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Planning and preparing for the exportation of captive birds

There are many things to consider when asked to provide OV captive bird export services

01 June 2020, at 8:10am

Never before has the role of the official veterinarian (OV) been so important. With Brexit having been signed off but all procedural changes in abeyance until January 2021, we must be able to show to all importing countries that we are proud to be UK OVs, proud of our role, proud of the quality of our exports and of the diligence with which we complete our role in respect of export certification. Not only Brexit, but with the current turmoil created by COVID, we need the rest of the world to be confident in our ability to control the exportation of contagious and infectious diseases, especially when dealing with species which could have had contact with wildlife species.

As captive bird exports all fall under the Balai Directive (with all exporters being required to be approved or registered), all exportations must be compliant with national and EU animal welfare legislation. As an OV, your responsibility for welfare compliance extends for the whole duration of transit, so all aspects of feeding, watering, rest intervals, transit containers, stop overs and delays in transit are relevant. With all farm animals the necessary requirements are all documented, but in respect of captive birds, it is generally stated “as relevant/appropriate or necessary”, and it will be for you to determine what is appropriate for this species.

As the appointed OV, in respect of a Balai Directive-governed exportation, you are also responsible to certify that the exporter is compliant with their Balai conditions (all birds to be individually identified, to maintain records of all identifications and movements, to report suspicions of notifiable diseases, to comply with disease control restrictions, to only trade in healthy birds and to comply with all national and EU welfare legislation). Captive bird exportation applies to all non-poultry bird exports, both commercial and pet, so some exporting owners will be lay persons with no understanding of testing, certification, disease control, etc. Taking it a step further, under this legislation, what is the definition of poultry? Fowl, turkey, guineafowl, ducks, geese, quail, pigeons, pheasants, partridges and ratites, reared or kept in captivity for breeding, the production of meat or eggs for consumption or restocking supplies of game.

Particular challenges

The trade in UK captive-bred birds is predominantly raptors and psittacines; the trade tends to be very seasonal and time critical – a delay of just 14 days in birds arriving abroad can result in a halving of their value. Exportations tend to comprise low numbers of high-value birds, many of which are also subject to Convention in the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), thereby requiring an Article 10 licence (involvement in a commercial activity), an export CITES licence from the UK and an import CITES licence to enter the country of destination. Breeder and importer applications for CITES certificates are in addition to and separate from export and import health applications.

Captive bird exports are sub-divided into psittacines and non-psittacine captive birds. The OV must sign psittacine forms to state that there have been no signs of psittacosis at the breeder’s site in the previous eight weeks (some countries may have specific test requirements), and yet, as the OV, you may not have been there, so this can be challenging. On occasion, one will need to meet the requirements of transit countries, as well as the final import country, which can create yet more challenges.

As stated above, captive birds for export must be captive bred and individually identified (by closed breeders ring applied when the chick is less than 10 days old or identichip). The presence of a closed breeders ring is taken as proof that the chick was legally captive reared, and yet in the absence of any “evidence of continuity” an identichip cannot prove the same and an additional breeder declaration or other evidence will be required. The OV should be mindful that a closed breeders ring is only acceptable if legitimate, ie it is the correct ring size (so that it could not have been forced onto the foot of an older bird), legible and hasn’t been tampered with, eg expanded, forced onto a leg and then crimped back to size. The OV should be familiar with signs of ring tampering. The export application will need to state the age, sex and speciation of the bird(s); an ability to verify the species and age is important, as it is not unheard of for exporters to attempt to pass off a species requiring CITES permits for one that doesn’t, or a hybrid (maybe 7/8 or 15/16 purebred) as being purebred.

Welfare in transit

The OV must (to the best of their ability) assure the birds’ welfare during transit, taking into consideration transit containers, duration of transit, rest periods, appropriate feed and water intervals and temperature tolerances, all the while bearing in mind possible delays in transit, at stop overs or in clearing customs on arrival. On occasion with valuable shipments, it can be prudent to attach dataloggers to transit containers, but if this is done shipping agents must be informed as they can trigger security alerts. The pre-transit export certification check must be completed less than 48 hours prior to anticipated departure.

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Things to consider before accepting a request to provide OV captive bird export services

Will the practice certainly have a duly certified (and experienced in that type of bird) OV available on the correct date and time required? Many export consignments will require additional laboratory testing or pre-export isolation (on occasions in midge/mosquito-free accommodation for a period of 90 days). Pre-isolation accommodation inspection may be required before quarantine can commence. It is vital that there is sufficient time to complete laboratory tests and that the tests required by the importing country can be undertaken in the UK. The birds’ identification number must be on the laboratory test submission and appear correctly on the result certificate. Some export certificates are required to be countersigned by an importing country's embassy or consulate, prior to departure; if so, locating the necessary office, verifying hours of business, etc, is vitally important. Any assurance outside the OV’s own knowledge (eg that the bird has been on site since hatching, has not travelled from/through an area of control for a notifiable disease) will need to be certified by a written declaration by the owner, prior to certification by the OV. It is prudent to inform the breeder of this requirement and correct wording prior to your inspection visit.

Lifespan of the certificate

Generally, only one shipment of birds from one breeder can travel on any flight, so shipments of birds can be bumped back a flight and hence unexpectedly delayed. The OV’s authority to sign the form is time-limited (by the 618NDC). The latter tends to have a validity period of 10 to 15 days; if this expires prior to certification, a request in writing to APHA Exports (Carlisle) giving sufficient time for a replacement to be provided is necessary.

Inspection/examination of birds

It is essential that the OV verifies the identification of each bird, also inspecting for any signs of infectious or contagious disease, or any other illness or injury which would render the bird unfit to travel. Great care must be taken in catching or handling a bird; a single broken feather will typically result in cancellation of the export.

Pre-export treatments

On occasions importing countries will require that a bird is “treated for endo or ecto parasites, using a licensed veterinary medicine, administered in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation”. This is a real challenge, as no licensed product will have instructions for the treatment of exotic bird species, hence the OV can not sign off to this effect. In such circumstances, the issue should be raised with the embassy of the importing country, requesting that a dispensation is made or the wording is altered.

Pre-export planning

Do not accept instruction unless manpower will certainly be available at the necessary time, taking into account delays or changes in departure time. Open and check papers as soon as they arrive.

Verify pre-export conditions, pre-export treatments, laboratory tests, test methods, laboratory turnaround time and staff availability. Ensure there are facilities to copy the completed certificate (if at the breeder’s establishment).

Completing certificates

Always keep your stamp secure. Always sign in a colour other than black, signing and stamping any changes or entries on any APHA-issued export document (do not use your OV stamp on any document not provided by APHA). Do not leave any lines blank or empty: cross them through, sign and stamp. Always return a certified copy to APHA, attaching a note to your copy to confirm it was sent, and file all export certificates, together with all supporting laboratory results and breeder declarations. Forms relating to cancelled shipments must also be returned to APHA. Do ensure that you are paid for the certificate before it is issued to the client/shipping agent. Always ensure that all your actions in completing the export certificate are compliant with the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct.

If after signing an export certificate, changes are inevitable (eg delayed departure, not all individuals are loaded because of injury or illness), the breeder must contact APHA Carlisle informing them of any changes. In some circumstances the OV will be required to alter (sign and stamp), or sign fresh export forms.

Neil A Forbes, BVetMed, Cert C&G Zoo Insp, DipECZM(avian), FRCVS, is an RCVS Specialist in Zoo and Wildlife (Avian). He has taught in academia but spent most of his career in private and referral practice. He is past president of ECZM and EBVS.

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