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Eu Bird Import Ban Must Include Smuggler Crackdown

Europe’s wild bird import ban must be backed by crackdown on smugglers

BirdLife International [1] today called on countries around the world to intensify efforts to stem the illegal trade in wild-caught birds, following recent detection of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus in both legally imported and smuggled birds.

BirdLife considers a total ban on currently legal wild bird imports to be essential to reduce the risk of H5N1 entering Europe via infected birds, but warns measures must be taken to counter the inevitable rise in smuggling that will follow such a ban[2].

“Any move to restrict legal bird imports must be combined with controls on illegal trade worldwide,” said BirdLife International’s Director of Policy, Dr Leon Bennun

As the H5N1 avian influenza virus continues to spread, the European Commission is deciding whether to ban the import of wild-caught birds as a preventative measure. This is in response to an outbreak of H5N1 among birds imported into the UK. A South American parrot died in quarantine from H5N1 last week, apparently infected by birds imported from Taiwan that shared the same holding facility.

“With the advent of H5N1, the illegal bird trade has become not just a conservation issue[3]but a serious economic and public health concern,” said Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife International’s Head of Science. “Controls and inspections need to be tightened by both exporting and importing countries.”

The threat of H5N1 spread from illegal trade is real. In October 2004, H5N1 was identified in two crested hawk-eagles Spizaetus nipalensis smuggled from Thailand to Belgium. The birds were found by chance in a random check of a Thai man who had traveled from Bangkok via Austria.

In Taiwan last week, eight birds infected with H5N1 were found in a seized consignment of more than 1,000 smuggled from the southeast Chinese city of Fuzhou. “Taiwan has been officially free of bird ‘flu since 1993, so it’s possible that the infected birds which reached the UK had also been smuggled into Taiwan from the Chinese mainland,” said Dr Leon Bennun.

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