The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed to CTV News that a shipment of more than 50 live exotic birds that passed through Vancouver International airport last month should not have been allowed into Canada.
Animal welfare advocates said one bird was dead, and others had little to no food or water.
In an emailed response Thursday, the CFIA said birds from many countries are not allowed entry into Canada because of the risk of introducing various diseases such as avian influenza.
“Birds from Guyana are not eligible for entry into Canada or transit through Canada,” the email said. “An order to remove was issued for the shipment of birds.”
The agency said birds that are ordered removed do not have to be returned to their country of origin, and “follow-up inspection activities” related to the shipment are ongoing.
Veterinarian Dr. Nadine Meyer said she was one of five people who responded to a call out shared on social media to help feed the birds during a stopover in Vancouver on Dec. 1.
Meyer, whose practice has focused on birds, said she and the other concerned volunteers arrived at the cargo terminal early that morning.
“A little bit more than half the birds did not have any more food, or they were very low on food,” she said, and added there were 58 birds in total, a number which included both parrots and toucans. “One of the smaller toucans was found dead.”
A photo shared by Meyer showed a bird lying on the floor of a crate.
She said she also saw a bird that appeared to be unwell, housed right next to the dead bird.
“He just didn’t look right,” she said. “He was kind of clinging on with his last kind of energy that he had ... When we tapped the side of the wall, he didn’t really react to anything, and this is really a sign in birds that they are very sick.”
Meyer said she found the situation “alarming,” and reported her concerns to terminal staff, who called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The name of an exporter in South America, Tropical Flora and Fauna, was written on the crates. The website for a company of the same name based in Guyana features a menu of different available species, from birds to reptiles and others.
“We are Guyana-government-approved wildlife exporters and have 20 years’ experience of managing and exporting these species,” the website reads. “All animals are exported under strict CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) regulations and control.”
The destination, also written on the crates, was Sakura City, Japan.
Animal Justice executive director Camille Labchuk said wild birds like the ones in the shipment are worth “thousands and thousands of dollars each on the pet trade market.”
“The entire shipment of these birds from Guyana through Canada to Tokyo appears to have taken over 40 hours, which is an incredible, heartbreakingly long amount of time to keep sensitive birds like these in transit,” Labchuk said.
Meyer said after talking with terminal staff who were in touch with the CFIA, she and the other volunteers left the airport that day under the belief the shipment did not have the proper permit and was going to be seized. However, when she personally followed up the next day, she learned the birds had been allowed to proceed to their destination.
“I think it’s just reckless to just let these birds pass through and not show this shipper or any other shippers that will try the same thing to teach them a lesson ... so this does not happen again,” Meyer said. “These are not commodities. These are living beings.”
Labchuk said the international trade of wildlife also poses another risk.
“Birds are actually one of the most notable carriers of influenza,” she said. ”And that’s why the CFIA actually restricts shipments of birds into this country and monitors them so carefully. So there are a lot of questions that need to be answered right now.”
CTV News has requested a response from the exporter.