For more information on traveling to a foreign country from the United States with your pet birds, please contact the U.S. Department of State for the latest information. — Editor
I’ve had the opportunity to air travel both to and from the United States with my two 14-year-old timneh African greys. It was a confusing and highly anxious process in the beginning, as I had no idea where to start, or what to expect. I wished there was someone to talk to, or a precedent to follow, prior to our move in 2004. I hope my experience can be of value to anyone who is considering international travel with their pet bird, or those who are just curious about all that is involved in the exportation and importation of pet birds.
I had been reading BIRD TALK since I was a middle school student in the 1990s. Influenced by BIRD TALK, I brought home a newly weaned male timneh grey named Razzle as soon as I graduated from college in 2001. Later in the same year, I acquired a one-year-old female timneh grey named Daisy. No, I did not have breeding in mind. It was just that Daisy was very fond of Razzle whenever he visited the pet store she was living in at the time. Whenever we left, she would run frantically in her cage and be chirping her head off. Very soon, I was $950 dollars (plus tax) poorer.
By 2004, my aging grandparents in Taiwan were becoming increasingly debilitated. We had been very close when I was growing up in Taiwan. I thought it was time to be around them for a while. Razzle and Daisy would come along, who were then 4 years old. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as just hopping onboard the plane with Razzle and Daisy. But I had no idea what things had to be done—which as it turned out, was a lot!
I first made an international call to Taiwan’s customs agency. I was eventually directed to Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (equivalent to the USDA). As the African grey parrot is not a CITES Appendix-I species, in only a week or so, I received an import permit for Razzle and Daisy in the mail. Three conditions were specified to be met:
The birds must be from a state free of highly pathogenic avian influenza and Newcastle disease.
The birds must be kept in a mosquito-proof environment to prevent the West Nile virus.
USDA-endorsed health certificates certifying that the birds show no signs of diseases. For the third condition, I had Razzle and Daisy checked by board-certified avian veterinarian, Gregory Burkett, DVM of North Carolina. The health certificates were then taken to a USDA office and stamped with an official seal.
Next, I got in touch with the U.S. Fish and Wild Service, the agency responsible for issuing a CITES export permit. I completed Form 3-200-46, paid the $50 fee, and received my CITES export permit in the mail in approximately 45 days. But before Razzle and Daisy could travel, they and the permit had to be taken to a USFWS office where an official verified that their leg bands matched the numbers on the export permit. The permit was signed and validated, and Razzle and Daisy were ready for departure.
After all the papers were in order, now came the hardest part: the actual travel. What had me worried sick, was that none of the airlines would allow me to bring Razzle and Daisy onboard the main cabin of the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Taiwan. But, they assured that the pet section of the cargo compartment was climate-controlled. I was informed that each flight could only carry a certain number of pets, so early reservation was essential (this would also be true for domestic flights).
The next step was to get Razzle and Daisy’s traveling crate set up. I purchased a 32-inch by 22-inch by 24-inch heavy-duty, airline-approved kennel that was big enough for both of them to keep each other company. In it, I installed a couple of branches (though nothing fancy, for safety reasons), as well as bowls for water and food. For added security, I drilled a few extra sets of holes, so that the upper and lower pieces of the kennel could be reinforced with additional cable ties. I also applied cable ties to the door and windows, so there would be no chance of them somehow opening during transit.
There was another problem: I was residing in Raleigh, North Carolina. The flight to Taiwan would depart out of Los Angeles, California. In 2004, there were no direct flights available from Raleigh to L.A. I would only consider a direct flight, as the possibility of pets traveling as checked luggage either becoming lost or having accidents happen to them in between connection flights was not unheard of. So, my solution was to rent a one-way car and drive from Raleigh to Charlotte, where US Airways flew non-stop to L.A.
At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, we were taken into a private room by courteous security personnel. Razzle and Daisy were taken out of the kennel so it could be inspected for dangerous articles. Afterward, it was smooth sailing. About six hours later, we touched down in L.A. We stayed in California for a couple of days with a friend of my sister, so Razzle and Daisy could catch a breather before the long haul to the Far East.
Everything had been proceeding smoothly until we got to Los Angeles International Airport. The security personnel asked me to take Razzle and Daisy out of their kennel (in public) so they could inspect it for dangerous articles. I kindly told them that this was done in a closed room at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, to prevent any chance of the birds flying away (although they were clipped, a draft could still send them flying). The inspector got very impatient, and said in a raised voice, "There is no such room!” Surely there was; any office would do.
The inspector just didn’t want to help. I asked to see his supervisor. Then he said in an agitated and even louder voice, "I’m the supervisor!” I asked who would be responsible if the birds flew away. He yelled, "You are! You will be responsible!” Then he said, "Either you do it here, or you don’t fly!” This was all happening at a very large international airport, with hundreds of passengers around. It was nerve-wracking. I took Daisy out and asked my sister to hold on to her securely. Then I took Razzle out, and held him securely. Finally, we were given the clear. God knows how many of my brain cells died that day. Then, the ground crew of China Airlines took the parrots onboard the plane.
When I checked in at the counter, the agent looked over the import and export permits, health certificates and notified the captain that there were live animals onboard. The transport cost for Razzle and Daisy was calculated according to the rate for overweight baggage. The fee was about $200. After I boarded, I asked every flight attendant I met to remind the captain that there were live animals in the cargo, and to please turn on the thermostat. Not long after, the engines began to roar. I was constantly worrying about the two bundles of feathers. Fourteen hours later, everybody was fine — what a relief!
The standard for pet bird care may not be the same in another country, a fact to keep in mind if you are deciding to move from your country of origin.
While the birds were in Taiwan, they were fed Roudybush pellets and seed treats imported from the U.S. Parrot-keeping in Taiwan is not as advanced as in the U.S.; most birds are still fed a seed-only diet, and chained to a T-stand. As Taiwan is a subtropical country with high humidity, seed feeds can become moldy. To help prevent the possibility of infection with pathogens, Razzle and Daisy were only given water that had been previously boiled.
Time went by very quickly. A few years later, Grandma passed away. Grandpa passed away several years thereafter. It was time to return to the United States. This time around, I was no longer a novice at international travel with pet birds. Things were pretty much the same, except that the journey would be in the opposite direction.
I first called up the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). There was bad news and good news. The bad news was that Taiwan had experienced outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza among its poultry. As such, birds from Taiwan were not allowed to be imported into the U.S. The good news was that there was an exception: pet birds of U.S. origin would be allowed to return, given that each bird had an old health certificate issued by a U.S. veterinarian as proof. Thank God I never threw anything away! I was instructed to complete VS Form 17-129 and fax it back along with credit card information so that a processing fee of $150 could be charged. In just a couple of days, I received an import permit via email, with two conditions specified:
Health certificates dated within 30 days and endorsed by the national government of the exporting country, indicating that the birds have not been vaccinated against avian influenza or Newcastle disease, and show no signs of diseases.
The birds have to be quarantined for 30 days at a USDA federal quarantine facility upon arrival (for pet birds coming from non-epidemic areas, only 30 days of home quarantine is required).
For the CITES export permit, I contacted Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade. I was instructed to show a copy of the old CITES export permit issued by the USFWS, and was issued a re-export permit on the same day. I also contacted the USFWS and was told that a CITES import permit would not be necessary, because Razzle and Daisy were simply "US citizens” returning home. However, an appointment with a USFWS official would have to be made at least 72 hours prior to arrival, so that a copy of the old CITES export permit from 2004 and USWFS Form 3-177 (a simple declaration form for all wildlife entering the US) could be shown to the USFWS official upon arrival.
A couple of additional international calls were to be made. I called the quarantine station in San Diego, Calif. to have two spaces reserved for Razzle and Daisy. I also called a USDA-contracted driver to have Razzle and Daisy driven to San Diego from Los Angeles. Finally, I was required to notify USDA APHIS of my precise arrival time and flight number at least 72 hours prior to arrival.
With all the paperwork taken care of, it was time to travel again. Much had changed with Razzle and Daisy during their years in Taiwan. They had become sexually mature. At about 12 years of age, Daisy was bonded to me. She had become very aggressive toward Razzle and would chase him down, given an opportunity. In fact, they could no longer be let out together. It was clear there was no way they could travel together in one kennel, so I bought a second one. As before, I called China Airlines and made clear that I would be traveling with two pet parrots, so that spaces in the pet area of the cargo compartment could be reserved.
Keep your bird's health certificate on hand. You never know when you might need them!
Off to the airport we went. At the check-in counter, the agent made sure that I had all of the required documents, and had Razzle and Daisy taken onboard by the ground crew. Everything went smoothly, and 12 hours later, we were in L.A. A USDA APHIS agent had been standing by at the airport, and transported Razzle and Daisy to the USDA office (located offsite) as soon as they were unloaded from the aircraft. After I had cleared immigration and customs myself, I went to the USDA office (about a 10-minute drive away) to say good night to Razzle and Daisy. The next morning, they were taken to the quarantine facility in San Diego for 30 days.
At the quarantine, the parrots were swabbed, and tested negative for avian influenza and Newcastle disease. The facility was completely closed to the public, and photography prohibited (including by staff). As a result, I could not see how Razzle and Daisy were doing in there. However, the quarantine station welcomed calls from owners, and would give updates on their avian guests. Razzle and Daisy were each housed in glass isolation cages with independent air filtration systems so that diseases, if present, could not spread. Although general parrot diet was provided, I had Roudybush pellets and seed treats sent in. The caretakers also provided fresh fruits and fresh or cooked vegetables.Thirty days later, Razzle and Daisy were discharged with a clean bill of health.
There was one last leg of the journey to complete: returning to Raleigh, North Carolina. There are now direct flights between Raleigh and L.A. When I returned to Los Angeles International Airport, the thought of what happened in 2004 still gave me chills. Luckily, the security inspectors were considerate this time. My kennels could easily be inspected through the two wire windows and door. Along with metal detection, test swabs were done to check for the presence of explosives, but there was no need to have the birds taken out of their kennels.
After 10 years, we had returned home. It was definitely not cheap to bring Razzle and Daisy back to the US. USDA-related expenses added up to a whopping $2,247 dollars!
Since returning, I have been taking prerequisite courses in preparation for veterinary school. I will be applying in the summer of 2015. Daisy has laid her first clutch of three eggs. Razzle is still as silly as ever.
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