Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Challenge to zoos that clip birds’ wings


Challenge to zoos that clip birds’ wings

(A slightly edited version of this article is in the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy the magazine if you see a seller.)

The right of zoos and wetland trusts to prevent birds flying by removing a part of their wings is being challenged by a new campaign.

Pinioning amputates the final section of the wing from which the primary feathers grow. Skin and muscle are removed in a practice that usually takes place during the first few weeks of a bird’s life.

By preventing a bird from flying then less space is needed to keep a bird captive. It also means humans can get nearer to the birds. 

Cruel

Supporters of pinioning include a number of popular wildlife locations in the north, including Chester Zoo, the most visited wildlife attraction in Britain with more than 1.4 million visitors last year. The zoo has 142 bird species on its 110 acre site. 

Pinioning was included in the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 and is legal. However the Captive Animal’s Protection Society argues it is cruel and has launched a campaign to outlaw the practice.

“If zoos were amputating the paws of tigers there would be absolute uproar and I see no reason why the limbs of birds should be considered differently,” said Liz Tyson, director of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society. “It is not acceptable so visitors can get a better look at the birds.”

A Chester Zoo spokesperson said: “Where possible we keep our birds fully-winged in large enclosures. To maintain exotic bird species in captivity then under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 we must prevent them from escaping, as it is an offence to release exotic species into the wild. We thus limit pinioning to two bird groups, flamingos and cranes, as these birds are kept in large open enclosures.”

Captive wildfowl 

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) Martin Mere site at Burscough, Lancashire, is one of five reserves managed in England by the charity. Around 100 species of international water birds live in and around the mere, which gives the site its name. All captive wildfowl and flamingos on site are pinioned, forming one part of the 5,650 individual birds on the five reserves that are prevented from flying by the practice.

WWT has defended its practices saying in a statement: “ To help encourage our visitors feel passionate about saving the world’s wetlands and their wildlife we create opportunities for them to get close to the birds.” 

The WWT chief executive, Martin Sprey, has said: “ On the issue of pinioning we actually want to bring people close birds, particularly young children.”

The Captive Animals’ Protection Society has published a report, Mutilated for your Viewing Pleasure: pinioning birds in English zoos, as part of its campaign and launched a petition to end the practice.

With the RSPCA having last year condemned the coalition government record on animal welfare the task of making it illegal is likely to face some difficult challenges. 

Tyson said: “The campaign is going well. Members of the public have reacted with shock and anger when we have informed them that birds are being held captive in this way.

“We are speaking to supportive MPs and that will allow us to plan our next steps. Pinioning is illegal on farmed birds and we wish to extend this to all birds, regardless of where they are kept.”

One leading northern wildlife attraction, Knowsley Safari Park, does not practice pinioning on any of its birds.

Graham Bessant, who runs the Birds of Prey experience at the Park said: “If we pinioned the birds, we wouldn’t be able to fly them, and showcasing the birds’ natural flying capabilities is at the heart of our work in which visitors see hawks, eagles and owls soar and swoop literally above their heads. It is great to see these beautiful creatures in all their glory.

Many people are not aware that birds like vultures are under threat and we aim to connect visitors with species that need human intervention to secure their future. We have purposely built aviaries to mimic the birds’ natural environment as closely as possible.”

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