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 Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday September 27, 2004


Pair of red parrots
The illegal trading of parrots still goes on

Emma Milne heads undercover to reveal the illegal bird traders who are capturing wild parrots and packaging them off to unsuspecting buyers here in the North.
Inside Out follows the story.

Emma Milne, from BBC One's "Vets in Practice", joins the Inside Out team in going undercover to expose the men selling wild birds from the back of their vans on the streets of Yorkshire.

Bird snatch

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), only limited numbers of parrots can be moved or traded.

But thousands of smugglers dodge the official stance, with the UK being one of the many destinations for the "goods".

African Grey Parrot
African Grey Parrots are popular with pet owners

Wild parrots are trapped in the African rainforest then shipped to our shores as pets. Trappers are paid a small bounty for supplying the birds, which are then sold on at a massive profit.

Dozens of unwary pet owners have found themselves having to deal with huge vet bills after their new parrot arrives traumatised and in poor health.

The birds are taken from their natural surroundings, put into cages - which are often cramped - then shipped to the UK before being sold on from the back of a van.

It's no wonder many birds suffer health problems.

Money talks

The USA has banned the importing of wild birds, but it is still legal in Europe. This is despite the fact that enough parrots are being bred in captivity to satisfy consumer demand.

So, it comes down to money. It is cheaper to catch a bird in the wild and sell it on than it is to breed it in captivity.

Emma Milne
As a vet Emma Milne comes across many distressed birds

A wild bird costs up to half the price of a hand reared one, and with some prices of parrots going into the thousands it is no wonder there is a black market.

Emma Milne trails one man, Midlands based Mark, whose illegal activity is based around selling his birds from the back of a van.

Mark sells birds over the phone. He has no pet shop licence, therefore he is breaking the the "Pet Shop Act", which prohibits anyone selling an animal from the street, market or van.

What he does have is a previous conviction for cruelty to birds. So how can he get away with it?

Because it isn't illegal to trade in parrots caught in the wild there is little the RSPCA can do, although it is against the law to sell birds for cash from the back of a van.

Illegal trade

Inside Out secretly filmed a parrot caught in the wild being delivered and sold from the back of a van in Leeds.

The bird, an African Grey Parrot, was recently snatched from its natural habitat and imported into the UK.

Emma, who now practices in North Yorkshire, is dismayed by what she is seeing.

"Imagine a few weeks ago this bird had been free, flying around in the Congo basin, only to be trapped, stuffed into a box and crated up.

"It was flown halfway around the world before ending up being sold from the back of a van in Leeds. It's just cruel," Emma says.

"If anyone knew what these birds go through, simply so we can have cheap pets, they just wouldn't buy them."
Emma Milne

What makes it worse is that many buyers are unsuspecting purchasers who don't realise the background behind their new pet.

The fact is, many of these birds are inhumanely caught, stuck to trees and netted. Many of the birds die in transit due to the stress and poor conditions.

Poor purchase

Sheila Whittaker from Leeds was one buyer who got more than she bargained for when she went to find a pet parrot.

Sheila bought her parrot from a pet shop who didn't tell her that it wasn't bred in captivity - it was taken from the wild.

Consequently Sheila took her new bird home but it never settled.

"It growled all the time, it hated humans," she says.

"I thought it was my fault, I had never imagined it had been caught from the wild.

"I could see the bird was suffering, it was awful," Sheila remembers.

Reality of the situation

Parrot Trading - The Facts

CITIES protects around 5,000 species of threatened animals

A permit system controls trade in the species, their parts and byproducts

The parrot family has more globally threatened species than any other bird family

Annual exports from Africa of Grey Parrots are running at more than 6% of the total global population, a level which is unsustainable

The "Red List" contains 94 species of parrots that are currently considered vulnerable, endangered, or critically threatened

For most threatened parrots, capture for pets is a primary cause of decline

Emma Milne decides enough is enough and goes to confront the dealer who has sold birds from his van.

He claims that all he is doing it helping people buy birds more easily.

But this dismissive attitude can mean trouble for many.

Inside Out travelled to Ghana to talk to Gerard Boakye, from the Ghana Wildlife Society.

Mr Boakye is a world authority on the trade in African Grey Parrots.

He says, "This is a matter of ethics and morality.

"People need to know the suffering these birds endure simply so you can own a pet that only you can enjoy."

Do your homework

So how can you ensure you don't get duped by an unscrupulous bird trader when you are buying your new pet?

According to The Parrot Society there are certain points you should follow.

Firstly, any bird you buy must be captive bred, hand reared and fully weaned.

Beware of any pet shops that don't seem to know anything about the bird you are looking at.

Anyone who has bred and reared a bird will know its dietary requirements, temperament and any specific species traits.

Parrots can make great pets
Parrots are considered one of the most intelligent animals so they can be handful!

Never buy a bird before viewing it, and the surroundings it has come from. That seller on the end of the phone may be sitting on the back of his van trying to sell the bird as you speak.

Any reputable supplier should offer you a money back guarantee for a limited time after the purchase. You may find the bird doesn't suit your requirements or that it is showing some sign of disease.

Although going to a pet shop won't guarantee you are getting what you are paying for, it is certainly preferable to buying a bird for cash from someone's car or at a market stall.

The best option is to try buy from an approved aviculturist who is registered with one of the parrot associations such as The Parrot Society. This can't assure you of getting the perfect bird but it is a good start.

Finally, don't forget that parrots can be noisy, demanding pets so make sure you are prepared for the hard work involved in looking after them.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
World Parrot Trust
The Parrot Society
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Maureen Howie
I have had personal contact with these birds,and they have a hatred for human hands years and years down the line. Please sign the petition at to help ban these inports.

Keith Tee
You are to be commended for your investigation into this disgusting trade . Why dont you forward a copy of this film to the government and pressure them into following the USA and outlawing the import of wild caught birds?

Brian Fullick
There many other ways that the illegal trade takes. The raiding of nests for the eggs these are then transported by a female courier the the destination country. They are then incubated and hand reared and the sold on. Many of the Australian Black cockatoos have and are being brought to the continent this way.

Laura Taylor
i am so pleased you have decided bring light to this situation so people see what really happens to "cheap" birds before they arrive here. much better to go to a respectable breeder.

Rita Cooper
I think my sister has just bought one of these parrots, she bought it after seeing an advert in the paper, she bought it in good faith but she has had to take it to the vet one of the conditions it was suffering from was e-coli, also malnutrtion, dehydration. These were just some of the things it was suffering from. Is there anything you can do to stop this, the parrot does semm to be getting better now that it is on antibiotics. My sister would never have bought it if she had known what was going on.

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