Following the discovery of an avian influenza- infected bird being held at a United Kingdom quarantine facility, the European Union (EU) placed a temporary moratorium on the import of wild-caught birds in the final months of 2005. And on Jan. 11 of this year, it voted unanimously to put a permanent ban on this practice. The EU was considered the primary importer of wild birds prior to this temporary injunction, as it was responsible for 87 percent of the worldwide trade.Instead of criticizing the EU for its progressive and humane decision, CITES should promote the significant economic value of bird-watching and ecotourism.
Taking effect July 1, 2007, the prohibition will help guard EU countries from infectious diseases such as H5N1 avian influenza and Newcastle's Disease, as well as aid more than 3,000 avian species traded internationally—especially those at serious risk for population decline. Under the new sanction, future imports will also be limited to captive-bred species from countries that the EU has approved to export live commercial poultry into its member states. These regions, such at the United States and Australia, are countries the EU has deemed to have established elevated standards of animal health and to possess the capability of managing mounting global animal health issues.
While the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and many other animal welfare groups are overjoyed with the EU's long overdue decision, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) disapproves of the ban. "We understand the need to combat the threat of avian influenza, but the definitive and inflexible nature of the decision appears disproportionate and risks to hamper conservation efforts in developing countries by depriving them and poor local communities of the benefits of wildlife for their livelihoods," the CITES Secretariat commented in a recent press statement.
There is no evidence to suggest that the prohibition will harm avian preservation or intensify smuggling of diseased birds. "It is alarming that the Secretariat suggests that this ban may imperil the survival of the birds in the wild by reducing local interest in protecting wild bird habitat," said AWI Wildlife Biologist D.J. Schubert, who added that the policy demonstrates a good, sound health precaution. "Instead of criticizing the EU for its progressive and humane decision, CITES should promote the significant economic value of bird-watching and ecotourism to provide local peoples with ample reason to protect wild birds and their environment."