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Tackling the illegal trade and trafficking of birds: A growing Multibillion-Dollar threat


The illegal trade in wildlife, often overshadowed by headlines of ivory or rhino horn trafficking, poses a significant threat to global biodiversity and human health. Statistics reveal a multibillion-dollar industry, generating between $7 to $23 billion annually, with wildlife trade impacting one out of every four bird and mammal species globally.

This criminal enterprise not only endangers wildlife but also undermines rural livelihoods, impedes development efforts, and jeopardizes ecosystems. Particularly alarming is the role wildlife trade plays in spreading zoonotic diseases like the COVID-19 pandemic, suspected to have originated from a wildlife market in China. The UN Environment Programme estimates that 75% of new and emerging diseases are transmitted by wild animals.

In Africa, the trade involves elephants, rhinos, pangolins, bushmeat, and endangered birds such as vultures, pushing species towards extinction and disrupting ecosystems. Similarly, in Asia, organized poaching networks decimate songbird populations, driven by demand for singing competitions, leading to species nearing extinction. Alarmingly, regions like the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, and Europe witness millions of birds being illegally removed from their habitats annually, contributing to population declines.

The illegal bird trade spans continents, with parrot smuggling prevalent in countries like Mexico and Bolivia, driven by high profits and demand for exotic species. Despite legal frameworks like CITES and national laws, the trade persists, with devastating consequences for biodiversity and species survival.

Efforts to combat this trade involve establishing safe havens for endangered species, supporting sustainable livelihoods for communities, and enforcing laws to disrupt criminal networks. Awareness of the scale and impact of wildlife crime is crucial in mobilizing resources and action from governments and law enforcement agencies.

In regions like Cyprus, the illegal trade in wild birds generates substantial revenue, primarily from the sale of songbirds as delicacies. Trapping for the pet trade has driven species like the Yellow-crested Cockatoo and Spix’s Macaw to extinction or near-extinction.

The illegal trade in wild birds takes various forms, catering to demands for pets, collectors, consumption, and traditional medicine. Social media platforms and online marketplaces facilitate this trade, unknowingly perpetuated by consumers.

Legally, trade within jurisdictions and cross-border smuggling are governed by national and international legislation like CITES and the EU Environmental Crime Directive. However, enforcement and penalties are crucial in deterring illegal activities.

Consumers can play a role by demanding ethical sourcing of live animals and avoiding products from the illegal wildlife trade. Purchasing from reputable pet shops and markets with certificates of origin can help curb the demand for illegally captured birds.

Tackling the illegal bird trade requires concerted efforts from governments, law enforcement, conservation organizations, and consumers. By addressing the root causes and enforcing laws, we can safeguard both wildlife and human health from the devastating impacts of this illicit trade.

The danger of Avian Influenza and Psittacosis to human health
Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, and psittacosis, also called parrot fever or ornithosis, are two diseases that pose significant risks to human health. Both are zoonotic diseases, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans, with potentially severe consequences.

Avian influenza is caused by influenza viruses that primarily infect birds, particularly wild aquatic birds such as ducks and geese. While most strains of avian influenza virus do not infect humans, some, such as the H5N1 and H7N9 subtypes, have caused serious outbreaks in humans. Transmission to humans usually occurs through direct contact with infected birds or their droppings, as well as through contaminated surfaces or materials.

The symptoms of avian influenza in humans can range from mild to severe and may include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, pneumonia, and respiratory distress. In severe cases, avian influenza can lead to respiratory failure, multi-organ failure, and death. Certain populations, such as young children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems, are at higher risk of developing severe complications from avian influenza.

Psittacosis, on the other hand, is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci and primarily affects birds, especially parrots, parakeets, and cockatiels. Humans can become infected with psittacosis through inhalation of respiratory secretions or fecal matter from infected birds, as well as through contact with contaminated surfaces or bird cages.

The symptoms of psittacosis in humans may include fever, headache, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. In severe cases, psittacosis can lead to respiratory failure, encephalitis, and death. Like avian influenza, certain individuals, such as those with compromised immune systems, are at higher risk of developing severe complications from psittacosis.

Both avian influenza and psittacosis are of concern not only for their potential to cause severe illness and death in humans but also for their ability to spread rapidly and cause outbreaks. Prevention measures include practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands thoroughly after handling birds or their cages, avoiding contact with sick birds, and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms develop after exposure to birds.

Furthermore, it is essential for individuals working with birds, such as poultry farmers, pet bird owners, and veterinarians, to take precautions to prevent transmission of these diseases. This includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, maintaining proper hygiene practices, and implementing biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of infection among bird populations.

In conclusion, avian influenza and psittacosis are dangerous diseases that can pose significant risks to human health. By understanding the modes of transmission and implementing appropriate prevention measures, we can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks and protect both human and animal populations from these infectious diseases.

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