In a proposal that could curtail interstate trade of four species of macaws, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today proposed listing the great green macaw, hyacinth macaw and military macaw as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as certain subspecies and distinct populations of the scarlet macaw.
To assist law enforcement efforts, the agency is further proposing to extend ESA protection to all scarlet macaws. “Endangered” status means that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Since 1987, all of the species have been listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means they require both an export permit from the country of origin and an import permit from the country of destination to be traded internationally. This listing generally precludes commercial trade.
In addition, imports of CITES-listed exotic birds, including all these macaws, into the U.S. was essentially eliminated by the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992. That act does allow for permits to be issued for scientific research, zoological breeding or as a personal pet when certain criteria are met.
If the macaws are listed as endangered under the ESA, it would be illegal for any person to “take” (including capturing) these birds in the U.S. or upon the high seas; import or export them; deliver, receive, carry, transport or ship in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.”
If the macaws are eventually listed as endangered, it would remain legal to sell currently owned birds within a person’s state, so a breeder in Florida could continue to sell within Florida. It would also remain legal to own the birds but not to cross state lines with them.
In addition, permits for endangered species can be issued for scientific purposes and to enhance the propagation or survival of the species under the ESA.
After reviewing available data and responding to a petition filed in 2008 by the Friends of Animals advocacy group, the agency determined the four species face significant threats, particularly due to habitat loss and degradation and, to a lesser extent, poaching.
For the military macaw, the agency determined that the worldwide population is “substantially fewer than 10,000 individuals” and likely between 1,000 and a few thousand remaining individuals. The agency estimates that 1,119 live birds were legally traded in the 22 years between October 21, 1987 (when they were listed on CITES Appendix I) and December 31, 2009. Of those birds, 840 were either captive-bred or captive-born, 119 were known to be wild-caught, and the origins of the other 160 are unknown. Captive-born specimens were offered for sale in the U.S. for about $700 in 2010, according to the government, which could be especially significant to a person in a poor country.
“Even though the military macaw is listed as an Appendix-I species under CITES and laws have been established with the range countries to protect this species, we are still concerned about the illegal capture of this species in the wild,” the agency wrote in its proposed rule. “Despite regulatory mechanisms in place and restricted international trade, poaching is lucrative and continues to occur.”
As with the other species, poaching for the illegal pet trade can have a dramatic effect on parrot species because they tend to be long-lived, mate for life and have low reproductive rates, according to the agency. Moreover, the agency reported the mortality rate of wild-caught military macaws (that never made it to final sale) was estimated at between 30 and 90 percent.
The agency reported that accurate population estimates for the great green macaw were needed and that some reports pegged the population at between 1,000 and 3,000 birds. In the 24 years following its listing on CITES Appendix 1 in 1985, Fish & Wildlife estimated 701 live birds had been involved in legal international trade, including 647 captive-bred or captive-born, 5 wild, and 15 reported as “pre-convention,” with the source of the remaining birds unknown.
“The pressure historically to remove this species from the wild for the pet trade, in part due to its high commercial value, have contributed significantly to the decline in population numbers for this species,” according to the agency’s proposed rule, later indicating that great green macaws could be found for sale at between $200 and $400 in the Bosawas region of Nicauraga, where the average family income is less than $800. Captive-bred birds could sell for up to $2,500 in the U.S., the government reported.
As to the scarlet macaw, the agency proposed listed as endangered the northern subspecies and the northern distinct population segment of the southern subspecies.
“In addition, for law enforcement purposes, we are considering listing scarlet macaw intraspecific crosses, and individuals of the southern [distinct population segment of the southern subspecies], based on similarity of appearance to entities proposed for listing in this document,” the Fish & Wildlife proposed rule reads. “Therefore, we also request information from the public on the similarity of appearances of scarlet macaw intraspecific (within species) crosses (and individuals of the southern DPS…to the entities proposed for listing in this document.”
Although the scarlet macaw is not endangered or threatened in its main range in Brazil’s Amazon region (where the scarlet macaw is considered common), it is endangered in Mexico and Central America, according to the government.
Overall, the agency estimated a total scarlet macaw population of between 20,000 and 50,000 birds, mostly in the Amazon.
“The scarlet macaw is considered somewhat tolerant of degraded or fragmented habitat,” the agency wrote in its proposal. “If not hunted or captured for the pet trade, they can survive in human-modified landscapes provided sufficient large trees remain for nesting and feeding requirements.”
However, the scarlet macaw is a popular pet within its range countries, according to the agency, and species priced above $500 are more likely to be imported into a country illegally and drive poaching rates. The scarlet macaw can sell in the U.S. for more than $2,000, according to the agency’s proposal.
“Overutilization of scarlet macaws, primarily as a result of poaching for the pet trade, is a threat to the scarlet macaw in some areas of its current range,” according to the agency’s proposal. “Although we consider overutilization to be occurring at significant levels throughout Mesoamerica, we conclude that overutilization due to commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes is not occurring at a level that poses a significant threat to the species throughout its range now or in the foreseeable future.”
However, because it is threatening the population in certain areas, such as Mexico, the agency is proposing to list the species as endangered, in part due to recent court decisions that overturned its efforts to list only segments of a species.
“The courts concluded that…to allow protecting only a portion of a species’ range is inconsistent with the Act’s definition of ‘species,’” according to the agency’s proposal. “The courts concluded that once a determination is made that a species (i.e., species, subspecies, or DPS [Distinct Population Segment) meets the definition of ‘endangered species’ or ‘threatened species,’ it must be placed on the list in its entirety and the Act’s protections applied consistently to all members of that species.”
Before issuing a final rule, the agency is seeking additional information on these species in the wild. Specific areas of interest include the effects of habitat loss and changing land uses on the species; the effects of other potential threat factors, including live capture, hunting, trade, predation by other animals and diseases affecting the birds or their food sources; and parrot conservation management programs that benefit these species.
Between 1987 and 2010, of 1,669 live hyacinth macaws legally traded internationally, 1,537 were reported as captive-bred or –born, 73 were reported “pre-convention, 24 were reported as wild-sourced and 73 were reported “source unknown.”
“Although illegal trading for the pet trade occurred at high levels during the 1980s, there is no information to suggest that illegal trapping for the pet trade is currently occurring at levels that are affecting the populations of the hyacinth macaw,” the Fish & Wildlife Service wrote in its proposal. “In the absence of data indicating otherwise, we find that illegal domestic and international trade is not a threat to the hyacinth macaw.”
Still, the agency estimated overall population at about 6,500 birds.
The government is seeking public comments through Sept. 4, 2012, on three separate notices of proposed rules covering the hyacinth macaw (Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2012-0013), scarlet macaw (Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2012-0039) and great green and military macaws (Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2011-0101). Comments can be submitted via www.regulations.gov.