People and families who want to keep the birds they already have in their possession as pets can apply to do so before December 31, 2014.

The Forest Department will review each application and where the requirements are met, it will grant permission for bird owners to keep them, except for the Scarlet Macaw parrot.

This is under program that allows for one person per household to apply as a registered keeper of up to two birds maximum.

After December 31, 2014, the law will be vigorously enforced to protect endangered birds.

Under the current laws, it is unlawful to hunt, capture or keep a native parrot, but officials charged with protecting these creatures have found that people secretly go to extreme lengths to capture them, causing more harm in the process.

So the Forest Department has embarked on a program that offers families an opportunity to keep birds that have already been taken from the wild.

To secure a license, each applicant must meet a list of practical requirements.

These include:
1. That the bird must have been in captivity for at least one year (no baby birds will be licensed);
2. The bird must be hand tame, meaning you must be able to pick him up without harm or distress to you or the bird;
3. The bird must not be sick or injured in any way and must be in good health;
4. Its enclosure and husbandry must meet minimum standards for that species; and
5. The bird should not be a prohibited species (such as a wild-caught scarlet macaw).

Persons who wish to take advantage of this opportunity may apply to keep their feathered friends, to the Forest Department under the Wildlife Protection Act, using a Captive Wildlife Permit application form.

These forms are available at Forest Department Official Stations in Belmopan, Orange Walk, San Ignacio, and Savannah in Independence Village.

Approved birds belonging to families will be fitted with a permanent leg band that does not hurt the bird. The leg band will have a number that corresponds to its official permit.

Authorities advise that removing the band for refitting will cause it to break. They further advise that if the band needs to be removed for medical reasons, the bird owner should visit a veterinarian or contact the Forest Department.

Once a permit is granted, it is valid for the lifetime of the bird, provided the bird owner maintains prescribed standards of care.

People who change addresses must also inform the Forest Department since all birds are registered at their current addresses.

Every person who has an exotic or endangered bird in his possession must get permission in writing to keep the bird(s).

People who do not meet all the requirements will be given a probationary period to bring the enclosure and care of the bird up to standard. If that is achieved within the specified time, the Forest Department will issue a permit to allow the person to keep the bird. Those who do not meet the requirements, even after the probationary period will lose the bird (by confiscation).

Birds which are confiscated will be taken to the Government-approved rehabilitation centre where they will undergo a rehabilitation process to return them to the wild.

During that process, however, the bird owner can appeal within seven days of the confiscation to get the bird back That person needs to contact the Forest Department stating the reasons why they believe their bird should be returned.

The Forest Department, with the help of Belize Bird Rescue, is authorized to confiscate baby birds, sick birds, and birds in poor living conditions.

People with imported birds must have three permits, including: CITES documentation, which are issued in the country of origin; BAHA import papers; and another from the Forest Department.

Imported birds that have been taken from the wild, hybrid birds and birds that have been bred in captivity and have not been registered with CITES will not have CITES papers and will not have the CITES leg band. Owners of those birds must be in possession of a CITES permit to transport their birds internationally.

BAHA will issue permits for the importation of birds after they are tested for diseases. BAHA also keeps a record of all legally imported birds and people who bring birds or other animals illigally into the country risk having their animals destroyed.

Families who want a parrot may also seek to become a foster family for one that cannot be rehabilitated and that require good homes, at Belize Bird Rescue. Families who wish to provide a good home to one of these birds should email the organization at: [email protected]

After December 31, 2014, the closing date for applications, persons who are caught with a captive bird will lose their bird.They will also be subject to a court charge under the Belize Wildlife Conservation Act and a fine.

The Reporter