The Endangered Species Act Effects on Non Native Species, Aviculture and Avian Veterinarians AAV 2016

Susan L Clubb, DVM

In 2008 The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was petitioned by “Friends of Animals” to add 19 species of psittacine birds to the Endangered Species List (ESA). Since the ESA was created to protect native wildlife species, this petition was a real game changer for aviculturists.

The Service (USFWS) was subsequently forced into evaluating the foreign (exotic) species named in the petition to see if they met the criteria for inclusion on the endangered or threatened species lists of the ESA. If a species is placed on the threatened list, USFWS is allowed to waive the ban on interstate commerce of that species. However, if listed as endangered, there is a complete prohibition on all interstate sales without proper permits. Any interstate sale then requires a Captive Bred Wildlife (CBW) permit for both the seller and the buyer. In the past these permits were more easily obtainable, but required annual reporting of all births, deaths and sales of listed species. Today it has become very difficult to acquire a permit, particularly if the goal is to obtain a pet or companion bird.

In recent years the Blue Throated Macaw (Ara glacogularis), Citron crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata), lesser sulphur crested cockatoo (Cacatua suphurea sulphera), red-vented cockatoo (Cacatua hematuropygia), Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis), Umbrella cockatoo,(Cacatua alba), Buffon’s macaw (Ara ambigua) and Military Macaw (Ara militaris) have all been added to the Endangered list with immediate consequences. I have personally become aware of breeders who are selling producing pairs of these species in anticipation that they will be unable to sell the offspring. (Umbrella cockatoos, added to the list as threatened with 4(d) rule, will, at this point, not be restricted from intrastate sales.)

Of great importance to avian veterinarians is that, in many states, (see list below) it is illegal to possess an ESA listed species as a pet. They are virtually illegal to own in states that follow the ESA federal guidelines to the letter of the law! This fact can serve to drive owners underground to the point that they would not feel comfortable seeking veterinary care for their birds. Even worse, they may have to give up long-term pet birds that are now illegal to own. Additionally, if strictly interpreted, listing a species as endangered could make the shipping or mailing of diagnostic samples (from animals of this species) to laboratories in another state as illegal as ownership!

At the time of writing we are in a comment period for listing of Scarlet macaws (Ara macao). USFWS is proposing a split listing under which the South American subspecies would be listed as threatened with the 4(d) rule, and the Central American subspecies would be listed as Endangered with prohibition of all unpermitted interstate commerce. A decision is still pending on these proposals as well as on the listing of Hyacinth macaws (Anodohynchus hyacinthinus).

In early 2016, The American Federation of Aviculture convened an ad-hoc committee, of which I am a member, to explore issues of implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) and CITES, and how these laws and their accompanying regulations have and continue to impact aviculture in the United States. The AFA committee identified a group of issues and suggested some solutions that might be implemented to resolve them in an effort to enhance US captive-bred psittacine populations and further cooperation between the USFWS and aviculturists. Following is a synopsis of these issues and how they can affect captive populations of ESA listed species in the US, as well as their impact on aviculturists and avian veterinarians.

American Federation of Aviculture

Discussion items - January 22, 2016 USFWS Meeting

AFA desires to collaborate with international, federal, and state authorities to ensure that regulators encourage not only the continuation of existing captive breeding, but also to promote future efforts to utilize captive breeding as a sustainable conservation tool. Regulatory mechanisms should also recognize the need for economic sustainability of captive breeding programs to ensure the longevity of genetically diverse populations.


Issue 1: Captive-Breeding is an important Conservation Tool.

Conservation is not only important in the birds’ native countries, but it is important in other countries that breed the species. Among adaptive species, captive breeding undertaken by aviculture is part of the survival matrix.

  • Increases the world’s total population of the species so that reintroduction to native habitats could be possible if needed. (Example: The Puerto Rican parrot - Amazona vittata).
  • Safeguards against extinction. (Example: Spix’s Macaw- Cyanopsitta spixxi).
  • Educates the population about the needs of endangered species so funds are contributed to conservation efforts in the birds’ native countries.
  • Reduces pressure from removal from the wild (poaching) if specimens can be supplied by US aviculture in a responsible captive-breeding program.

Recommendation: USFWS should recognize and appreciate captive-breeding as a form of conservation and support the continued existence of healthy populations of captive-bred animals in the US, particularly the populations of parrots that are not receiving adequate protection in their range states.

Aviculture may in fact be the last refuge for some species.

Issue 2: Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of non-native avian species and the subsequent interstate commerce regulations, permitting, and reporting requirements produce unintended consequences while providing no conservation benefit to the species in their native habitats.

ESA listings impede the exchange of specimens among aviculturists contributing to loss of genetic diversity and they restrict free movement of diagnostic and biologic samples between the states, and internationally.

Important unintended consequences of ESA listing non-native species include:

  • Prevents breeders from augmenting their captive populations in order to maintain genetic diversity.
  • Limits the number of US breeders willing to breed the ESA-listed birds.
  • Creates internal U.S. geographic boundaries for shipping, resulting in the 50 states being treated more like separate countries.
  • Dictates who can breed what and where, rather than encouraging responsible, well managed breeding by aviculturists striving for robust, genetically diverse captive populations.
  • Prevents interstate shipment of biological samples from listed species to test for gender, disease, or to establish DNA relatedness. (This is an issue of importance to avian veterinarian who may inadvertently break the law by shipping diagnostic samples interstate.)
  • Encourages hybridization and dilution of pure species genetics.
  • Encourages illegal activities of moving birds, biological samples and feather art across state line thereby damaging a multi-million dollar pet trade industry servicing 6.1 million birds in the US. (Source: The 2014 - 2015 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.)

Recommendation: The US Fish and Wildlife Service should recognize that CITES and the 1992 Wild Bird Conservation Act are an adequate protection for non-native species. Regulation of activities with ESA listed species should be enforced only to the extent necessary to meet the minimum requirements of the law. AFA supports usage of 4(d) rules as the most appropriate mechanism to regulate ESA listed species of non-native birds.

AFA also recommended that USFWS convenes a working group, including stakeholders, to explore ways to improve the permitting processes for ESA, WBCA and CITES regulated activities. (Such a meeting has been proposed for the AFA annual meeting in August 2016)

Issue 3: ESA listings may trigger automatic prohibitions under state laws, thereby making ownership illegal.

Stricter state regulations limiting ownership of ESA listed species can cause legally obtained birds to become contraband. In the following states, stricter state requirements can render possession of ESA listed species illegal:

1. Connecticut

2. Delaware

3. Hawaii

4. Illinois

5. Indiana

6. Kansas

7 Kentucky

8. Louisiana

9. Maryland

10. Massachusetts

11. Michigan

12. Mississippi

13. Missouri

14. Montana

15. Nebraska

16. New Hampshire

17. New Jersey

18. New Mexico

19. New York

20. North Carolina

21. Ohio

22. Oklahoma

23. Pennsylvania

24. South Carolina

25. South Dakota

Note: Virginia recently successfully revised its regulations in response to concerns presented by aviculturists.

Wildlife authorities in these “unsafe” states often insist that the regulations only apply to native wildlife although this is not explicitly declared. Therefore, if challenged by humane groups, or neighbors with complaints, the regulations could become enforceable against ESA listed species of non-native (exotic) species.

This is vitally important for Avian Veterinarians because owners of ESA listed birds in “unsafe” states may be afraid to seek veterinary care due to fear of their possession of a contraband species being revealed.

Recommendation: FWS should collaborate with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) for better alignment of ESA, and CITES issues involving non-native species.

Issue 4: The listing of non-native species as “endangered” should not be applied to species being propagated in captivity in the US.

Value must be assigned not only to the survival of a species in the wild, but also to the survival of that species in captivity. Maintaining diverse captive gene pools is critical to the survival of a species and should be promoted, enhanced and supported.

Recommendation: Captive-bred non-native species should not be listed as “Endangered” when aviculture documents the existence of captive-breeding programs for such species. AFA recommends that if a listing is deemed appropriate such species should be listed as “Threatened” and a 4(d) rule should be adopted at the time of listing. (The 4(d) rule may be applied to species listed as threatened, allowing unregulated interstate commerce to continue.)

Issue 5: Petitions to delist a species should be processed expeditiously

Delisting species in response to a well-founded petition will reduce workload on FWS biologists.

Recommendation: Petitions to delist a species should take precedence over petitions to list species.


Issue 6: Facilities registered by the CITES Secretariat to breed Appendix I species for commercial purposes are adversely affected by ESA listing.

CITES specifically recognizes captive breeding for commercial purposes, allowing trade in captive bred specimens.

Recommendation: Promulgate a regulatory exemption from export restrictions under ESA for registered facilities if the registered species becomes listed under the ESA. Alternatively, USFWS should provide a regulatory exemption under the ESA (or provide in the ESA regulations) that such species in a CITES registered facility would be provided a 4(d) rule exemption as a condition of the facility being registered.


Issue 7: Current USFWS permitting procedures are burdensome, slow, complex, expensive, and intimidating.

Permitting challenges are a discouraging non-incentive result to captive- breeding of listed species, bringing about a decline in numbers of captive populations. (Permit processing time in the US is significantly is slower than in most other countries.)

Recommendation: USFWS should convene a working group to review current permitting procedures with the goal of increasing efficiency, cost effectiveness, streamlining their copious paperwork, and eliminating un-necessary, burdensome, and costly requirements.


Issue 8: Original import documents are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain for founder stock imported generations or decades prior.

It is unreasonable that Appendix II founder stock must be documented back to original exports from range areas in order to import foreign captive-bred birds under an approved Cooperative Breeding Program (CBP) under the WBCA.

Recommendation: FWS should implement means by which the burden of documenting legal founder stock of long standing populations can be reduced.

Issue 9: Regulations for importation of birds under the WBCA foreign captive-bred exemption have not been published 24 years after passage of the WBCA.

One of the major exemptions to the WBCA was for importation of captive-bred birds from approved foreign captive breeding facilities. American aviculturists need to have the ability to augment captive populations to increase genetic diversity.

Recommendation: FWS should promulgate regulations to facilitate importation of birds under the WBCA from foreign breeding facilities.