Hundreds of thousands of rare and exotic birds have been saved from death or a life in captivity by the temporary ban on the wild bird trade, which marks its first anniversary this weekend, says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Parrots, owls, exotic starlings and even the Toco toucan, made famous by Guinness adverts, are amongst birds still alive in the wild because of the ban. Without it, and despite market research revealing disapproval of the trade, many of these birds would be pets in Britain and the rest of Europe, cooped up in cages for the rest of their lives. Many more would have died on the way.
Up to 60% of birds caught for the pet trade die before they reach their destination
Monitoring is poor and it is not known how many wild birds were imported into the UK before the Europe-wide ban was imposed.
What is known is that the pet trade is threatening 60 per cent of the world's 350 parrot species and one in ten of the 1,200 bird species now at risk of extinction. There are 9,799 species of bird in the wild and at least 3,000 of them have been sold as pets.
There is a danger now that the import ban that has reprieved these birds will be lifted.
Sacha Cleminson, the society's senior European advocacy officer, commented: "The import ban has thrown thousands and perhaps millions of birds a lifeline and it would be a tragedy if the ban were to be lifted when it is reviewed in December.
"We already know that this could happen because the EU is under pressure from some of the countries that export exotic birds. If these states can prove that seizing wild birds does not reduce their numbers, there might be grounds for resuming a limited trade. But there is little evidence to prove this and if we are to stop birds from going extinct, the ban should be made permanent until there is."
The ban was imposed last October after imported birds died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu while in quarantine in Essex. Two years earlier, two crested hawk-eagles, smuggled from Thailand to Brussels airport, were seized and found to have the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
The EU is responsible for 87 per cent - about one million birds annually - of the trade in birds listed by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species with the trade in non-CITES birds thought to be even greater.
It is a fact that in the wild most small birds survive on average a year and a half. In captivity, especially in a well organised aviary these same birds would be likely to survive for possibly 15 years.
The RSPB is forgetting that should numbers of birds increase in the wild, their chances of survival will be lessened too, as they all attempt to forage for food and shelter.
Anita Lincoln - Walthamstow