Exotic Bird Conservation Act AAV 1991

Susan L. Clubb, DVM
Avicultural Breeding and Research Center
1471 Folsom Road
Loxahatchee, Florida 33470 USA

Each year, commercial importers, import into the United States more than half a million birds, the majority of which are sold as pets. In addition, an unknown but significant number of birds are smuggled across the border to supply the black market, bypassing quarantine controls and potentially introducing VVND. Many birds experience inhumane conditions and high mortality during transport and quarantine. Trade can have a profound effect on wild populations in exporting countries, where all too often nothing is known about their status in the wild.

The commercial, international trade of wild-caught birds is controversial. Ecological, humane, ethical, legal, and economic considerations color the debates, pitting animal welfare groups against so-called user groups, the pet industry and aviculturists. Historically these debates have taken place in state courtrooms, in hearings on bills to stop the sale of wild- caught birds on a state level.

In August 1988, World Wildlife Fund convened the Cooperative Working Group on Bird Trade (CWGBT), in an effort to move the bird trade debate in a more constructive direction. This effort in dispute resolution successfully brought together representatives of many constituencies1 with a vested interest in conservation and use of wild birds. At the outset, this unusual coalition agreed that the controversial issues surrounding the bird trade merited objective analysis and informed discussion, and that these issues should be addressed at the federal rather than state level.

During the first six meetings (18 months) of the CWGBT, members participated in a comprehensive analysis of United States federal wildlife regulations as well as bird import and mortality data. It became clear during initial discussions that a number of federal procedures, although well intended, were not adequately protecting the species and individual birds in trade nor the needs of the pet bird industry. Group members unfamiliar with the complex procedures required of importers and exporters grew to appreciate the difficulties they faced. At the same time individuals who had not previously appreciated the detrimental effects that unsustainable exploitation is having on wild bird populations increased their understanding of this aspect of exotic bird importation. All group members agreed that trade-associated mortality whether during pre-export, transport, or during the quarantine process, represented a waste of natural resources and a serious concern from the standpoint of animal welfare. The group further agreed that captive breeding efforts were paramount to the resolution of many of the problems associated with trade in wild-caught birds, including high trade volumes and species conservation.

Members of CWGBT realized that for the most part their constituencies' interests are not so disparate that the majority of the problems identified by the working group could not be addressed by a coordinated shift in federal policies and procedures. Therefore, CWGBT prepared a series of joint recommendations (Findings and Recommendations of the Cooperative Working Group on Bird Trade). In March 1990, these recommendations, with the necessary institutional endorsements, were formally presented to the Departments of Agriculture, Interior and State, including their specific agencies which oversee the bird importation process. A summary of the recommendations was presented at the 1990 AAV Annual Conference.

During the next year (6 more meetings), the CWGBT labored to draft legislation that embodied the spirit of the recommendations. On April 2, 1991 the draft bill entitled "Exotic Bird Conservation Act of 1991" was submitted to the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries of the US House of Representatives and the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the US Senate (see Press Release page 8). This bill would create a comprehensive federal program to regulate imports and transfers of exotic wild birds. Under this program, imports of such birds for the pet trade would be phased out over the next five years, and captive breeding efforts would be encouraged. The bill would curtail the detrimental aspects of the trade while preserving a supply of imported birds for aviculture and captive bred birds for the domestic pet market. The bill represents a consensus among nine groups, including World Wildlife Fund, American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, AAV, American Federation of Aviculture, American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society, International Council for Bird Preservation, National Audubon Society, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and TRAFFIC USA.


Section 1 - TITLE - Exotic Bird Conservation Act of 1991.


"The purpose of the act is to enhance the conservation of exotic birds in the wild by reducing and ultimately ending the import of such birds for the pet trade, by reforming the avian import process so as to decrease mortality and improve humane treatment and enforcement capabilities, by facilitating captive breeding of such birds in the United States and other countries, and by encouraging the public to purchase captive-bred birds in lieu of wild-caught birds."

Section 3 - FINDINGS

Congress finds that:

(1) in addition to habitat loss and local use, the international trade of exotic birds for use as pets is contributing to the decline of wild populations;

(2) while many nations have partially or totally restricted their exports of live indigenous avifauna, others continue to supply large numbers of wild-caught birds for the international pet trade;

(3) many exporting nations lack sufficient resources to adequately assess the effects of trade on their wild avian populations, and are therefore unable to demonstrate that their exports are not detrimental to the species in the wild;

(4) the United States remains one of the principal consumers of exotic wild-caught birds for the pet trade;

(5) CITES in 1976 urged exporting countries to restrict gradually the collection of wild animals for the pet trade and recommended that all parties...encourage the breeding of animals for this purpose, eventually limiting the keeping of pets to those species which can be bred in captivity;

(6) avian conservation will be promoted by encouraging the purchase of captive bred birds in lieu of wild-caught birds and facilitating domestic and foreign captive breeding..-.reducing the demand for wild-caught birds;

(7) current domestic and foreign captive breeding programs are capable of increasing the availability of captive bred birds....;

(8) although some efforts have been successful in reducing mortality in birds during transport to and quarantine in the United States, import-associated mortality remains an area of, serious concern; and

(9) the effectiveness of current federal regulations and procedures...and the division of agency responsibilities created thereby, needs to be improved.

Section 4 - DEFINITIONS Provides definitions for the terms -

(1) bird, (excludes parts and products, US indigenous species, poultry and trophies).
(2) captive bred
(4) foreign commerce
(5) import
(6) person
(7) Secretary (of Interior or his agent)
(8) species
(9) transfer - includes any acquisition or disposition including purchase, sale, barter, conveyance, loan, pledge, or gift.


A. Permits and licenses. A permit is required for any import or export of any bird except for those species which are exempt from marking requirements of this act. (see section 6 C) A new joint USDA/FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) permit process will be established. Anyone wishing to import/export must obtain a license and renew it every two years except persons importing birds for their own use provided they are a registered avi-culturist. Records of all import/export data must be maintained, retained by licensees for five years, and reported to FWS as required.

B. Quotas. Imports for purposes other than those listed under exceptions (see part C below) or of exempted birds (Section 6 C) will end five years after enactment. During this five year period, imports of birds for sale for pets will be phased out. Imports of foreign captive bred and ranched birds will not be restricted. Imports of breeding stock for sale to registered aviculturists will continue after the phase out. Quotas for the phase out will be established by FWS based on specific criteria (status in the wild, previous import levels, demand, availability of captive bred, mortality in trade, and other relevant factors). If FWS does not establish quotas for a species, statutory quotas will become effective based on average import of the previous five years (base). Statutory quotas will be 70% of the base in the first year and will decline by 15 percent each year thereafter. Quotas will not apply to birds imported under the exceptions.

C. Exceptions. Import restrictions will generally not apply to the following six exceptions:

1. Zoos and scientific research
2. Captive breeding by registered aviculturists
3. Cooperative breeding programs for species survival
4. Birds produced from ranching operations in countries of origin
5. Foreign captive bred birds
6. Birds imported as personal pets of US citizens living outside the US

FWS may in any case suspend the importation of any species suffering excessive mortality in importation, or if it has been determined that a species meets all the criteria to be listed as an endangered species under the US Endangered species act.

Ranched birds are taken from the wild as eggs or chicks and raised in captivity. Trade in such birds would require protection of the habitat, community involvement and local benefit, strict compliance with a complex set of conditions including humane care and population analysis to demonstrate non-detriment and must be beneficial to the conservation of the species (example- providing nesting sites).


A. Transfers of post-act wild-caught birds imported for aviculture will be limited to;

1. Registered avicuiturists
2. Licensed importers
3. Veterinarians for treatment or necropsy
4. Loan to foreign zoo or aviculturists.

Birds bred in captivity in the US, foreign captive bred or ranched birds, pre-act birds and birds imported under phase-out quotas will not be affected.

B. A registration program will be established by FWS for aviculturists who wish to purchase post act wild-caught birds for captive breeding. Aviculturists who do not wish to buy such birds (buy only captive bred or pre-act birds), will be unaffected.

Criteria for registration will be;

1. Observance of minimal standards for care, caging and husbandry (standards will be established by USDA)
2. Two years avicultural experience
3. No conviction for a misdemeanor violation of animal importation or transfer laws within prior three years.
4. No conviction for a felony violation of animal importation or transfer laws. FWS may waive 3 or 4 for good cause.

General contents of application for registration,

1. Address and description of facility where birds are to be kept.
2. Statement that applicant complies with criteria 1 through 43. Statement that applicant has appropriate record keeping system to comply with the act, and
4. Demonstration of the applicants ability to meet the minimum standards by either; a written inspection statement by an accredited veterinarian, in which case the aviculturists can obtain automatic registration pending review of the application, or sufficient photographs to allow FWS to make a determination and FWS may still require inspection prior to registration.

Registration must be renewed every two years

C. Permanent marking,

FWS will establish appropriate permanent marking requirements. Three years after enactment all imported birds will be marked (Note all psittacines are currently marked by USDA). Transfers of marked birds will be regulated. Foreign captive bred and ranched birds will be marked prior to import but transfers of these birds will not be regulated. Certain species may be exempt from marking according to a set of criteria (will be common domesticated species such as budgerigar, cockatiel, etc.) Marking may by open or closed bands, transponders, or other techniques as deemed appropriate for the species.

D. Reporting and Record keeping requirements for registrants.

Registered persons must keep records and report to FWS as required with respect to birds marked under the act. The act provides that all information will be kept confidential by FWS. FWS will publish a list of registrants.

E. This section authorizes the establishment of a National Avicultural Program for the improved care and management of birds.

Section 7 - PETITIONS

Enables any person to petition the Secretary to make a finding or determination or take action as authorized by this act.


A. Health and welfare of birds in quarantine will be improved by requiring that the USDA promulgate new regulations which will;

1. Improve compliance with quarantine regulations,
2. Establish minimum standards of care for birds in quarantine
3. Provide diagnostic capabilities that will enable veterinarians to take an active role in health care of birds in quarantine
4. Establish improved disease control practices for birds in quarantine.

B. Would require cooperation between FWS and USDA to enforce existing transport regulations and promulgate new regulations to improve transport of birds.


Will enable USDA to require pre-import vaccination. FWS and USDA are authorized to develop research programs to identify causes of mortality in trade and work with exporting nations to implement control measures.


It is unlawful for any person to import or transfer birds except in accordance with this act.


A. Civil penalties - These are in the form of fines (not for criminal convictions) for:

1. Import violations; up to $10,000 or three times the value of the birds whichever is greater.
2. Transfer violations; up to $5,000 or two time the value of the birds whichever is greater (example - transfer of birds to an unregistered person).
3. Other violations; up to $500 or the market value of the birds whichever is greater (example - failure to file a report)

B. Criminal penalties - These are in the form of criminal convictions and imprisonment for:

1. Unlawful import; Imprisonment up to one year or fine.
2. Unlawful transport; Imprisonment for up to six months or fine.
3. Other violations; Imprisonment up to thirty days or fine

The difference between civil and criminal penalties will be the nature and severity of the offense.

C. Inspections - A registered person must allow a representative of USDA or FWS to inspect only birds or records covered by this act at a reasonable hour and only if such representative has reason to believe that there has been a violation of the act. Inspection must be carried out in such a way to minimize intrusion and hazard of disease and must observe reasonable biosecurity measures.

D. Enforcement authority - Authority for enforcement will be given to persons authorized by Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, or the Coast Guard.

E. Seizure and disposition of birds.

FWS may seize birds imported or transferred in violation of the act, but only where in the judgement of FWS, it is necessary to prevent destruction of evidence, provide for proper health care, and to dispose of birds.

Seized birds shall be re-exported if appropriate, or disposed of pursuant to memorandums of understanding between FWS and other private or public organizations, or as a last resort, auctioned.

F. Forfeiture

Birds imported or transferred illegally and any equipment used in illegal transport are subject to forfeiture.

G. License or Registration Suspension

Licenses or registrations obtained under the act are subject to suspension when someone knowingly violates the act or fails to comply with minimum standards for keeping birds. Persons facing suspension are entitled to a hearing. Persons who are suspended may seek reinstatement. Persons suspended must transfer birds obtained under that registration to another registered or licensed person and notify FWS or such transfers.

Section 12 - CITIZEN SUITS

Any person may commence a cml suit against the Secretary in case of violation of the act, or failure to perform a duty under the act that is non-discretionary.


No provision of this act exempts any person from complying with any other state or federal law.


Enables the secretary to provide financial assistance for approved projects for research, conservation, management or protection of exotic birds. Establishes an Exotic Bird Conservation Fund in the general fund of the treasury to which funds may be deposited through appropriations, penalties collected under Section 11, and donations.


Authorizes appropriations to implement the act.


The debates will now continue in Congress. Disagreement regarding certain aspects of the trade in wild-caught birds remains. A coalition of humane and animal rights organizations, led by Defenders of Wildlife, submitted an alternative bill entitled "Wild Bird Protection Act" on April 4, 1991. Three members of this coalition, the Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society of the US and Society for Animal Protective Legislation were members of the Cooperative Working Group and supported the recommendations as published in March 1990. This bill would immediately end imports for the pet trade. It would require marking of all birds in trade, including captive bred, and limit imports for purposes other than the pet trade.

Staff of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee were unable to negotiate a compromise bill and both bills were introduced concurrently to the House of Representatives and the Senate on June 4 1991. Congressmen Studds and Beilson introduced both bills to the House of Representatives. On the same day Senator Baucus and Senator Chafee introduced companion bills in the senate. Hearings before the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee should be scheduled during the summer at which time the committee will again try to reach a consensus.

The Exotic Bird Protection Act (H.R. 2541 and S. 1218) differs from The Wild Bird Protection Act (H.R. 2540 and S 1219) in the following aspects;

The Exotic Bird Conservation Act (EBCA) calls for a five year phase out of wild bird imports for the pet trade. The phaseout would give aviculturists time to expand their breeding collections in order to fill the demands of the pet market.

The Wild Bird Protection Act (WBPA) calls for an immediate ban upon enactment. An immediate ban would likely result in increased smuggling to fill the demand.

EBCA permits continued imports of wild-caught birds for use as breeding stock by aviculturists, after the phase out of imports for pets.

WBPA - would allow imports for captive breeding only if the aviculturists can demonstrate that such imports are needed and that they will be non-detrimental. This proof would be so restrictive that very few birds would be imported for captive breeding.

EBCA - contains reasonable enforcement provisions that would ensure compliance with the act, including reasonable marking, licensing, registration and reporting requirements. Avi-culturists who do not wish to obtain regulated birds will be unaffected.

WBPA - would require marking of any bird in trade. It would further require proof of legal acquisition of pre-act birds before they could be marked, so any person owning a bird who could not document legal acquisition (bill of sale, etc.) could never sell the bird. These marking requirements would be virtually impossible to implement, and enforce, would be very costly, and serve no useful purpose.

EBCA - would promote conservation of birds and their habitats by allowing importation of birds produced in approved ranching operations. Such carefully managed operations can provide opportunities for sustainable utilization of bird populations providing incentives for conservation of habitat. The EBCA also establishes the Exotic Bird Conservation Fund to support the conservation, management and protection of birds in exporting countries. WBPA does not provide for imports of ranched birds.

EBCA - would permit individuals and organization to file suit against the government to enforce the act.

WBPA - would authorize any citizen or group to file suit against private individuals such as aviculturists, pet owners, or researchers, who are alleged to be in violation of the act.

The Wild Bird Protection Act is supported by three organizations which pulled out of the CWGBT after almost three years of compromise. (Humane Society of the United States, Animal Welfare Institute and Society for Animal Protective Legislation) These groups joined by Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Investigation Agency, streamlined the Exotic Birds Conservation Act and added many prohibitively restrictive provisions.

At the time of writing the debate continues as congressional staff attempt to reach a consensus bill. On June 14, members of the CWGBT met with congressional staff. Hearings could be scheduled in August. The latest developments will be presented at the conference. Unfortunately, submission of the Wild Bird Protection Act could have the effect of postponing consideration of either bill by Congress in this session.

Press Release Regarding the Stand of AAV Concerning the Exotic Bird Conservation Act.

Exotic Bird Conservation Act
Association of Avian Veterinarians
April 2, 1991

The Association of Avian Veterinarians is an international professional organization of over 2,500 veterinarians dedicated to advancing and promoting avian medicine and stewardship. Purposes of AAV include, leadership in the interests of avian care and conservation, education of members, the veterinary community and those they serve, and research to enhance clinical avian medicine. In short AAV is dedicated not only to the health needs of our patients, but also the welfare of birds in captivity and the conservation of wild avian populations.

AAV has been an active participant in the deliberations of the Cooperative Working Group on Bird Trade (CWGBT) and is in support of the proposed Exotic Bird Conservation Act (EBCA). The Act is consistent with the objectives of AAV as well as the wishes of the membership as reflected in a 1989 membership survey concerning avian importation.

The draft EBCA is consistent with many of the stated objectives of AAV including, encouragement of pet bird ownership through increased availability of captive bred birds, preservation of species and their natural habitats, and captive propagation of birds under conditions which ensure an optimum quality of life.

AAV strives to promote the perception of companion birds as valuable, intelligent and attractive pets, and to educate bird owners in responsible care of their birds. The urbanization of American society, the relative ease of care of birds and a longing for the exotic all contribute to the desire for birds as pets. Birds are now nearing the popularity of cats and dogs. It has been estimated that 22% of American homes contain pet birds. Birds bond and interact with their owners and are especially useful for pet facilitated therapy. The demand for exotic birds as companion animals cannot be dismissed and it is clearly evident that this demand should and can be meet by aviculture, as long as aviculture has the flexibility to function in a market economy and time to meet that goal.

As the companion bird industry evolves from dependency on wild-caught imports to captive production, it is vital that some international movement of birds both wild-caught for breeding stock and captive bred for trade be improved. While the current import and quarantine system has been very successful in its goal of preventing the importation of poultry lethal disease, the needs and welfare of exotic birds being imported has been neglected. A reform of the USDA quarantine system as well as transport regulations will hopefully provide for healthful and humane international trade.

While enactment of this bill may initially have a negative economic impact on the membership of AAV, it will certainly lead to an increased emphasis on the role of veterinary medicine in aviculture, an emphasis that has already become apparent in our publications and conferences. While any new regulation is burdensome, we feel that this bill outlines a practical approach to the regulation of the importation of wild-caught birds for aviculture. Such a balanced national approach is preferable to a complex and often conflicting network of state laws.

In conclusion, the EBCA offers a balanced national approach to a complex set of problems associated with US trade in exotic birds. AAV is in full support of the EBCA as the best vehicle for addressing those concerns and guiding the pet bird industry to a future which will enhance the lives of companion birds, and their owners as well as conservation of wild populations.

1. Organizations participating as members of the Cooperative Working Group on Bird Trade are: American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), American Pheasant and Waterfowl Society (APWS), Animal Protection Institute of America (API), Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP), National Audubon Society, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), TRAFFIC USA, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).