Dominica: Gov’t says rare bird ‘transfer’ legal; made for breeding purposes

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Dominica: Gov’t says rare bird ‘transfer’ legal; made for breeding purposes
Sisserou (l) and Jaco parrots
Sisserou (l) and Jaco parrots

(DNO) – Days after news broke that rare birds endemic to Dominica were taken from the island to Germany, the government has sought to respond to public queries saying the matter was handled legally for captive breeding purposes.

The issue broke over the weekend when reports surfaced that the birds, which were kept at the Parrot Aviary in the Botanic Gardens, were alleged ‘smuggled’ from Dominica with little or no public knowledge of what was going on.

In a statement late Tuesday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Reginald Thomas shot down claims that the birds were smuggled, saying everything was done above board and the birds were transferred from the island to facilitate the breeding of a critically endangered species.

“On Saturday, March 17, 2018, 12 birds, 10 Jacos and two Sisserous were exported legally to Germany via St. Lucia,” he said in explaining the matter. “Arrangements were made with the German Authorities, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the CITIES Management Authority to get the required documents to allow the safe transfer.”

He stated that the birds will be kept in Germany at the facilities of the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP) “for research into the breeding, particularly of the Sisserou, as a backup population in the event that the local population was to go extinct.”

Thomas said that conservation can be done locally or externally and Dominica does not have the necessary facilities for it to be done properly, except those in the wild facing the full force of nature.

“The birds kept for display at the Botanic Gardens is by no means a conservation program,” Dr. Thomas, who is also a veterinarian, said. “There are no protocols for caring for the birds or managing the birds. The birds are kept at the facility and fed for display. I’ve noticed many health issues with the birds kept at the facility based on the feeding and other husbandry practices.”

He stated that before the transfer was made with ACTP, checks were made with St. Lucia and St. Vincent regarding the organization and whether these countries had experienced problems with it.

“They assured us that they have had no issues with their birds and they are not worried of the extinction of their birds if they were to be impacted by natural disaster, be it hurricane or volcanic eruption,” he noted.

Dr. Thomas also said a program in Brazil was also explored before settling with ACTP in Germany.

“I reviewed further the program with the Brazilian government of the Spix’s macaw which was extinct in the wild by 2000 but by 2006 there were 50 and now there are 156,” he remarked. “In 2019 they will be released back into the wild in Brazil. Modern-day breeding practices such as artificial insemination were used to obtain these results. We have been told how difficult it is to breed these birds, our National Bird and as such, the use of modern science will definitely enhance the program to protect the bird.”

He went on to say that after witnessing the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Dominica’s forests and the birds and with the upcoming Hurricane Season, it became clear that the birds would be impacted again if they were left in the forest and could possibly become extinct.

“There is no forest cover for the birds at present, we could not, in all moral and ethical judgment allow the bird to remain in that state, hoping that they will survive,” he remarked. “We have an obligation to mankind to protect the species that we have been given dominion over and make the best decisions that succeeding generations can benefit from them. We are at the point of extinction of our Mountain Chicken with no other population anywhere for repopulation. We were forced to change our National Dish to accommodate the decline in the species and if they really go out completely then we may have to consider removing it from the Coat of Arms. This is what we are faced with the National Bird if it goes into extinction.”

Dr. Thomas added that apart from hurricanes, Dominica is also threatened by volcanic eruptions and all measures must be put in place to protect the island’s biodiversity.

“These are the reasons why a decision was made for captive breeding,” he stated. “A lot has been said, it has been branded as smuggling of birds but just to calm the concerns of the general public, there was no smuggling of the birds. The birds were moved utilizing all the security measures necessary to ensure that the birds arrive safely to their destination.”

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