EU trade ban slashed global trade in wild birds by 90 percent

Rose-ringed Parakeet is one of the birds imported in high numbers to Europe. The species has become established in European cities. Photo by JayDalal5 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Rose-ringed Parakeet is one of the birds imported in high numbers to Europe. The species has become established in European cities. Photo by JayDalal5 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Trade of wild birds has dropped about 90 percent globally since the European Union banned bird imports in 2005. A study published today in the journal Science Advances demonstrates how the EU’s ban decreased the number of birds traded annually from about 1.3 million to 130,000. International trade of wild birds is a root cause of exotic birds spreading worldwide.

Birds are the most traded animals in the world. Historically, Europe has been the main importer of wild birds globally. Before 2005, when the EU banned trade of wild birds to prevent the spread of avian influenza, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain accounted for the import of two thirds of all wild birds sold on Earth. The birds mainly came from West Africa: Guinea, Mali, and Senegal.

“When wild birds are caught and sold to another country it has consequences in both areas,” says co-author Diederik Strubbe of the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, at the University of Copenhagen. “In the country the birds are captured, it can lead to biodiversity loss. Likewise, our study shows that international bird trade is a main cause of exotic birds spreading around the world. The birds can damage local ecosystems, destroy crops, and outcompete local birds. The EU trade ban, and the following dramatic drop in the number of traded birds, has strongly reduced this risk across most of the globe.”

Before 2005, almost all wild bird exports were concentrated around two groups of birds. Passerines, which include popular pet birds such as the Yellow-fronted Canary and the Common Waxbill, constituted almost 80 percent of exported birds while parrots accounted for about 18 percent. After the EU trade ban, the picture reversed. Today, passerine birds constitute less than 20 percent while parrots have increased to almost 80 percent of all traded birds.

Trade routes have shifted away from Western Europe

West Africa’s role as main exporter of wild birds has been taken over by Latin America, and the continent is now responsible for more than 50 percent of global wild bird exports. Major importers now include countries such as Mexico and the United States, whose imports have increased from about 23,000 to 82,000 birds annually.

“Worryingly, we document a shift in wild bird trade towards areas with a high biodiversity,” says Luis Reino, from Portugal’s CIBIO-InBIO Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources. “For example, several southeast Asian nations have emerged as important bird importers. These regions are now exposed to a higher risk of bird invasions. Thus, our results clearly speak for a global wildlife trade ban, if we want to reduce the number of traded birds, and minimize the risk of exotic birds spreading. The positive thing is that our study shows such a policy will likely be effective.”

Read the study

Networks of global bird invasion altered by regional trade ban. BY L. Reino, R. Figueira, P. Beja, M. B. Araujo, C. Capinha, and D. Strubbe. Science Advances, 22 NOV 2017 : E1700783. Full study


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