Bureaucratic Inflexibility Condemns Bird to Life in Solitary

On Wings December 1998 4:12
by Judy Franklin

Coco Rinaldi, a yellow- shouldered Amazon parrot Amazona barbadensis is the latest victim of a bureaucracy so intent on following the rules that it has lost all compassion in the process. An American citizen who made every effort to follow the rules now must cope with the loss of her beloved pet; the bird, every bit a victim itself, now faces life alone in a small cage at the local zoo, with neither the love of its family or the companionship of others of its kind.

CoCo joined the family of Sharon Rinaldi and her husband and children when they moved to St. Maarten, one of the Netherlands Antilles islands, two years ago, and found a lively green and yellow bird in a pet store there. Enchanted, they purchased their first-ever bird, and, as so often happens, it quickly became a member of their family. And this was the normal situation on the island, as their neighbors and friends on the island also tended to regard their birds as important parts of their lives.

CoCo bonded with his new family immediately; he was soon calling the dogs in both French and English, playing with the kids, and doing everything birds are so adept at doing to weave their ways inextricably into our hearts. He was a valued member of a family in a loving home, and was thriving.

But today, CoCo is a number-- an avian inmate in the netherworld of international politics -- condemned for the crime of being listed on Appendix I of CITES. Condemned by people so concerned with rules that they appear to have forgotten the meaning of compassion.  In the wake of this onslaught of bureaucracy, we have today a heartbroken family, and a similarly distraught bird. And bureaucrats who can say they did the right thing. At least according to their rules.

The Yellow-shouldered amazon Amazona barbadensis babadensis, the nominate race is found locally along the coast of Venezuela. A. b. rothschildi, the subspecies, is found occurring in the Netherland Antilles islands of Bonaire, Blanquilla and Margarita. There is some question if the subspecies is a valid race. Bonaire supported some one hundred pairs in 1960. In 1968, according to some authorities, only twenty-three birds remained on the island. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's authorities estimate that there remain only some three thousand birds in the wild.

The bird is about 33 cm. in length and is generally green. The forehead of the Yellow-shouldered Amazon is white, merging to yellow on the crown and around the eyes. The rear of the crown may be tinged with blue. The shoulders and the highs are bright yellow. The bill is horn-colored, legs are grey, and the iris is orange.

A compassionate solution to an unfortunate situation?

The problem began when the Rinaldis decided to return with their family to the United States to their home in New Jersey. After consulting their local vet, they began the process of arranging for permits to import their bird as a family pet as provided for under the Wild Bird Conservation Act. It was only after this process had begun that they even thought to identify the exact species of parrot they were keeping.

In order to satisfy the requirements of the importation documents, they began pulling out their bird books and consulting with people more expert in avian matters to determine the bird's species. To the best of their knowledge, they had welcomed a Yellow-shouldered amazon into their family. . .  and set themselves up for one of the great disappointments of their lives.

In order to import a CITES I bird into the United States, both a permit for import into the United States as the importing country, and the Netherlands Antilles, as the country of export, would be needed. The export permit was no problem. The authorities on Bonaire would gladly issue the necessary CITES permit, but only if the United States would also agree to do so -- a safeguard sought entirely for the bird's protection.

But that was not to be. After the family had obtained a health certificate for the bird, reserved and paid for quarantine space in Newark for September 18, and sent in their permit applications to the Fish and Wildlife Service, their problems began. The expected permit was not forthcoming.

The Rinaldis, save for their teenage son, who stayed behind to finish the school year, left the island without the psittacine member of their family. They bird remained on the island, cared for at the St. Maarten Zoo until his paperwork cleared. The Fish and Wildlife Service requested more information about the origin of the bird. Then, on October 27, they denied the CITES permit altogether:

     "Please be advised that, after examining the available information, we are unable to find that this import will be for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species."

Permit to import under the pet bird exception of the Wild Bird Conservation Act was also denied:

     "This finding should also be used as a basis for denial under the Wild Bird Conservation Act according to the criteria of 50 CFR §15.25."

50 CFR §15.25: "Permits for personal pets" reads in part: "(b) issuance criteria. Upon application completed in accordance with paragraph (a) of this section, the Director will decide whether or not a permit should be issued. In making this decision, the Director shall consider, in addition to the general criteria in part 13 of this subchapter, the following factors: (1)Whether the proposed import would be detrimental to the survival of the exotic bird species in the wild." [Emphasis added)

Detrimental to the Survival of the Species in the Wild???????

In its denial, Roddy Gabel of the FWS wrote for the Scientific Authority: "Our advice is based on the possibility that allowing this import, although the applicant did not directly contribute to the removal of this specimen from the wild, could contribute to the removal of additional specimens from the wild, especially since removal of specimens from the wild for the pet trade within the species' range is a significant threat to the species' survival in the wild."

The Service contends that this is a wild caught bird, and is placing some significant emphasis on that 'fact' in its denial of the Rinaldi permits. The bird may indeed have been taken from the wild, from the island of Bonaire, Margarita, La Blanquilla, or even , from Venezuela. On the other hand, it may have been captive bred on the island of Curacao, where there are situated several large bird breeding facilities, and may have made its way to the pet store on one of the yachts or fishing boats that move easily from one island to another. It is impossible to tell.

But that the Service makes any issue at all of this is especially ironic, given that regulations enabling the legal import of captive-bred birds from foreign facilities, promised by an already tardy late-1995 proposal, have still not been published for comment. It is impossible to legally import captive bred exotic birds into the United States, because there are no regulations allowing it. But it is not mandatory that a bird imported into the U.S. as a personal pet be bred in captivity, and the Service's reliance on this argument is specious.

In this case, Mrs. Rinaldi bought the bird at a pet store, Island Pet N.V., and submitted a letter from the shop's owner:

"To Whom it May Concern:

This is to certify that Ms. Sharon Rinaldi of 17B Limpet Road, Oyster Pond on the island of St. Maarten has purchased from our company one yellow shoulder Amazon Parrot.

Said parrot has been bred and raised in captivity. Ms. Rinaldi is now moving to the United States, to New Jersey, and would like to take her pet which she has gotten attached to along with her.

Your cooperation with Ms. Rinaldi's request will be greatly appreciated.


ss/ Wilfred F. Evertsz"

That was not good enough for the Service. But again, there is no requirement that a pet bird import, even of a CITES I bird, is contingent on proof of captive bred status. Indeed, if that were the case, there would be no American residents returning from extended stays in Mexico bringing in their avian pets. That is not the case, and it remains problematical that Ms. Rinaldi may be being afforded different treatment.

CoCo now resides at the tiny St. Maarten Zoo, where, it appears, he may now live unhappily ever after.

Donald Anderson,Ph.D. is the curator of the small zoo on St. Maarten. He and his staff care for CoCo there, but admittedly, minimally at best. Dr. Anderson readily voiced his concern for the welfare of his charge: "Because CoCo is the only Yellow-shouldered Amazon at the zoo and I doubt we will have access to another of this species because of its Appendix I status in the CITES regulations, the bird will be relegated to solitary confinement in a small enclosure. Apart from providing adequate husbandry for the bird, the zoo cannot provide the social environment necessary for the bird to acquire adequate species specific socialization skills. As you know, parrots are social animals and best thrive in an environment of conspecific social encounters or in a human environment surrounded by environmental enrichment that includes giving the bird considerable attention.

Sharon Rinaldi provided CoCo with a habitat that featured an environmental enrichment program that included giving CoCo the attention needed to stimulate the socialization process. Because St. Maarten Zoo cannot provide an adequate socialization environment. I request that U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant Sharon Rinaldi an import permit to allow her bird to reside with her in the United States."

Dr. Eric Newton is the CITES authority on Bonaire. Prior to the FWS decision on CoCo, he had stated his willingness to approve a CITES export permit for the bird. A diplomat in this world of political correctness, however, he recognizes the Service's position, and has stated that he cannot criticize the agency for sticking to its rules and regulations. But he is also cognizant of the fact that the bird will never return to the wild, even if it was indeed taken from the wild and not captive bred. He also would like to see it with its family in the United States.

Dr. Newton is working on implementing a new General Conservation Law, passed last August, that will require banding and marking of native birds held in captivity there, and will mandate registration of all breeders.

But CoCo was a pre-Act bird. At the time Mrs. Rinaldi purchased CoCo, she was acting within local law, and local custom. She and her family purchased and held the bird legally, and she still legally owns the bird in St. Maartens.

On Bonaire, where Dr. Newton now is working, he estimates there are some four hundred Yellow-shouldered Amazons in the wild; there are another one thousand in captivity on that island alone. This brings into question previous population estimates, and would indicate a spectacular resurgence in numbers from 1968, especially given the fact that parts of the islands have been devastated by hurricanes in recent years, and given the fact that that the residents of the island have not stopped taking the birds from the wild for pets. It is quite possible that those earlier estimates might have been erroneous. Perhaps an estimate is no better than a guess in this case.

But either way, CoCo would make no difference to the birds now in the wild, or in captivity, there. Mrs. Rinaldi, says Dr. Newton, may well be the inadvertent victim of 'smugglers' that may have brought the bird to St. Maartens. Or, she may be just another victim of the bureaucracy.

The non-detriment finding, which is all that prevents Mrs. Rinaldi and her family from being reunited with her bird, is no more than a judgment call. Although the Service is reportedly working toward publishing guidelines that would explain the determination process to the public, criteria would of necessity remain subjective. The Service can and does look at current 'scientific' evidence and population surveys and trends, but they too often fail to look at the consequences befalling the individual birds themselves. In this case, CoCo is the loser.

At the same time, the United States is once again imposing its standards on a country whose management authority had already made the decision that the best outcome for the bird would be to join its family in the United States. Creating situations for sound conservation and wildlife management programs in countries of origin can only be done in an atmosphere of cooperation; in an ideal situation, decisions by authorities in other countries should be discussed, not arbitrarily discarded. The Service, by giving consideration to Dr. Newton's opinion, would go a long way toward ensuring cooperation and good will in the future.

Your Legislator is Your Friend....

Mrs. Rinaldi has not yet given up the fight to bring in her feathered family member, however. In her fight for CoCo, she contacted her Congressman.
Unfortunately, however, her Congressman is Jim Saxton, a Congressman who has not been known for his grasp of the concept and value of aviculture.

Indeed, Mr. Saxton, then Chair of the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, oversaw the September 28, 1995 hearing on the "Implementation of the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, Problems in Permitting, and Suggestions for Improvement." To testify, he brought along Larry Herrighty, a wildlife biologist from the State's Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife to speak in favor of the Act, and to crow a bit about the State of New Jersey's stringent wild bird act, and how well it was working.

Not many aviculturists in New Jersey agreed with that assessment, however, and presented the Congressman with a petition signed by over two hundred aviculturists, pointing out problems with the legislation. It read:

Petition to Amend or Rescind the State of New Jersey's Wild Bird Law to the United States Congress/Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans

The New Jersey State Assembly The New Jersey State Senate

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife

Be it known that the undersigned aviculturists, fanciers, retailers, wholesalers, supply dealers, pet store owners, and exotic bird enthusiasts petition the above listed organizations and governmental agencies to effect change to the present New Jersey Wild Bird Law. In its present form, this law has no conservation value and acts only as control legislation to license and regulate exotic birds in this state, which, in turn, deters the breeding and propagation of endangered or rare species and their conservation.

The onerous requirements for permits, reports, inspections and interruptions of breeding built into this law are counterproductive to conservation in that they discourage captive propagation of exotic birds. Legitimate holders and breeders of exotic birds within the State of New Jersey are being forced to seek non-permitted breeding stock across state lines because breeders in other states do not wish to involve themselves in the unnecessary New Jersey State bureaucracy. Furthermore, this paperwork and permit burden is overly restrictive with respect to the acquisition of wild birds for breeding stock.

The Federal Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 already prohibits the importation of wild caught stock into the United States except in very specific and controlled circumstances. The New Jersey State law should not control the movement, sale, exchange, or keeping of legally held birds within the United States except in very specific and controlled circumstances. The New Jersey State law should not control the movement, sale, exchange or keeping of legally held birds within the United States.

We understand that a letter shall be drafted by a lawyer that expresses our concerns. We further understand that our names shall not appear on this letter as we are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution and the loss (through confiscation) of our birds. We would like to, politely, point out that Laura Simon, one of the creators of the New Jersey Bird Ban Law, has spearheaded drives to pass anti-bird legislation in several states and clearly operates within their own agenda.

This law is clearly discriminatory as it requires bird owners, breeders, and fanciers to acquire a permit that is not required of dog and cat owners. Furthermore, provision under this law force New Jersey bird breeders to participate in other national organizations or zoological organizations in order to be labeled 'legitimate'. These discriminatory statutes under the law will lead to inbreeding and functionally extinct bloodlines within the State of New Jersey.

As breeders and keepers of exotic birds and exotic wildlife within the State of New Jersey, we would like to formally request input on the amendments and implementation of the New Jersey Wild Bird Law. We are the ones with the experience to make this law work as intended. We request a public forum to discuss our problems with regard to this law.

Ss/ Over 200 aviculturists from the State of New Jersey."

Mr. Saxton was sadly out of touch with his New Jersey constituents in 1995, when he brought Herrighty to testify before Congress. He still may be out of touch today. Mrs. Rinaldi found this out when she went to his Congressional office for help with her problems. In response to her request for his services, she received a letter from his office, beginning, "This is to acknowledge and thank you for contacting my office with regard to the problem you are experiencing with Fish and Game." (Emphasis added.) His office couldn't even get the name of the agency correct.

The Congressman's office, in any event, made it clear that they cannot and will not intervene in the decision making process. They can only ensure that the review and appeal process move ahead expediently.

"If I Only Had a Brain Heart!"

Ms. Rinaldi has requested reconsideration by the Service of this denial, and in response was offered a chance to bypass the two-step appeal process, going instead, because of concerns for the health and welfare of the pet, to the Director of the Service, Jamie Rappaport Clark. But because the decision of the Director is final, Mrs. Rinaldi has decided to follow the regular appeals route.

Any applicant to bring in a pet bird under the Wild Bird Conservation Act whose application is denied is entitled to be provided with a complete explanation as to the reasons the permit was denied. If the applicant believes he has additional information or reasons to overturn that decision, he may request reconsideration of the decision. This must be done within a forty-five day period.

This appeal goes to the same office, which reviews the new information, and which must issue a decision within forty-five days. If the office exercises its option to change its decision, it will issue the permit then. If not, the decision will be signed by an administrator at a higher level. At press time, the verdict on the appeal has not been received by Mrs. Rinaldi.

The next and final appeal is to the Director of the Service, Jamie Rappaport Clark, who will review the evidence and make a final decision. Let us hope, if this matter reaches that level, she has the compassion to make the right decision. Then, perhaps something good could have come from this awful exercise in the bureaucratic process.

In the meantime, in New Jersey, a cage stands empty. And in St. Maarten, a little green soul stands condemned to a barren life, alone in a cage.

Also in the December 1998 Issue:

Alec Baldwin Heads HSUS Fight Against Factory Farming

The Humane Society of the United States has announced its "Public Service" campaign against factory farming. Actor and animal rights activist Alec Baldwin will be the spokesperson for the campaign, and will star on so-called public service announcements that will air in thirty states.

The campaign is based on a report compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council and several environmental and animal rights groups that have banded together as the 'Clean Water Network.' Their report purports to show how "corporate owned 'factory farms' on 30 states are poisoning drinking water supplies by fouling rivers, lakes, streams and underground aquifers."

The HSUS spots which feature Baldwin attempt to link factory farming with animal cruelty and environmental damage in the form of massive pollution. They also bring up the problem of the loss of family farms to large conglomerates.

Says HSUS's Michael W. Fox: "The meat industry us just one segment if the American agribusiness food production system that violates others' rights in its monopolistic game of control and industrial scale production efficiency... ... even the right of wilderness areas to water are violated."

But the HSUS and other animal rights groups do not take into account that the agendas they embrace, that of more regulation of the practices of animal husbandry, do not consider that the small family farmers cannot absorb the increased costs their agenda has forced on them. And in reality, they do not care, as their real agenda is to end the consumption of all animals.

Neither do Baldwin and his bottle-blonde wife Kim Bassinger care about the family farmers. They care about geese, though, and the methods used in the production of foie gras. They care about little veal calves, as well. They care about birds we keep, too, and believe that they should not be kept in cages. They have made films with the anti-avicultural minded Charlie Munn, that say as much. They would make you let your birds fly free, if they had their way.

But Baldwin, who has reportedly expressed interest in running for the Senate in New York as a Democrat, hasn't always been so solicitous of his fellow man, especially if they come from the other side of the political aisle.

On an appearance on the Conan O'Brien show recently, Baldwin stood before the audience and shouted, "If we were in any other country we'd go to Washington and stone Henry Hyde to death." Rising from his chair, he continued in the same vein, "And then we should go to his house and kill his wife and family." The audience cheered.

Meanwhile, as Baldwin enjoyed the exercise of his First Amendment rights, Mr. Hyde was being accompanied by bodyguards provided him in response to the death threats he has been receiving because of his role in the Clinton impeachment activities.

But Baldwin really, does care about those cows.