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Aviculture Under Fire
by Judy Franklin

In 1988, a number of organizations were brought together by the World Wildlife Fund to address the decline in populations of wild birds, thought to be attributable to the capture of wild birds for the pet trade.

This working group consisted of representatives of the pet trade, aviculturists, conservation groups and animal rights groups. After three years of negotiation, the Humane Society of the United States and the Defenders of Wildlife, the two animal rights groups, broke from the talks, and attempted to draft their own, stricter, bill. A compromise bill, H.R. 5013 resulted in the Wild Bird Conservation Act we now know as Public Law 102-440.

In 1992, the Wild Bird Conservation Act passed the Congress on a voice vote and was signed by President George Bush. In that legislation, Congress found as follows:

1) In addition to habitat loss and local use, the international pet trade in wild-caught exotic birds is contributing to the decline of species in the wild, and the mortality associated with the trade remains unacceptably high;

2) The United States, as the world's largest importer of exotic birds and as a Party to the Convention (CITES), should play a substantial role in finding effective solutions to these problems, including assisting countries of origin in implementing programs of wild bird populations, and ensuring that the market in the United States for exotic birds does not operate to the detriment of the survival of species in the wild ...."

This so-called "breeder's bill" was designed to do four things:

1) Ensure that all imports into the United States are biologically sustainable and not detrimental to the species;

2) Ensure that birds being imported into the U.S. are not subjected to inhumane treatment during their capture and transport;

3) Assist wild bird conservation and management in countries of origin;

4) Encourage and promote captive breeding.

The 'compromise' provided for a moratorium on the importation of any species of exotic bird that is listed on an appendix to CITES, and the publication by the Service of the so-called "clean list" of birds that could still be imported into the U.S. And so, one year after passage of the Act, with but a few exceptions, the U.S. was out of the exotic bird business.

This legislation was largely ignored by finch fanciers, as CITES III birds were exempted from the Act, and few finches were to be found on CITES I and II. (CITES I lists species that are threatened with extinction; CITES II lists species that are not currently threatened, but could conceivably become endangered if trade in them is not 'carefully regulated.')

CITES III species are those that are not endangered, but that certain of their countries of origin choose to list as a method of controlling or monitoring their international trade. They are not even a part of the CITES scientific review and listing process. Many finches are listed on CITES III. If just one country decides to list these species under CITES, all of these species are then 'protected' under CITES, regardless of the wishes of any other countries. If something like that were to occur in the U.S., it would be similar to a situation in which if Illinois decided to control or halt the export of dogs from its state, then Florida, Michigan, all the rest of the states would be forced to do so also, regardless of their desires in the matter.

In response to a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the United States (The Humane Society of the United States, et al. v. Bruce H. Babbitt, et al.) seeking to compel the inclusion of CITES III birds in regulations under the WBCA, the Service in 1994 began to include these birds under the protection of the Act, and import of many commonly available species of finch suddenly came to a halt.

These short-lived birds pose an interesting problem, one that breeders of larger birds will face soon enough. Finch breeders are already experiencing difficulties in maintaining a breeding population without regularly exchanging or adding new blood. Some species will undoubtedly become exceedingly difficult to locate in the future. Without intensive breeding programs, some may disappear from American aviculture altogether.

And while these finches are certainly not being conserved in their homeland by a ban on their importation into the United States, the captive population of certain species in the United States may well go the way of the dodo. But wasn't the Wild Bird Conservation Act touted by Congress as 'The Breeder's Bill'?

So it was, but five years after its enactment, regulations that would facilitate sustainable use programs and provide for the approval of foreign captive breeding facilities have not materialized. Those of us in the United States who might wish to bring in an Amazon parrot, even one captive bred in the United Kingdom, for instance, cannot do so. There are no regulations allowing it.

More importantly, although we have seen proposed regulations regarding the foreign captive breeding facilities that Congress thought would magically materialize, the proposed regulations we have seen were so unacceptably complex, and were so burdensome and restrictive that they effectively ensure that no such projects will ever be initiated.

Cooperative breeding groups have also failed to flourish under the Service's watch. Bird clubs are not being encouraged to participate in cooperative breeding groups, as Congress in its 'wisdom' envisioned. (Remember, under Congress' vision, bird clubs could form cooperative breeding groups, and then import birds for breeding projects.) Things got a little more complicated than originally thought. Clubs seem to fear the red tape and control of federally sanctioned projects, apparently, and are not applying. So thus far, the WBCA is not encouraging captive breeding, but rather the opposite, contrary to Congressional intent. Indeed, SEC 15. (b) Marking and Recordkeeping, under the Act reads: "AVOIDING DETERRENCE OF BREEDING: The Secretary shall seek that regulations promulgated under this section will not have the effect of deterring captive breeding of exotic birds."

Neither is the Act aiding in the conservation of birds in the wild: to this date, there is not one penny in the Wild Bird Conservation Fund. But the birds that were once marked for capture in countries of origin are still being clubbed, gassed, eaten or captured for the pet trade, just not our pet trade.

The Wild Bird Conservation Act is, as regulated, being used as a ban on the legal importation of virtually any bird into the United States. The 'humane' community, and to an extent the ornithological community, basically believe that captive breeding must be done on a sustainable basis, without resort to wild stock, and importation should be unnecessary. Tell that to the finch people.

If a species cannot be raised sustainably, they say, without resort to imported stock, such species is deemed 'not commercially important,' and dismissed as of no importance. Captive breeding of exotic birds is not seen to have a role in the conservation of these or any birds, and reintroduction of birds from captive stock is not seen by the ornithological community as playing any part whatsoever in future recovery efforts for exotic birds.

Trade - Not in my backyard

"A Round Table Discussion of Parrot Trade Problems and Solutions" transcribed from a one hour session held at the American Ornithologists' Union meeting on June 29, 1990 at the University of California at Los Angeles: Participants included such notables as Nigel Collar, Noel Snyder, Scott Derrickson, Rosemarie Gnam, Susan Clubb, Paul Butler, Robert Ridgely, Joseph Forshaw, Steve Beissinger, Don Bruning, Charles Munn, Jorgen Thomsen and Enrique Bucher:

Thomsen: "The law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice in the United States have tried to estimate the magnitude of illegal trade (of parrots in the United States.) During the eighties, those estimates have varied from 25,000 parrots being smuggled into the United States on an annual basis to anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000 birds. These estimates are all based on known cases of smuggled birds and on trends known from other criminal activities in the same localities, primarily the Mexican border. The drug trade has been used as a basis for extrapolation to the illegal bird trade ...

...... I think, from listening to the papers today, that the most important lesson is that we either don't know or can't actually prove that large numbers of species in trade are being traded at unsustainable levels."

The problems of justifying trade in birds as pets is not new. Despite the fact that no reliable estimates of the true extent of trade in exotic birds can be made, the pet trade has been demonized as one of the major causes of the decline in native bird populations. I've included some of the available data below, and find some of the patterns evident to be quite fascinating.

Legal US imports per Nilsson, Greta, Importation of Birds into the United States 1986 - 1988 AWI



USDA Figures: Commercial and Pet Birds
Not available
*released from Q
55,166 (FY)

Net imports of live Psittacine species reported to CITES (March 1990), 1984 - 1988: (from Schouten, Kees, Legislation for Nature Conservation, in 1990 proceedings, International Parrot Convention, Loro Parque.):

Net USA Imports
Amazona aestiva
Blue-fronted Amazon

A. albifron
White-fronted Amazon


A. amazonica
Orange wing Amazon


A. Autumnalis
Red-lored Amazon


A. dufrensniana
Blue-cheeked Amazon


A. farinosa
Mealy Amazon


A. festiva
Festive Amazon


A. ochrocephala
Yellow-headed Amazon


A. tucumana
Tucuman Amazon


Ara ararauna
Blue & gold macaw


A. auricollis
Yellow collared macaw


A. chloroptera
Green-winged macaw


A. manilata
Red-bellied macaw


A. nobilis
Red shouldered macaw


A. severa
Chestnut-fronted macaw


Aratinga erythrogenya
Red-masked conure


Cacatua alba
White cockatoo


C. goffini
Goffin's cockatoo


C. haematuropygia
Red vented cockatoo


C. moluccensis
Moluccan cockatoo


Pionus fuscus
Dusky parrot


Pionus manatruus
Blue-headed parrot


P. manilis
White capped parrot


Psittacus erithacus
African grey parrot


As can be noted in the statistics above, the importation of birds from the wild peaked in the mid eighties, and then began a gradual decline. And meanwhile, a number of countries, alarmed at the large numbers of birds being taken from their lands, began to ban the export of their native birds. Mexico, for instance, shut down trade in native wildlife and birds in 1982; Bolivia halted its exports of birds in 1984.

Some countries, such as Australia, actively exterminate their so-called 'pest' species; some of these same countries nonetheless prohibit the export of these 'pests.' Some countries have also been prohibited from exporting pest species by CITES regulations.

In Australia, one of the most notable examples of a country that does not export species it actively exterminates as pests, included would be some of the beautiful cockatoos we all covet. The galahs, the sulphur-cresteds, the red-tailed blacks, and other beautiful birds are clubbed, shot, gassed or poisoned to death rather than being exported for the pet trade.

A number of finches are also viewed as pest species in their home lands. Some finch species in Somalia or Tanzania, for instance, are poisoned with DDT, burned with flamethrowers, and otherwise exterminated. In their home countries, where they compete for scarce food resources with a sometimes near starvation human population, these birds are eaten when they cannot provide an income resource through their exportation.

Trade, and the pet trade especially, has been the demon responsible for the decline in the population of wild, exotic birds, say many of the animal rights/animal welfare groups. Indeed, even the World Wildlife Fund, in its publication Focus once tried to pin the demise of the Carolina parakeet on the trade: "Carolina parakeet. The only parrot native to the United States, the species was decimated by hunting for its feathers and meat and by collection for the pet trade. It was also exterminated as an agricultural pest." Well, thanks for that anyway.

Though trade was a factor in the decline of wild bird populations in many of these countries, it was not the only factor. Other factors are of equal, or perhaps even greater significance, and cannot be ignored as some of these groups want to do.

Habitat loss is probably, in fact, the most devastating factor to many avian populations. Many forests and other habitats are disappearing, and with them not only their birds, but all their other native wildlife as well. The Wild Bird Conservation Act does absolutely nothing to halt or even address that issue. There can be no sustainable trade if there is no sustainable habitat. But in fact, there is no money in the Wild Bird Conservation Fund; the issue clearly it is not important to the Congress.

The very Wild Bird Conservation Act itself, which has as its goal the "sustainable utilization of exotic birds to create economic value in them and their habitat, which would contribute to their conservation and promote maintenance of biological diversity," doesn't seem to be of much importance to Congress either, or except for enforcement purposes, to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In fact, specific requests by the U.S.F.W.S. for Congressional funding of the Wild Bird Conservation Act for 1995 and 1996 were zero. Whatever funds that were used came from a generic fund, without a request for even a penny of the up-to-five million dollars per year congress had authorized for implementation of the Act. The only funds appropriated for the WBCA were for enforcement activities.

The purpose of the Act was to limit a massive, unsustainable trade in wild caught birds, not to halt the trade altogether, as now seems to be the case. Aviculturists have become alarmed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's regulation under the Act. They are concerned that the regulations under the Act, now five years post enactment of the WBCA, have not been put into place, despite promises to the contrary. They are concerned that those regulations, as proposed, will prove a disincentive to any countries wishing to export their birds to this country. And finally, they are nervous.

U.S. Congressman Don Young (R-AK), notes that his Resources Committee "has received hundreds of letters from Americans throughout this country who honestly believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is intent on reducing the number of breeders, confiscating their pets, and making it virtually impossible to legally import a captive-bred exotic bird into the country." They've done all three, to one extent or another.

The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 has had a huge impact on the commercial bird industry. Prior to its enactment in 1992, there were from thirty to forty importers doing business in the United States. Today, there are only five or six. Two of those remaining businesses have been put on notice by the FWS that they are out to put them out of business. They will probably do so. Then they'll go after the rest, and even if we were to get reasonable regulation that would allow for the import of needed breeding stock, we will likely soon be hard pressed, at best, to see to the details of their entry into this country.

Smuggling -- What they say about us, and what we really are .......

And all this because of the 'smuggling' problem ... As early as the mid eighties the conservation and animal rights community had made attempts to stop the bird trade, often using scare tactics and 'statistics' that had little or no basis in fact. Thomsen and Henley (World Wildlife Fund) in 1987 reported in Bird Trade ... Bird Bans that up to 150,000 parrots were each year smuggled across the Mexican border. Jorgen Thomsen reiterated that assertion at a June 1990 meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, as mentioned above, stating: "The law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice in the United States have tried to estimate the magnitude of illegal trade. During the 1980s those estimates have varied from 25,000 parrots being smuggled into the United States on an annual basis to anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 birds. These estimates are all based on known cases of smuggled birds and on trends known from other criminal activities in the same localities, primarily the Mexican border. The drug trade has been used as a basis for extrapolation to the illegal bird trade."

Thomsen continued, speculating that 50,000 birds would be a reasonable annual estimate of birds smuggled into the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to use 150,000. Neither can be statistically borne out. But there is the recognized perception among aviculturists, notes American Federation of Aviculture counsel Gary Lilienthal in his September 28, 1995 testimony before the Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee, that "there appears to be a deliberate effort to expand enforcement to entrap innocent aviculturists and to place a stigma on all aviculture."

"The USFWS Division of Law Enforcement has told Congress of intensive and expansive enforcement activities. USFWS conducts sting operations and publicizes indictments. Through as little as hearsay or rumor, come undeserved arrests, broad search warrants and unwarranted confiscation of birds (in some cases having led to the deaths of the birds, even rare birds). Many of the resulting charges involve only paperwork or other minor technical violations," he continued.

Are we being characterized rightfully or wrongly? With the few records we do have, we can reasonably speculate as to what kind of a job the USFWS has been doing at stopping that smuggling:


From: Nilsson. Greta, The Bird Business, A Study of the Commercial Cage Bird Trade, AWI, 1981:

US Customs Bird Seizures

1976 (FY) 2,657

1977 (FY) 2,235

1978 (FY) 2,708

1979 (FY) 3,057

All the above birds were euthanized by the USDA, as were all birds seized prior to January, 1980. After that date, the birds were transported to USDA quarantine stations. After quarantine, the law provides that birds be sold at auction.

Smuggled Birds: USDA quarantine records

1990- 1,403

1991- Not available

1992- 1,064

1993- 685* Additional 182 euthanized due to VVND

1994- 973

Smuggled Birds Seized at US/Mexican border by USFWS: USFWS LEMIS figures (For a breakdown, see Appendix A.)

1991- 9

1992- 123

1993- 435

1994- 6


Total: 573

From: Parrot Smuggling Across the Texas-Mexico Border: © 1996 World Wildlife Fund:

Page 7: "For lack of reliable data, it is impossible to determine the number of parrots smuggled annually into the United States from Mexico. The wide discrepancy between the following official estimates reflects this difficulty. Ten years ago, a Justice Department source estimated the annual number of parrots smuggled from Mexico into the United States to be as high as 150,000. In the 1980s, the estimates of 25,000 by APHIS, which is responsible for the quarantine of all live bird imports and therefore a reliable source of information on smuggled birds, was much lower."

Page 12: Parrots Seized Along the Texas - Mexico Border, 1990-93*

1990- 675

1991- 535

1992- 740

1993- 514


Total 2464

*Sources: 1990-93 seizure records of USFWS; US Customs Service; US Border Patrol; APHIS, Sibley & Monroe, Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world, 1990; Diario Oficial de la Federacion (de Mexico).

Page 14: "Contrary to common perceptions of the trade, these documented bird smuggling attempts were not connected with drug smuggling. On only one occasion has an attempt to smuggle drugs (marijuana) with psittacines been reported."


It seems the Customs Service of the seventies was better qualified to deal with the 'smuggling' problems than the modern, state of the art FWS. The million dollar appropriations for the law enforcement branch of the FWS have not unearthed the nest of felons predicted. But neither has the failure to uncover the massive smuggling activities postulated by the Service stalled its attacks on aviculture.

Now the operative word is 'laundering,' which the Service uses to refer to the misrepresentation of birds from a country that prohibits export of its wildlife as originating in a country that does, or, with regard to captive-bred specimens, passing off of wild caught birds as captive bred. The latter is the rationale for the restrictive, complicated regulations originally proposed by the Service with regard to foreign breeding facilities. These proposed regulations caused a stir within the avicultural community; between four to five thousand letters from concerned aviculturists were received by the Service.

Again, the Service and the animal rights factions consider legal trade as little more than a 'smokescreen' for the illegal trade, which they say is rampant. Indeed, the Service has made much of the recent 'smuggling' (laundering) convictions of Richard Furzer and Buzz Pare. Both gentlemen brought in African grey parrots from Zaire through Senegal, which allows their export. This practice continued for some time, with the knowledge of the Service, which, instead of going to the men and informing them that what they were doing was illegal, allowed it to continue.

In fact, the Special Investigations unit of the Fish and Wildlife Service, during the course of their much ballyhooed Operation Renegade, ran their own bird business, Safari Bird Imports, and according to sworn testimony, themselves imported twelve to fifteen bird shipments from Africa, South America and New Zealand, from some of the same sources as those used by the men they put in prison. One of these shipments was of over three thousand birds. To add insult to injury to the avicultural community, they flooded the market with greys and undercut legitimate merchants price-wise.

So, where are we now? We have a bird ban, we're smugglers, we're launderers ..... Despite the lack of verifiable statistics as to the magnitude of the illegal bird trade, or the wildlife trade, the Service persists. "Thirty per cent of the world's wildlife is in danger of extinction, and the second biggest cause is the illegal smuggling trade," they declare. I guess that's us.

But the situation has escalated even further: now the Service is telling more tales to the mainstream media, and they are buying into it. Despite any credible, verifiable evidence, the Service has been telling the news media that wildlife imports are increasingly connected with the drug trade. "The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that one-third of all cocaine seized in a recent year was connected with wildlife imports."

I was curious as to where the agent got that idea, and in the course of my research, I did come up with an interesting answer: the notion appears to have originated at a meeting of the North American Wildlife Officers conference in Saskatoon last June. Peter Knights, of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an animal rights group that long has advocated a ban on the importation or even keeping of pet birds, spoke to the attendees. From the Spring 1997 Newsletter of the Federal Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association:

Peter Knights of the Investigative Network (sic) presented a "View of Common Fish & Wildlife Objectives" for 2000 and beyond. All F&W Law Enforcement Agencies need a common data base and network such as NCIC. Intelligence people need to look at laws, crimes and effectiveness of law enforcement. Basically, F&W needs a research agency. The biggest demand of wildlife is the Asian markets. Research needs to look at both the supply and demand markets. Wildlife funding in present day Russia is being skimmed off the top at a rate of 50% by government officials. The international ban on the ivory trade of 1989 is very successful due to the education of the public. The biggest problem identified was that of enforcement, the weakest link in the chain of CITES. One third of all the cocaine smuggled into the U.S. in 1993 was wildlife related. The same people smuggle drugs and wildlife, using the identical routes since the infrastructure is already set up. Direction and legislation are needed to protect wildlife."

The DEA agent with whom I spoke could not think of one instance of wildlife related drug dealing in his own experience. The U.S. Customs office gave a similar response. I'm not one to be particularly politically correct, but I can say from experience that for the most part, we're not smugglers, not launderers, not dope dealers. But as aviculturists, and we do have a bird ban forced on us because we are deemed guilty by innuendo, exaggerations, and lies. We deserve better treatment than we're getting.

Remember the importers, who have gone from many to few. In January 1992, according to Congressional testimony, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent John Decker told one such importer "that if it was up to me, all birds would stay in the wild." Agent John Brooks said the same thing on the CNN "Impact" program, "Polly's Journey." On another occasion, Decker told the an importer that "He would do everything he can to put me out of business." He will probably succeed, and then it will be on to the next, and the next ..... until there are none.

Now - Who's Minding the Store?

In October, 1993, a group of seventeen people met in Washington, D.C. There, they formed a new organization to make policy recommendations that furthered their goal of "promoting the conservation of wild parrot populations and their habitat." The Association for Parrot Conservation (APC) was born.

Two members of this elite group had previously given testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation, concerning the Wild Bird conservation Act. One of these was Steve Beissinger of Yale University, who spoke on behalf of the American Ornithologists' Union. Another was Dr. Don Bruning, curator of Birds at the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Society), and its division, World Conservation International (WCI). Both supported an immediate halt to importations of wild birds into the United States.

Some of you will remember Bruning as co-author (with Ann Michels of the Environmental Investigation Agency) of the infamous "Dear Aviculturalists" (sic) letter of July, 1992. He was instrumental, along with Dr. Susan Lieberman, then Associate Director of Wildlife and the Environment for the Humane Society of the United States) in the passage of the New York State Wild Bird Act, which prohibits the sale of wild-caught birds to any but licensed breeders.

Bruning testified before Congress that "(p)rivate aviculturists wanting to breed commercial quantities of any of the species most commonly imported for the pet trade should already have sufficient breeding stock or such stock would be readily available from prior imports." It is his belief that a "key to the protection of exotic birds is curbing the demand for them"

Beissinger told lawmakers that "the promotion of captive breeding as conservation is sometimes a thinly veiled rationalization for keeping exotic birds in captivity in private collections." Beissinger also advocated that any sanctioned captive breeding program should require relinquishing ownership and control of the birds to some 'central authority.'

Another of the seventeen is Noel Snyder of the Wildlife Preservation International, a former FWS employee, who along with Beissinger, edited New World Parrots in Crisis: Solutions from Conservation Biology. Snyder, at the 1995 Midwest Avian Research Expo, told his audience that the function of captive breeding was "satisfying (the) purely recreational goals of private pet owners and captive breeders."

Another Executive Council Member, Dr. Charlie Munn, shares Bruning's affiliation with the NYZS/WCI. Although many may be familiar with Munn's work at the Manu Reserve, his 1988 article, "Why You Shouldn't Own a Macaw," in Animal Kingdom, a NYZS publication, provides another insight into this thinking. "Do yourself a favor: DON'T BUY A PARROT," writes Munn. "Owning a large parrot displays not your sophistication or hipness, but rather your callous insensitivity to the plight of these beautiful birds ...."

Other participants include President Enrique Bucher, a former WCI research fellow; Chief Financial Officer Scott Derrickson of the Smithsonian Institution; Secretary Ann Brice of UC/Davis; and Executive Council members Paul Butler of RA.R.E, Eduardo Nycander of NYZS/WCI, and James Wiley, formerly with FWS. Executive Council Member Mike Reynolds of the World Parrot Trust is, along with now-resigned Council Member Natasha Schischakin of the Houston Zoo, a member of the St. Vincent Amazon consortium, as is the above mentioned Don Bruning.

The Executive Director of the APC is yet another WCI research fellow, Dr. Rosemarie Gnam, now of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also on the Executive Committee is Dr. Susan Lieberman, the former HSUS employee mentioned above in connection with the New York legislation. She is now the official of the Fish and Wildlife Service, who, with Gnam, is primarily responsible for promulgating and administering regulations under the WBCA. This includes clean list issues, approval of domestic Cooperative Breeding Programs, approval of foreign breeding programs, and any importations for any reasons.

The APC has taken it upon themselves to testify before Congress on issues directly affecting avicultural issues, and have also weighed in on CITES issues, all the while being led by a supposedly impartial government employee. The APC has also received funding from animal rights groups such as Defenders of Wildlife.

Not altogether impartial either, it seems, is the notorious Dr. Bruning, who has in the past testified as an expert witness for the government in cases involving allegedly smuggled birds. (For an example of his testimony, see Appendix B) The lanky biologist maintains he is paid only the standard witness fee for his testimony. He will have to testify in the affirmative under oath, however, if he is asked if he receives confiscated birds from the Service.

The International Threatened Species Foundation Inc., or FaunaLink, is an innocuous sounding 'non-profit organization purportedly founded to "assist in the conservation of wildlife, especially psittacine birds, by providing a staff to accept, care for and breed birds and other wildlife; (and) to provide funding for wildlife research projects and to disseminate information regarding the captive propagation of wildlife." They have already chosen to fund Charlie Munn, and his blue-throated macaw project.

FaunaLink receives birds through donations or on breeding loan from zoos and private individuals, or from government agencies, to include "wild caught birds which have been seized and forfeited." Birds which are received at FaunaLink undergo a period of evaluation or quarantine, then are placed at a FaunaLink facility for breeding, put into 'retirement,' offered to institutions, or "declared surplus and offered for sale or trade."

And who is FaunaLInk? Why, it was none other than our own Don Bruning who originated the idea for the International Threatened Species Foundation.

Joining Bruning on the Board of Directors of FaunaLink are avian veterinarian E. Lee Duke, former retail/wholesale pet dealer Henry Kugell, and former bird importer and wholesaler Ron LeClaire.

Rounding out the team is retired Fish and Wildlife Service agent Robert Prather, one of the lead agents running Operation Renegade, which targeted aviculturists in the United States and abroad.

Prather was one of the agents who raided a Florida facility in the early 1990's and seized four extremely rare and valuable birds from a person who has never been indicted or charged with a violation of law. Nonetheless, two of the four birds died in Service custody. These birds were held at the same physical facility which was later to become FaunaLink; at that time it was owned and operated by LeClaire as a boarding facility to hold government seized birds.

This rather cozy arrangement cannot instill confidence in government due process. Wrote Gary Lilienthal of the American Federation of Aviculture in his 1992 testimony on the Wild Bird Conservation Act: "the Fish and Wildlife Service has, in its efforts to enforce laws with respect to the importation of exotic species, established a sad record of safeguarding the lives of confiscated birds. Customarily the Fish and Wildlife Service confiscates birds which are deemed by them to be a part of an ongoing investigation or suspect of illegal activity whether or not the owners have been indicted or charged, or whether or not the owners are even suspected of being a participant in any illegal activity. That is, someone else may have been accused of illegal activity, but the birds, even though then held by a totally innocent party, could still be confiscated and held in jeopardy.

...... Due to most private aviculturists' inability to fight federal confiscation, the legality of these confiscations is rarely finally determined."

Now the conflicts of interest are apparent; the question of ethics must be addressed when an investigator, the expert witness, and the custodian of the evidence all stand to gain from the federal government's prosecution of aviculture. It would be unseemly, at best, if Don Bruning's testimony even appeared to be used to convict an aviculturist whose birds he later received from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Or if the Fish and Wildlife Service agent who conducted an investigation into an aviculturist was later rewarded with the birds of a man he accused, shouldn't we question it? What of the man who made a living caring for confiscated birds for a fee, and who reportedly was able to keep many of them in lieu of his boarding fees?

It is unthinkable that our system of checks and balances would allow people engaged in the prosecution of government cases to profit from their outcome. But if that is in fact, happening with regard to certain avicultural cases, we must know it.

If aviculturists persist in turning a blind eye to such questionable activities, these outrages will without a doubt continue. If aviculturists cannot come together to address the problems that are facing us today, we will not likely have another chance.


Birds Interdicted by USFWS at Mexican Border: 1/01/91 - 12/31/94 (see page 32)













For the Government:

Mr. John T. Webb and Kevin M. Plunkett

U.S. Department of Justice

Environment and Natural Resources Div.

Wildlife and Marine Resources Sec.

P.O. Box 7369

Washington, D. C. 20044-7369

For the Defendant

Mr. Ronald H. Tonkin

Attorney at Law

Three Riverway, Suite 730

Houston, Texas 77056

Bruning - Direct

P. 11

MR. WEBB: At this time, Your Honor, the United
States would tender Dr. Bruning as an expert in ornithology and aviculture.

THE COURT: Do you have any questions?

MR. TONKIN: No questions, Your Honor.

THE COURT: The Court will accept this witness an expert in those fields.

Bruning - Direct

P. 26

MR. WEBB: ... Why would someone want to breed Amazon parrots in captivity?

DR. BRUNING: Amazon parrots are very valuable for the pet trade.

Q: What is, in very brief terms, captive breeding?

A: Captive breeding means that you have the pair of birds in captivity where they breed and produce eggs and hatch and rear their young.

Q: In the course of your work with parrots, have you become knowledgeable about breeding Amazon parrots?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: Have you become knowledgeable about breeding yellow naped Amazon parrots?

A. Yes, I'm very familiar with it.

Q: And are you familiar with the methods that are used to successfully breed them in captivity?

A: Yes, I am.

Bruning - Direct

P. 29 - 31

Q: At what age do the Amazon parrots begin breeding?

A: Normally, they do not start breeding until they're somewhere three to six years old.

Q. Are yellow naped Amazon parrots any different?

A. They fall into the same category.

Q. And are pairs of produced offspring that live, is there a name that's used among breeders to describe that kind of a pair?

A. That it's (sic) a compatible pair.

Q. Is it also known as a proven pair?

A. And a proven pair.

Q. How do you acquire a large group of breeding parrots?

A. Well, you would have to contact other people who have them, or you would have to go to an importer and purchase them.

And most instances, people will gather a large number, set them up as pairs, find out after several years which ones are going to breed and the sell off or trade off the ones that have not and acquire more to eventually build up a number of breeding pairs.

Q. Breeding pairs of parrots, particularly yellow naped Amazon parrots, are valuable, aren't they?

A. They're quite valuable yes.

Q. And can you increase your production by using an incubator if you're a captive breeder?

A. Yes, you can.

Q. How is that done?

A, If you remove the eggs after they're laid and artificially incubate them, the parrots will go back, or sometimes will go back and recycle and produce another set of eggs, so you can double, and in some cases in some parrots, even triple clutch, which means you can get three sets of eggs in one year.

Q. How successful has that technique been with yellow naped amazon parrots?

A. Amazons, in general are difficult to do. They're difficult to breed, they're difficult to artificially incubate. But it certainly has been done.

Q. What is hand rearing?

A. Hand rearing is when you have the chick, whatever age it is, and you feed it instead of the parents feeding it until it can feed on its own.

Q. Is that time consuming for a breeder to hand rear parrots?

A. It's very time consuming. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of knowledge and care.

Q. Are hand raised yellow naped Amazon parrots prized as pets?

A. They will generally will make better pets, because they will be tamer, more accustomed to the diet that they have been fed, and so they're usually easier to work with as pets that way.

Q. Are yellow naped Amazon parrots themselves prized as pets?

A. Because they're beautiful birds, because some of them will talk, and people love parrots.

Bruning - Direct

P. 36 -37

Q. How many pairs of adult yellow naped Amazon parrots in your opinion would be required to produce in captivity seventy baby yellow naped Amazon parrots?

A. If you were just starting with yellow napes that came in, you would probably have to start with a hundred pairs to sort down and get the number that could produce that way.

Q. And would your answer change if I asked you how many adult pairs of yellow naped Amazon parrots would be required to produce in captivity seventy baby Amazon parrots between the ages of four to eight weeks of age?

A. Well, then, the number is probably going to double or triple, because they don't all cycle at the same time in captivity.

Q. When you say cycle at the same time in captivity, what are you referring to?

A. I mean that they don't all lay at exactly the same time. There's a range over which they shift in laying unless you have them under very detailed artificial lighting, a lot of detailed conditions to stimulate them to all breed at the same time. It's very difficult.

Q. And, Dr. Bruning, how many pairs then would that take to produce those four to eight week old baby yellow naped Amazon parrots in a quantity of seventy?

A. Of seventy? I would say it's probably going to take somewhere between one and three or four hundred birds.

Bruning - Direct

P. 38

Q. Dr. Bruning, can you tell the jury what you believe the likelihood is that seventy baby Amazon parrots like looking like those that appear in Exhibit 82 were bred in captivity by anyone in the United States?

MR.TONKIN: I'm going to object to that question. He's asking a question which there cannot be an answer, in the United States, bred in captivity on the United States.

THE COURT: Overrule the objection. Answer if you can, Doctor.

THE WITNESS: Okay. I would say that knowing from all of the records, from more than 250 breeders of Amazon parrots that if they raise sixty or seventy total among them in one year, they feel they're doing very well.

Bruning - Cross Examination


Q. Have you been involved, Dr. Bruning, in incubation of Amazon parrots?

A. Yes, I have.

Q. Extensively?

A. Personally, I cannot say very extensively. We have incubated Amazon parrots, yes, and a lot of other parrots.

Q. Well, can you give me an example of how many parrots that you've incubated in your twenty-six years in this field?

A. How many parrots?

Q. Yes.

A. Probably two to three hundred.

Q Especially Amazon parrots?

A. Amazon parrots, it probably would be about ten or twelve. That doesn't happen to be one of the groups that we are breeding extensively.

Q. I'm losing my mind. I had a pad here, now I can't find it. Excuse me one second.

So your experience with incubating Amazon parrots is very limited, is that

A. That I personally have incubated. I've worked with a lot of other people who do incubate large numbers of Amazons.

Q. I understand that. We're talking about you.

A. Personally, yes.

Q. And how about incubating yellow naped parrots, what is your experience in that area?

A. I have never incubated yellow naped.

Q. So, you have no personal experience in that particular area.

A. No, I do not.

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