Wildlife-Trafficking Bust Highlights Problems in Caged Bird Trade
by Abby McBride
Environmental crime officials cracked down on wildlife trafficking between Latin America and Europe this summer, seizing more than 8,700 contraband animals in an Interpol bust dubbed Operation Cage. Authorities arrested nearly 4,000 people during raids on coastal ports, airports, post offices, markets, pet stores, and taxidermists in 32 countries. The sting focused on South and Central American birds, but it also uncovered illegally traded mammals, reptiles, fish, and insects—along with guns, ammunition, trapping equipment, and animal products such as elephant ivory.
“The trade of wild-caught birds has a long history,” said Cornell Lab biologist Eduardo Iñigo-Elias, who has studied parrot conservation and bird trafficking for the past 29 years. “It’s so difficult to trace because it’s a network—a very dynamic trade.” Iñigo-Elias works with government agencies, research institutes, and conservation organizations to combat wild bird capture. I listened with special interest because I have an exotic pet of my own: a Green-cheeked Parakeet, whose great-grandparents probably roamed the cloud forests of Bolivia, Brazil, or Argentina.
In many countries, including the United States, the only birds that can be legally sold in pet stores are ones that were hatched and raised in captivity. And it’s illegal to sell wild-caught birds from country to country, thanks to international regulations such as CITES and rules implemented after an outbreak of avian influenza in 2007. But illicit trade continues all over the world, and some bird species—like the Palm Cockatoo of Australia, a big black parrot with red cheeks and an extravagant crest—go for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market…
(read more: Cornell Lab of Ornithology)