Selling blue-throated macaws across state lines will be outlawed as of November 4, 2013, three weeks after the bird was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The rule is part of an effort by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to save a parrot species whose numbers in its native Bolivia are estimated at less than 500. Opponents, however, argue that the sales restrictions will have no impact in Bolivia given that the South American country already bans the bird’s capture and export.
Not all movements of the blue-throated macaw will be illegal in the United States. Private and commercial breeding efforts and the bird’s sale to a resident of the same state may continue unabated, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council reported.
In addition, a permit may be issued for a bird’s sale or commercial use if the activity is for scientific research or to enhance "the propagation or survival of the species,” the Fish & Wildlife Service stated.
The blue-throated macaw is both rare and expensive. Breeders and pet stores typically price individuals at $2,000 or more.
David Lombard, owner of Bird Farm in Poland, Ohio, lists a male for $2,295. The rule change means Lombard will stock one less macaw species because he’s not about to file for a permit.
"Most of my sales are Internet and across state lines,” Lombard said.
His most popular macaw, the green-winged macaw, sells for $1,799 and comes with no regulatory strings attached.
"I don’t deal with any bird that needs a CITES permit or anything like that,” Lombard said, referring to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. "I don’t need any more work than I already have.”
The Fish & Wildlife Service’s new rule is shortsighted, said Genevieve Wall, legislative vice president with the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). The Austin, Texas, group counts bird breeders, owners, veterinarians and pet store owners among its members.
"It’s a terrible decision,” Wall said. "It will harm the blue-throated macaw’s chances of species recovery.”
The reason, she said, is that animal species bred in a confined region typically don’t do well.
"When you breed birds and you can’t sell them across state lines, you wind up with a stagnant breeding gene pool in your collection, and eventually you’re producing bad birds,” Wall said. "You’re slowly reducing the ability to produce healthy specimens, and eventually the breeding will stop.
"If people can’t sell the progeny they don’t need in their breeding programs across state lines, the breeding will come to a halt,” she added.
The 1992 Wild Bird Conservation Act banned the United States import of parrots caught in the wild. The prohibition left captive breeding as the only legal way to sustain U.S. populations of birds such as the blue-throated macaw, AFA stated in a 19-page document filed during a 60-day comment period on the proposal.
The interstate sales ban won’t improve the bird’s numbers in Bolivia, AFA wrote.
Listing the bird as endangered "is nothing more than a feel-good proposal that suggests the U.S. is ‘doing something’ to help this species in the wild,” the group stated.
The Fish & Wildlife Service rejected opponents’ calls for a sales exemption, stating that the bird’s endangered status mandated a ban.
The listing was not a hasty decision, the agency added.
"We reviewed the best available scientific and commercial information, we contacted species experts and we diligently searched for the most current information on this species,” the Fish & Wildlife Service stated in its final rule. "After careful consideration, we conclude that this species meets the definition of an endangered species under the act.”
Wall warned that the blue-throated macaw is following in the footprints of the golden conure, Lear’s macaw and Spix’s macaw—rare species subject to similar trade restrictions.
"Few U.S. aviculturists still work with the golden conure because they cannot sell their progeny,” AFA stated in its comment to the Fish & Wildlife Service. "There is little trade in these birds, and as a result, there is no longer much breeding of these birds in the U.S.”
Pet retailers and even bird owners share responsibility for the restrictions, Wall noted.
"They are basically clueless to these issues,” Wall said. "We explain to them the details, but they just don’t seem to either care or get it.
"We’ve been asking pet retailers and pet owners for years to send comments when these things come up, and they don’t,” Wall added. "We’re almost at the cliff, and we’re going to fall off it if this doesn’t stop.”
How this law will effect pet blue-throated macaws and their owners in individual states is still being determined.
Blue-throated macaws were not the first parrots to be considered to be added for the Endangered Species Act. Find out about the other parrots under consideration here.