Trends in legal and illegal trade of wild birds: a global assessment based on expert knowledge


Wildlife trade is a profitable economic activity. Birds are among the most heavily traded animals worldwide, with numerous species threatened by pet trade. Information on both legal and illegal aspects of trade and consumer demand is difficult to obtain across different countries, particularly given substantial socio-economic and cultural variation. Focusing on consumer demand in each country, we conducted a global survey among 105 international experts on bird conservation to identify expected trends, drivers and market characteristics of legal and illegal wild-caught pet bird trade. Our results suggest that future trends in legal bird trade will be mostly driven by socio-cultural motivations and intentional demand for wild-caught, rather than captive-bred birds. Bird popularity and rarity are the main factors expected to influence the choice of which bird species will be the most traded legally. Percentage of rural population was the main national-level socio-economic predictor for legal bird trade in the future. Demand for future illegal trade is expected to be driven by bird popularity and particular species identity. Experts consider illegal trade to be sustained mainly by consumers from higher socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Human population growth rate was the main national-level socio-economic predictor of illegal trade expected for the future. Legislation enforcement remains a critical issue in wildlife trade. Expanding trade networks and socio-economic changes continue to incorporate new regions into the wildlife trade. Investigating the multidimensional and synergistic determinants of wildlife trade will thus help address potential detrimental impacts bird trade might cause on biodiversity.

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We thank all the experts who kindly shared their time and participated in our survey, especially the two Syrian colleagues who showed complete availability to collaborate with this study, despite the ongoing turmoil in their homeland. We would also like to thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their contributions. This research was funded by FEDER Funds through the Operational Competitiveness Factors Program “COMPETE”, and by national funds through the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) within the framework of project “PTDC/AAG-GLO/0463/2014-POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016583”. A.N. acknowledges the support of the Darwin Initiative. J.R. acknowledges the support from FCT through Grant ICETA 2017-38 within project “PTDC/AAG-GLO/0463/2014-POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016583”. L.R. and C.C. acknowledge support from the FCT through Grants SFRH/BPD/93079/2013 and SFRH/BPD/84422/2012, respectively.

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Ribeiro, J., Reino, L., Schindler, S. et al. Trends in legal and illegal trade of wild birds: a global assessment based on expert knowledge. Biodivers Conserv 28, 3343–3369 (2019) doi:10.1007/s10531-019-01825-5

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  • Biological invasions
  • Consumer behaviour
  • Expert elicitation
  • Global wildlife trade
  • Invasive species