysia combined have accounted for 93% of all birds imported from the Solomon Islands, with significant numbers being re-exported, especially to Taiwan.

Although the above three countries listed have domestic regulations to stop illegal trade of wild birds, enforcement of the law is not effective. So what has gone wrong in these countries?

Singapore: Stringent laws not stopping wild bird trade

Singapore became a Signatory to CITES in 1986. Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, it is an offence to import and export any endangered species without a permit. Any person or company caught violating the law will be prosecuted in Court and subjected to a large fine or even imprisonment.

The Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRE) pointed out that despite these stringent laws, Singapore is still considered a major centre for trade in illegal wildlife:

Prohibited wild animals continue to be advertised for sale as pets in Singapore over the internet, which is also an offence under Singapore law.

Malaysia: Local support needed for the enforcement of CITES

Although the Malaysian government has tried to stop illegal importation of wild birds by requiring traders to declare the origin of all imported birds, the Penang Consumers Association believes governments should take more responsibility for implementation of CITES:

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) lacks teeth to protect species against illegal traders act. It is only a treaty and not a law enforcement body with its signatories expected to implement the treaty’s provisions through domestic legislation and agencies [..] Its challenge is to muster the political support necessary to push wildlife trafficking on national agendas and stir law enforcement officials into effective action. The war against traffickers must be waged at the highest level of government.

The association also urged consumers to take action and stop the trade.

Taiwan: Market flooded with wild bird trade

An article [zh] in a Taiwanese forum for parrot lovers described the illegal trading of these birds:


Taiwan is flooded with illegal traded wild parrots. The bird stores that sell wild parrots can be found everywhere. The wild parrots are smuggled from other countries to Taiwan in extremely cruel manner, and many do not survive the process. Through secret channels, the traders of wild birds manage to obtain legal documentation and “legally” import them to Taiwan [..] There is no way to crackdown on the illegal traders once they obtain legal documents for their birds. Only a few bird stores give up the opportunity to profit from selling smuggled wild parrots, because the exported captive breeders usually are more expensive than the wildly caught birds.

On the one hand, Taiwan is importing the wild birds, but according to a report from Public Television Service Taiwan [zh], the island is also a parrot export region:

目前的寵物鳥市場,鸚鵡就佔了七成,鸚鵡外銷年產值高達七十億,但是國內市場卻沒有人統計。…究竟台灣有多少繁殖場?有多少販售據點?有多少鸚鵡在市場上流通?沒有人知道。…目前大型繁殖場所產出的鸚鵡,大多銷往韓國、日本、中東、 美國以及大陸。

In the present market of pet birds, 70% of the birds are parrots. The annual export value of parrots is about seven thousand million Taiwan Dollars (about 232 million USD). However, there are no statistics about the domestic market [..] How many parrot breeding facilities are in Taiwan? How many stores are selling parrots? How many parrots are in the market? No one knows [..] Most of the parrots from the large breeding facilities are sold to Korea, Middle East, the United States, and Mainland China.

This report also explained that to differentiate between birds bred legally in Taiwan and smuggled birds, from April 2011, the Taiwanese government has assigned individual parrots a distinctive ID.

This post was sub-edited by Jane Ellis.

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