When Shabbir Ahmad, owner of a small towel factory, came to know that lucrative export of exotic birds was picking up, he built cages of various sizes in a vacant area of his factory premises located in New Karachi.
With the guidance of his friend Khalid, who was in the birds trade for quite some time, he reared various species of birds to try his luck in the new business.
It has been a-year-and-a-half since Ahmad embarked on his new venture. He has now abandoned his old business and is engaged in the avian trade.
He says: “The business is interesting and many times more profitable than my towel trade.”
Now the premises, instead of the rattling sound of towel machines, is reverberating with the chirp and tweets of tiny beautiful birds such as budgerigars, lovebirds, cockatiels, finch, Java, sparrows and doves.
In the beginning he used to sell the birds in the local market. Gathering expertise and experience, he started exporting birds to the Middle East including Dubai, Turkey, Thailand, Russia, Iran and as far as Holland. But at present his exports are confined to Muscat and Bahrain as there are restrictions on export of birds in other countries after the spread of avian flue.
“Though the flue never visited the country and the birds were safe, the ban remains imposed,” he regrets.
Karachi during the last several years has become the biggest birds breeding and exporting centre followed by Lahore. Most of these exportable birds breed fast, lay five to six eggs and hatch out four to five chicks at a time.
The commercially viable bird breeds are budgerigars, java, sparrows, finches, cockatiels, ring neck parrots, alexandrines (mountain parrots), lovebirds, doves and zebra finches. Though cockatoos, Amazon parrots and macaws — the king of parrot kingdom — are also being bred locally, they are being exported very sparingly primarily due to two reasons.
One, they take much longer to mature and breed, and two, their production is not enough to meet the export demand.
Akhtar, a bird trader who owns a shop in Buffer Zone, North Karachi, says, “The cockatoos, which are Australian by origin and have been imported and bred locally, are the costliest among the birds and a pair is sold at a fabulous price of Rs200, 000.
Similarly the African grey parrots cost Rs70, 000-75,000 per pair,” he added.
Thus the economics of bird farming requires the breeding of commercial varieties which explains the exports dominated by these varieties. Budgerigars top the birds’ exports list. The demand within the country is also increasing with the passage of time. This is indicated by the daily activity at the bird markets at the Empress Market and weekly Sunday Bazaar in Liaquatabad, Karachi.
A bird trader, not disclosing his name for fear of being harassed by the bhatta mafia and the excise department, said some shopkeepers were doing a roaring business of Rs30,000- 40,000 daily.
Waseem Siddiqui, another shopkeeper in the same area, said bird business has a lot of potential. Giving the market rates he said: “A pair of grey cockatiels costs Rs3,800 per pair, budgerigars Rs700, Zebra finch Rs300 to R350 per pair, love bird Rs3,000-5,500, imported Rosella Rs15,000, grey parrots Rs30,000 per pair and Macaw Rs160,000- 3,50,000 per pair.
Akhtar said white chick crystal costs Rs25,000 per pair. “Invest Rs100,000 and buy four pairs of the species, and if all goes well and luck favours, you can earn Rs50,000 per month in a few months when these birds start breeding and multiplying. We purchase the grown up chicks for Rs20,000 per pair. Many people in the avian business are earning their livelihood,” he added.
Another shopkeeper Shariq said: “Only if you rear four species namely fisher which is Rs6,000 per pair, Java, Rs3,500, Blue Personata Rs5,500 and Australians Rs700 per pair you can earn between Rs20-30 thousand per month with an initial investment of Rs100,000 without any fear of loss. What is needed is proper care of the birds,” he added.
The scale of business is also evident from buyers thronging the shops and the volume of sales and purchase of various species. A bird enthusiast Zeeshan Umer, who lives in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Karachi, and is a graduate from Texas, US, purchased some species of fishers in exotic colours worth Rs60,000. A close-door neighbour, he also invited this scribe to visit his collection of birds.
“The growing demand, within as well outside the country, has turned many bird enthusiasts into small-scale bird breeders,” said a bird trader. Based on his experience he said: “A prudent initial investment of Rs25,000 can help one earn a monthly income of Rs4000-5000 or more within six months and much more after a year as these birds multiply quickly and there has been a big jump in their prices too.” For instance, he said, finch matured in two months, doves in two-and-a-half months, lovebirds 3-4 months, Java three months and cockatiels 3-4 months.
According to a conservative estimate, Pakistan is exporting birds worth over Rs100 million annually. Most of these birds are imported into the country and are being bred in captivity to meet both the growing local demand and rising export orders. The popularity and demand of the commercial breeds can well be attributed to their affordable prices.
Only a few of the species are of local origin such as Alexandrines, ringnecks and doves.
The origin of lovebird is Australia and Africa, Java sparrows as the name suggest is from Indonesia, budgerigars and cockatiels are Australian species, finch and dove are from India, Amazons and Macaws are South American, and cockatoos are Australian and Indian in origin.
Karachi offers one of the best climates for bird breeding.. Breeding of birds has been made possible by importing the birds which is subjected to various taxes and duties.
The total impact of import duty and costs add up to 35-40 per cent, said a bird trader. Traders say import tariff on birds should be reduced so that more small-scale investment can help create more self-employment.