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RATIONALE FOR A NATIONAL REGISTRATION SCHEME FOR EXOTIC SPECIES OF BIRDS

by Australian Nature Conservation Agency
Published January 1994

Rationale for National Registration

A national registration scheme for birds had its genesis in 1985 when, at a national wildlife law enforcement meeting, a proposal was tabled about the need for a national census of exotic birds in Australia.

The proposal was based on an accumulation of reports of new exotic species of birds appearing throughout Australia, despite the ban in 1949 on imports of exotic birds for all countries other than New Zealand. In 1971 the ban was extended to New Zealand.

Discussions have continued since that time on ways of preventing this illegal trade. It was becoming obvious that Australia's barrier controls were failing to stem the flow of new species and that smuggling methods had developed along similar lines to those employed by the illicit drug trade.

The resources available to the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) have not increased to meet the threat posed by the burgeoning illicit trade, it was decided that a new scheme must be developed to establish a national registration scheme for exotic species of wildlife.

It was also decided that the most suitable agency to manage the proposed scheme would be the Australian Nature Conservation Agency (ANCA). Management of the Act that addresses the illegal import/export of wildlife, namely the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 (The Act), is the responsibility of the ANCA.

The objectives of the Act include compliance with Australia's obligations under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and the protection and conservation of wild fauna and flora of Australia. The objects are to be achieved through the regulation of import/export of wildlife and wildlife products of both national and international origin.

The rationale for the proposed registration scheme is based on the following premises:

  • It is essential to stop the illegal smuggling of wildlife
  • It is essential to prevent the introduction of exotic animal diseases
  • It is essential to prevent the introduction of exotic wildlife that may establish feral populations, or adversely affect the Australian environment

All of the above premises relate to the stated objectives of the Act.

One of the principal objectives of the Act is compliance with Australia's obligations under CITES. This objective related directly to elimination of trade in endangered wildlife through either total prohibition of trade of carefully managed captive breeding programs (Appendix I species) and regulation of trade in other species that could be endangered by international trade (Appendix II). As the majority of recently smuggled wildlife has involved CITES Appendix I or II species, this objective is clearly defined within the parameters of the ANCA charter. It is not, however, the intention of ANCA to restrict the registration scheme to exotic birds. Exotic birds have been accorded priority status during the initial implementation phase.

The first line of Australia's defences against exotic animal and plant disease lies at the quarantine barrier. The provisions of the Quarantine Act 1908 are sufficiently powerful at the barrier to contend with identified risks. However, restricted government resources and a vast coastline has contributed to breaches of our defensive barrier.

The Act, and provisions under the Act which relate to the registration scheme, are clearly supportive of the Quarantine Act. The registration scheme, by its nature, will provide a deterrent to those of criminal bent who believe that once they are past the barrier, the illegally imported wildlife will derive new status.

As stated previously the Charter of ANCA included the protection and conservation of Australia's wild flora and fauna. The introduction of virulent animal diseases poses a grave threat to the survival of many species of native wildlife and, therefore, falls within the Charter.

It has been argued that, despite illegal smuggling, virulent disease has not entered the country. However, in 1966, an avirulent strain of Newcastle disease virus was isolated from poultry in Australia, and subsequently several avirulent strains have also been isolated. Outbreaks of virulent avian influenza have occurred in Australia in 1976 and 1985. The source of the infection was not determined in either case. The 1985 outbreak resulted in the destruction of approximately 200,000 birds at a cost to the taxpayer in excess of $2.2 million.

By the time an outbreak of exotic disease was identified in wild populations the implementation of containment measures would be greatly hindered by distance, topography and movement of the vectors. The major concern is the potential for disease to become established within our wild fauna, not the fact that to date an outbreak has not occurred.

Another clearly stated objective of the Act is regulation of the import of animals and plants "the establishment of which in Australia or an external Territory could have an adverse effect (otherwise than by reason of a disease) on, or on the habitats of, native Australian animals or native Australian plants."

It has been argued in avicultural circles that there are no clear examples of captive bred exotic birds forming feral self sustaining populations. This is not the case. A program screened on the Global Family series on the SBS network in 1992 ("Parakeets in Tokyo - an Exotic Nuisance"), graphically portrayed the case of about eighty species of bird that had formed feral populations in and around Tokyo. Eight or nine species of parakeet have formed over wintering feral populations which are self sustaining and which are having a marked effect on the orchards surrounding Tokyo. This program also showed various species of parrot foraging in areas covered with snow. If environmental factors more closely resemble the natural range of these species, as is the case with the Australian environment, then it follows that the species will more readily adapt to the new situation.

The above factors constitute the rationale for the proposed national registration scheme. The proposal has been put forward by the ANCA as the only feasible course of action. Similar registration schemes have been implemented in other countries where governments have been obliged to act against the illicit trade. Where these schemes have faltered the government has decided on the only course of action remaining - a total ban on the keeping of exotic birds.

The ANCA recognises that the majority of aviculturists are responsible persons. The need for regulation is the result of the acts of the irresponsible few. The argument is constantly raised that the keeping of wildlife is a right rather than a privilege. The right, or privilege, is however having a marked impact on the status of wildlife across the globe.

Some aviculturists believe that the proposed national registration scheme will legalise the keeping of exotic birds that have recently been imported in contravention of existing Australian legislation. The belief that the declaration of an amnesty will somehow render illegally imported birds legal is mistaken. The ANCA does not share this belief and will take any action necessary within the legislative framework to ensure that compliance is achieved. Registration schedules will be drawn up in consultation with responsible aviculturists, consultants and relevant government officials and will be dependent on the provision of factual evidence.

It is the time for aviculturists to direct their skills and energies to the protection and conservation of endangered species in the areas where they are under threat. One of the treats is undeniably the illegal trade in wildlife. Australia must deny a safe haven for the illicit trader. The ANCA. will be relying on the support of responsible aviculturists throughout Australia to protect the world's dwindling wildlife and to ensure that Australia's wildlife is not further jeopardised by the irresponsibility and greed of a few.

Want more information on National Registration?

(Ed Note: Environment Australia - The Biodiversity Group (formerly the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, formerly the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service) was originally formed in 1975 as the principal nature conservation program of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, and is a program of the Commonwealth Environment Portfolio.

The National Exotic Bird Registration Scheme (NEBRS) came into effect on the 2 October 1996. Additional information on the National Exotic Bird Registration Scheme and how it applies within Australia can be found by visiting our Wildlife Regulations section.

Exotic Birds (Parrots) That Are Exempt from the Registration Scheme

(The birds that are not classified as exotic birds, and are therefore exempt from the scheme, are listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. A summary of the current listing under Schedule 9 relating to Parrots appears below. Be aware that the Schedules to the Act are amended periodically and you should ensure that you are referring to the current Schedule. The exempt exotic parrot species below are current as at 2 October 1996.) Also if you would like to view the complete list, see the Environment Australia, Wildlife Protection website.

Parrots:

Scientific name / Common names

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