Above: Paraguay’s ban on the export of CITES-listed species caused indigenous families no longer harvesting Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) chicks for sale, but instead turning their forests into charcoal Photo: Staffan Widstrand/WWF


RECENT RESEARCH HAS shown that South Africa was the major exporter of South American parrots between 2000 and 2013.

This is just one indicator of the complex interaction between the legal and illegal bird trades and economic and wildlife policies of nations revealed by Colombian biologist and naturalist Bernardo Ortiz-von Halle in Bird’s eye view: Lessons from 50 years of bird trade regulation & conservation in Amazon countries.

His report, published by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC International, identifies habitat loss as wild birds’ greatest threat, while trade bans can have unexpected consequences by removing incentives for conservation.

In 1976, Brazil became the first country to ban wildlife exports, while maintaining captive-bred exports. Colombia and Ecuador’s ban followed, but with no legal trade. Hundreds of thousands of birds continued to be exported illegally, however, through neighbouring countries with no legal restrictions.

In the 1980s, up to 10,000 hyacinth macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) were captured, many destined for captive breeding in other countries. As the hyacinth struggles to maintain its population – now assessed by IUCN at just 4,300 adults – in its natural range, the Philippines has become the main legal exporter of the sought-after species.

Mr Halle suggests eco-tourism offers “the best pathway forwards for South America’s remarkable birdlife.” Birdwatching has transformed the economics of conservation, becoming a source of income for not only Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, but also Peru which, like Guyana and Suriname, still exports many relatively common species.

Between 2000 and 2013, Peru exported a fifth of all CITES-listed birds exported from Amazon countries, most from just two species of parakeet – the Cordilleran (Psittacara (Aratinga) frontatus) and mitred (P. mitratus).

The most-exported species over a similar period from Guyana and Suriname is the orange-winged Amazon (Amazona amazonica).

Overall, the study finds international illegal trade in live South American birds is at its lowest level in decades: “mainly because the bird species most highly sought-after by collectors already exist in most consumer countries.”

Despite the survival of illegal songbird competitions, local illegal bird markets (unlike in many South Asian cities) have also collapsed.

The study, which was funded by WWF US, also reveals the positive impact guano as a renewable resource has had on the protection of seabirds in the coastal islands of Peru.

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