From Jungle to Jumble : Summary of problems relating to animal welfare
In the opinion of expert ornithologist, Peter Robinson, around half of the 50,000 to 70,000 birds on sale would have been wild-caught from elsewhere in the world.
Capture methods are crude and brutal, and the additional stresses associated with confinement and transportation result in significant loss of life. According to research by the Environmental Investigation Agency, 1992 three out of four birds destined for the pet trade do not survive the capture process and the arduous journey to developed countries.
Birds who survived to reach the National Cage & Aviary Bird Sale would therefore have already been subjected to callous treatment, which could have lasted for months. Their levels of stress and their susceptibility to disease will inevitably reflect this.
Generally, dealers who import birds into the UK, usually via another port of entry into the EU, will travel from one pet market to another to dispose of their sick and stressed animals. Although some dealers also run pet shops that are licensed and inspected, others do not. Little is known about the temporary accommodation used by non pet shop-owning dealers to house birds between pet markets. Technically these premises should also be licensed but generally are not.
Parrots are known to be neophobic or fearful of new situations. The constantly changing environment and replacement or removal of cage mates adds greatly to stress endured by parrots traded at pet markets.
The poor standards of animal husbandry such as badly positioned, overcrowded or diminutive cages, the lack of adequate perch space and hiding places resulted in the widespread manifestation of behavioural problems. Frustrated escape reactions were more common with wild-caught finches - repeatedly flying in panic against the bars and walls of the cage. A sound made by wild-caught parrots and macaws, known as 'growling' was common throughout the event on both days. Growling is an extreme fear response exhibited by birds who are trapped.
Stalls with African grey parrots who were growling:
Sluis UK - had four rows of African greys. All cages had birds either huddled in corners or growling. The stallholder himself described them as stressed.
Orchard Birds Ltd - several cages of African greys growling. The stallholder said they were stressed.
Numerous birds with other behavioural problems were captured on film:
Stereotypic behaviour was noted in an emerald starling on North Cornwall Aviaries. Moving from floor to perch in same repetitive movement.
Stalls at which birds were seen huddling at the back of or in the corners of cages, include;
Mill Lane Aviaries, Orange Pennants
Pegasus Birds Ltd - various including macaws, Amazons, emerald starlings
Sign of the Owl Birds - various, including mask lovebirds, painted conures.
Pheonix Birds - ringnecks.
Alpha Pets - lovebirds
Winterton Aviaries - macaws
Sluis UK - African greys
Toco toucans - opposite Mill Lane Aviaries stand but probably owned by Pegasus Birds Ltd - two Toucans in small cage. One was repeatedly throwing itself against cage bars.
Captured on film are two examples of African grey parrots that appear to be exhausted but expert advice indicates that they are more likely to be ill and possibly dying. These birds were prominently displayed and should have come to the attention of an on-site veterinary inspector. We maintain that veterinary cover is not sufficient to assess bird welfare for an event on this scale.
Abusive mishandling of birds would have resulted at best in extreme fear for the birds and at worst in painful injury and shock. The standard flimsy cardboard packaging adds further risk of injury and, in some cases, suffocation.
The insanitary conditions and neglect will have resulted in increased disease risk for the birds. The fate of the birds that were test-purchased demonstrates the high incidence of disease in birds and the associated level of suffering.
Summary of problems relating to public health & safety
Evidence shows that events such as the National Cage & Aviary Birds market are hazardous to public health and safety. Bird-to-human zoonoses are a major concern. Up to 100,000 birds were offered for sale at the market. Of these, five birds were randomly test-purchased by under-cover officers and three were tested for Chlamydia psitacci infection - psittacosis. One proved positive for the Chlamydia infection, and within three months, another died. Further results are pending based on tissue samples taken from the bird's corpse. The test purchases at the NEC market confirm that disease was present amongst birds on sale.
Psittacosis, like other avian infections, is capable of being transmitted from bird-to-bird and bird-to-human via, for instance, liquid droplets such as sneezes and cage detritus such as dust. The pathogens can be carried in air or through direct contact between birds and humans, or indeed on intermediary surfaces.
Birds of highly uncertain origin and health state, and in the case of the National Cage & Aviary Birds market, birds of established ill-health confined in an enclosed arena with humans, presents the serious threat of cross infection between animals and people. Young children, the elderly and those in existing poor health are especially vulnerable - and all were observed at the market.
The failure of the organisers, Solihull MBC as the local authority and the venue managers to act on prior advice from public health specialists and prohibit the market raises serious and enduring questions of maladministration and negligence among the supposed overseers of the event.
Following notification of the psittacosis infection, Animal Aid responsibly issued a media release. During the event itself, no attempt was made by the organisers or the council to alert visitors to the health risk they were exposed to in attending the event. It is debatable how much regard would be paid to notices posted around the venue when even 'no smoking' signs were routinely and openly ignored.
Traders worsened the 'health and hygiene' situation by setting bad examples and eating whilst continuing to sell birds - even an official steward is captured on film whilst eating at a stall.
Stallholders were seen eating and drinking at Sluis UK (eating sandwich/burger) and at North Cornwall Aviaries -(two workers behind stall, one worker near stall and one steward at stall were all eating burgers and hotdogs). On this stall, there was a tray containing several boxes of potato chips. In the exhibition hall lots of people (many stewards) were sitting down or walking around eating and drinking.
At the Macaws Direct area, where visitors were encouraged to interact with the birds, it was noted that they were routinely left unsupervised with macaws. These birds are capable of inflicting severe wounds, particularly to the face.
Summary of problems relating to trading standards
An investigator from the Captive Animals' Protection Society spoke to two separate traders. These conversations were recorded during the two-day investigation and they reveal the type of misleading and inaccurate advice that was imparted to customers by dealers.
The first trader, on the Sluis UK stall, described wild-caught African grey parrots (that were actually frightened and growling) as 'an ideal pet'.
Another trader, on the Orchard Birds Ltd stall, described wild-caught African grey parrots (that were again in a state of extreme fear) as 'tamed down' and went further to state that 'they won't stop talking normally'.
Wild-caught African grey parrots are more likely to be purchased by inexperienced bird keepers or people who have never kept birds before. The new bird-keepers will therefore need to seek the advice of an expert behaviourist to deal with the numerous behavioural problems that the bird will exhibit - and that may be symptomatic of its fear of humans. Additionally, wild-caught birds are more likely to succumb to disease, leaving the purchaser also likely to have to cover the cost of expensive veterinary fees. The parrots are also more likely to die prematurely and, with no receipt, the customer has no clear recourse or mode of complaint.
Transactions routinely took place without receipts being issued. As well as the obvious problem of trader accountability, poor record-keeping may indicate that trading activity is not properly declared to Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise. Accordingly, evidence gathered on specific traders at this event has been forwarded to both of these tax-collecting agencies.
Throughout the two days, none of the investigators noted the keeping by traders, of transaction and purchaser registers. Captured on film are many transactions carried without any details of the purchaser being taken.
Click here for the final part of the report, in which we present our conclusions and recommendations.