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Devocalisation - NLPR speaks out

Julie Hamilton

Devocalisation is the deliberate burning of a parrot's syrinx by physical heat, administration of chemicals or by radio-surgery. It is in itself painful and often damages adjacent structures such as the oesophagus. Birds often do not survive the process: those that do, emerge physically and emotionally harmed.

With the intention of forcing a formal statement from the American AAV, New Life Parrot Rescue wrote to the organisation in April 2000:

There has lately been a much-heated debate on the Internet concerning the subject, following the publication of a very emotive story of a Blue and Gold Macaw that was de-voiced and the resulting effect on the bird. I was recently passed an unofficial statement that is an independent answer in reply to an e-mail received by one of your board members. I detect a somewhat cautious approach by this veterinarian to this surgical procedure. However, what is astonishing is that the AAV does not apparently have a formal stand on de-voicing.

Ritchie, Harrison and Harrison state in "Avian Medicine: Principles and Application" that, "The authors and editors consider devocalization a cruel and unethical practice; therefore, a procedure will not be described. Birds with vocalization patterns that are unacceptable to a client should be placed in new homes."

De-voicing, de-clawing and other similar surgical procedures applied to parrots in zoological bird gardens and to companion animals are considered by all the British veterinary associations to be unethical and inhumane.

Any veterinarian found acting against this honorable code would be subject to disciplinary action followed by expulsion from the veterinary fellowship. The general consensus of gathered information from the Internet, the avicultural fraternity and large animal welfare organizations about the subject of de-voicing parrots (as with other species of birds, dogs also), both here in England and the USA, is that this practice is considered barbaric, immoral, unethical and inhumane. Parrots are, by nature, very vocal, raucous creatures. They use different tones and sounds to communicate with each other and to express their exuberant nature. They mimic our language for reason of integrating into a human flock. The ability to mimic is used as a substitute for the safety they would otherwise find amongst their wild flock. De-voicing robs a parrot of its inherent characteristic. The psychological damage is irreversible. This must surely authorize a unanimous agreement that this procedure is inhumane from such a respected quarter of the veterinary profession as the AAV.

The veterinary oath and principles are believed and understood by the public to pledge saving the life of an animal, ease suffering and ensure a quality of life wherever possible. Disabling a particular ability and inherent characteristic of an animal, for no medical reason, is perceived to be dishonorable and contradictory to the ethical code and principles of the veterinary association.

Please may I draw your attention to the enclosed clipping with reference to the aforementioned de-voicing of a Blue and Gold Macaw. I do hope you are able to comment on it and indicate what action the AAV sees as appropriate.

In the (enclosed) unofficial statement it is mentioned that "We do not know of any avian veterinarians that routinely de-voice birds." However, it is alleged that one avian veterinarian in the Phoenix/Tempe AZ area performs many de-voicing procedures, mainly on roosters and peafowl but is about to experiment with his own flock of Conures. Similarly, I have heard it claimed that another avian vet, also in the Phoenix/Tempe AZ area, performs many de-voicing operations on parrots. Clearly, the extent of the practice needs to be established as quickly as possible.

I hope that I have put a reasonable case before you for the AAV to conclude that de-crowing/voicing is unethical and should therefore be a prohibited procedure for your members."

The AAV replied (eventually)

Dear Ms Hamilton,

Thank you for your request. Regardless of my own personal feelings (I do not devoice parrots), the AAV is not a regulatory organization. Our organization is made up of member veterinarians and technicians who care for avian species. Our specific interests are, education, research, and conservation. We have no control over what service members contract to do for clients. If they are illegal it would fall under the jurisdiction of the board of examiners in vet. Med. In your state. To my knowledge the procedure is not illegal.

I am sorry that we cannot assist you in this matter.

NLPR responded...

Dear Mr Harris, DVM

Thank you for your prompt reply. It is very disappointing to learn that the AAV does not have a set standard, nor ethical code in which its members must abide, irrespective of de-voicing being legal in your country.

I have to ask what hope is there within the overall context of parrot welfare if the AAV cannot openly condemn the practice of de-voicing amongst its members and the whole of veterinary sector? With all due respect, the AAV has a moral responsibility to the welfare of birds, therefore, should not evade voicing against the cruel and unnecessary act of de-voicing parrots and other species of bird.

It is noted that the AAV has an ethical committee, and yet what may I ask is its purpose? given your response, I have no ground in which to place the USA, AAV with any credit. Therefore, I can only conflict with your reply and presume the AAV consider de-voicing an ETHICAL procedure (unlike the UK’s AAV) because it is legal and are not prepared to make a moral stand.

As a registered charity, we have a constitution; a moral code of conduct and a standard to uphold. I believe this is a normal procedure for all organizations. Should any of our trustees or members violate a serious principle of our constitution then action would be taken to expel the offender. It really is as simple as that!

I will naturally take your brief reply as the official statement which I requested. It will be published in the next issue of our ‘Periodical’, which follows on from the de-voicing feature that I published in our July issue, as this subject has generated a great deal of interest and many people are waiting in anticipation to see what side of the fence you are sitting.

I still beseech you to openly condemn de-voicing/de-crowing and incorporate it as a prohibited procedure under the ‘Ethics Committee’, by self-regulation.

The AAV responded...

Dear Ms Hamilton,

Ethics is defined as the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group. This professional association is in the USA not Great Britain. There are a number of procedures that are not performed in Great Britain by statute that are legal to do here. As I reiterated before, I do not do de-voicing procedures on birds and do not crop dogs ears, which is not illegal to do here. That is my personal choice, not one regulated by statute. I would hope that colleagues feel the same but it is not the associations place to force members to do or not do what is legal. We can only hope that by example and discussion on a personal level we can influence others.

I suppose also being British has influenced my personal attitudes towards the creatures I steward.

NLPR replied...

Dear Mr Harris, DVM

Thank you for your reply. For the sake of parrot welfare, I can only hope that your example will influence the veterinary sector. Perhaps the answer to improving the ethical standards in the USA is to have more British resident vets! (not meaning to offend my American counterparts).

Naturally, I, as with many other groups and individual parrot people, wish that the USA's AAV would make an open stand and speak out against de-voicing/de-crowing and make it a prohibited procedure. However disheartened I feel about my fruitless efforts, I will now resign to the fact that no more can be done to protect parrots/birds from this type of butchery. As always, they remain at man's mercy!

From one compassionate British animal caregiver to another, I would like to ask you to speak about this subject at your next convention in honour of the parrots/birds that have lost their lives or worse still, in honour of those parrots who are suffering the psychological effects. This would initiate discussions and set an honourable example. It is also a step in the right direction to, HOPEFULLY, abolishing this barbaric procedure, which certainly belongs to the 19th Century!

Finally the AAV wrote...

Dear Ms Hamilton,

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I will bring the topic to discussion. Since I have been practicing for over 40 years I know most of the avian practitioners. I have yet to find one that does mutilation surgery on parrots. Some do pinion waterfowl which is required by some fish and game departments in the USA for certain species kept in collections to prevent them flying away. This is done shortly after hatching and is done as humanely as possible. As you know, swans are pinioned in GB. The Queen's birds on one side and the people's birds on the other.

Important: Not unexpectedly, good people are outraged by the barbaric surgery described here but it is not the intention of NLPR to incite personal warfare against individual vets.

Want to know how you can help stop this?

  • Complain to the Association of Avian Veterinarians in writing or send an email to: AAV Central Office, Ethics & Peer Review Committee Chair, PO Box 811720, Bocaratron, Florida 33481-1720. USA. Email: aavctrlofc [at] aol [dot] com
  • Tell all your friends and associates
  • Email them the URL of this page
  • Discuss the matter with your vet - get him to complain to the AAV
  • If you have a web site then create a page like this one on it
  • Post messages to internet bird and animal newsgroups describing this awful practice