Parrots and the Need for a New Aviculture
by Greg Glendell, Director, BirdsFirst
This article is in response to Rosemary Low's article, "Over-production of parrots," in PsittaScene volume 12 number 3, August 2000. Perhaps, instead of asking "What's wrong in aviculture?" we should be asking, "What's right in aviculture?"
In the UK we still import thousands of wild-caught parrots every year, most dying long before they even get advertised in the bird keeping press. Yet captive breeding and the practice of seeing hand rearing as a panacea to the problems of trade in wild-caught birds has probably increased the level of suffering experienced by parrots. Large suppliers/breeders often keep breeding pairs in cramped, degrading conditions; conditions condoned by some "experts" who actually advocate the use of breeding cages where birds cannot even fly. Such pairs are used as egg production machines, their eggs removed on hatching for incubation and hand-rearing. Such removal, of course forces the hen to replace her lost clutch and these circumstances can be inflicted on her for much of her life. The babies, being hand-reared from the egg, are deprived of all the parental interactions needed to ensure their mental well-being. Many hand-reared parrots are subjected to gavage feeding, forced weaning and the traumatic effects of bright-light conditions (brooders) even before their eyes have opened. Such ignorant treatment often culminates in the wing-clipping of recently fledged birds prior to sale.
These grim conditions are casually accepted by many aviculturists as a standard practice that can go unquestioned. Each year thousands of birds are produced in this way in the UK. The birds are then sold in pet shops to an uneducated public duped into buying cuddle tame babies which are abused as cuddle bags by the emotionally immature. Many of these birds, particularly cockatoos and African greys, are destined to suffer the trauma of self-mutilation, which first appears as feather plucking.
Owners of such birds consistently fail to get good, effective advice from those who have sold them the bird. Indeed pet shop staff and breeders often have little more understanding of a parrot's needs (particularly its behavioural needs) than the buyer. Some staff have neither the information nor the inclination to care about such suffering. So, pet birds eke out a kind of existence with their owners, many never receiving the care they desperately need to have, since even basic training is never undertaken. Troubled owners of traumatised birds may seek help from avicultural societies, the bird press, or the RSPCA but are unlikely to find quality advice from these sources. Many avicultural societies masquerade as bird welfare groups but, in truth most are nothing more than member-interest groups. And there is a world of difference between supporting aviculture and supporting birds!
Pet birds which bite, feather pluck or scream are thus sold from one unenlightened owner to another, a process that can take the bird on a life tour of uninformed owners for most of its 50 years or more. Those which are not suffering so acutely may suffer chronic illnesses due to incorrect diets such as so-called "parrot food" as its mainstay.
Now Britain does actually have some legislation which, if it were actually used could reduce much suffering. Acts such as the Protection of Animals Act, Pet Animals Act, Sale of Goods Act, and Wildlife & Countryside Act can help. But again ignorance coupled with the institutionalised inertia found within local government (and even in some animal welfare charities) ensures nothing effectual is ever done to ease the mass suffering of countless thousands of birds. Thus, animal welfare officers remain ignorant about the suffering experienced by these birds. Without the specialist knowledge, enforcement and welfare officers lack the confidence to take action in the face of gross cruelty. So, pet shops up and down the country continue to sell neurotic, traumatised and diseased birds to an uninformed and gullible public. A public with hundreds of pounds in their pockets looking for a cuddly baby to take home, while utterly ignorant of its real and desperate needs.
With the growing band of high quality specialist avian vets in the UK you can now get good care for your bird. Sadly though, many birds are merely taken to the High Street cat & dog vet. Here, veterinary treatment, can cause further suffering. Birds have bits of their wings, claws and beaks removed; nerves being severed on unanaesthetised birds who scream in terror as vital bits of their body are removed in routine (sic) practices to give the fee-paying owner a flightless bird with dull useless claws that won't scratch the hands.
And what about the bird shows? If the main function of these was to spread disease as rapidly as possible from bird to bird it could not be more efficiently organised than it is! Thousands of birds in tightly packed cages crammed next to each other for hours or even days at a time. Birds, already weakened and stressed by a long journey end up in some dingy hall where smoking punters breath carcinogens onto them. Again naïve and ignorant buyers, some duped into sympathy buys by deliberate exhibitions of gross cruelty by some traders, part with hundreds of pounds per bird. And so often, caring buyers are destined to see expensive vets' bills (or death) a few days away for their latest purchase, as bacterial infections rip through the bird's guts before it has even settled in to its new home.
Biting pet birds remain imprisoned in cages for years — decades even — when all that is required to ask it to refrain from such activity is a few hours of basic obedience training for the bird. Screaming birds are sold on from one unsuspecting owner to another. Many are beaten, kept in the dark or ignored for years. Some traumatised birds end up in so-called rescue centres. While the UK has a few good ones, it has many which operate on very dubious grounds; selling donated birds on within a few weeks of acquisition. Or even breeding from such birds to produce yet more birds, more suffering, more profit in an endless cycle of parrot hell.
How is it that we have come to do this to such beautiful, intelligent and sensitive creatures? How is it we routinely torture, imprison and abuse countless thousands of these entirely innocent creatures every year of their lives. And nobody moves on this; nobody moves on this at all. If we want to move on this, a campaign whereby like-minded groups come together to work on the following matters is needed now:
I suspect that if aviculturists do not make significant and rapid improvements in the care of birds, aviculture as we know it will not survive. And if it does not change, for the sake of the birds, it deserves to be outlawed.
Copyright © 2000 Greg Glendell and the World Parrot Trust. First published in PsittaScene. Vol. 13, No. 1 (February 2001).
All material Copyright © 2002–2010 Avian Welfare Coalition, unless otherwise noted. Contact us to request reprint permission.
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