Archived 2016 topics: Re-assessment of species threatened by the Indonesian cage-bird trade

Harvesting wild birds for the cage bird trade has long been recognized as a threat to a select number of species with traits that render them susceptible to unsustainable harvest from the wild, such as Philippine Cockatoo and the particular circumstances surrounding Bali Myna. The threat from the trade in many hundreds of wild-caught species has always been recognized as a serious additional impact on populations, but has typically been considered less significant to widespread species in comparison to other threats faced, prime amongst them the impact of habitat destruction and degradation.

In the last few years it has become clear that the scale of the trade in wild-caught birds, particularly in Indonesia, has been directly responsible for local and regional extinctions and threatens several species with global extinction (Eaton et al. 2015, Harris et al. 2015). This has been recognized for a few species. Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulus rufifrons was uplisted to Endangered in 2013 due to its disappearance from sites with formerly good populations coinciding with numbers of the birds in the trade, which were subsequently shown to have risen sharply in value as supply collapsed (Collar and van Balen 2013). Javan Green Magpie Cissa thalassina was listed as Critically Endangered in 2012 upon recognition as a species separate from Bornean Green Magpie C. jefferyi (van Balen et al. 2013), but only partly on the basis that the species was likely to have been targeted by bird trappers. It now seems clear that the magnitude of reduction to such a small population size was in excess of that predicted by habitat loss within the elevational range of the species, much of which lies within protected areas and was coincident with a very rapid increase in price and highly restricted availability of captive birds (van Balen et al. 2013, Eaton et al. 2015).

Further research has since taken place into the extent and potential impact of this trade, in particular with a focus on the Indonesian market (Chng et al. 2015, Eaton et al. 2015, Harris et al. 2015, Shepherd et al. 2013, 2015). This has prompted the realisation that even previously widespread and common species had disappeared from or declined across large areas of their range and that the numbers of individuals passing through the large markets was staggering (Chng et al. 2015, Eaton et al. 2015). As a result there are a number of species affected by trade, frequently in conjunction with habitat loss, which may meet thresholds for listing in higher threat categories.

At the same time, a number of species have undergone significant taxonomic changes as a result of the application of criteria for recognizing species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the second volume of the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, soon to be published by Lynx Edicions and Birdlife International. Several taxa formerly considered subspecies have been elevated to species status, and are recognised as being severely threatened by the impact of trade. These are presented here in the interests of compiling comments on the impact of trade on this suite of species, along with a link to the taxonomic topic detailing the newly defined species.

Comments and feedback are requested regarding the species presented below. This list is based upon those species that were noted as the priority species arising from the 2015 Asian Songbird Crisis Summit where the trade is believed to threaten the species globally, accounting for the changes in taxonomy referred to above. Additionally there are topics for secondary species where the threat is considered sufficient to warrant the suggestion of a change of global status, but further information is urgently sought. While these are believed to be the species most clearly threatened by trade, additional species suggested will be investigated for future updates.

Species topics:

Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus: uplist from Least Concern to Vulnerable?

Black-winged Myna Acridotheres melanopterus is being split into A. melanopterus, A. tricolor and A. tertius: retain A. melanopterus as Critically Endangered, and additionally list A. tricolor and A. tertius as Critically Endangered?

Sumatran Leafbird Chloropsis media: uplist from Least Concern to Vulnerable?

Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati: uplist from Least Concern to Near Threatened or Vulnerable?

Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor: uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons: uplist from Endangered to Critically Endangered?

Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) is being split: list G. robusta as Critically Endangered and G. enganensis as Endangered?

Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris) is being split: list Sumatran Mesia L. laurinae as Critically Endangered, and L. argentauris as Least Concern?

Asian Pied Starling (Sturnus contra) is being split and placed in the genus Gracupica: list Gracupica jalla as Critically Endangered?

Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora: uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

Orange-spotted Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus is being split: list Aceh Bulbul Pycnonotus snouckaerti as Vulnerable and P. bimaculatus as Near Threatened?

Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus is being split: list Ruby-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus dispar as Near Threatened?

Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus): uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet Trichoglossus forsteni: uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

Javan White-eye Zosterops flavus: uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

Blue-winged Leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis) is being split: list C. cochinchinensis as Near Threatened?

Obviously extensive trade involving wild-caught birds is taking place in other countries in south-east Asia and in China (e.g. Nijman 2010). Systematic investigations tracking changes in the availability and price of potentially at-risk species are urgently needed, especially in cities such as Guangzhou, China.



van Balen, S. (B.), Eaton, J. A. and Rheindt, F. E. (2013) Biology, taxonomy and conservation status of the Short-tailed Green Magpie Cissa [t.] thalassina from Java. Bird Conservation International 22: 91–109

Chng, S. C. L., Eaton, J. A., Krishnasamy, K., Shepherd, C. R. and Nijman, V. 2015. In the market for extinction: an inventory of Jakarta’s bird markets. Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia: TRAFFIC.

Collar, N. J. and van Balen, S. 2013. Notes for the conservation of the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons. Forktail 29:15–18.

Eaton, J.A., Shepherd, C.R., Rheindt, F.E., Harris, J.B.C., van Balen, S. (B.), Wilcove, D.S. and Collar, N.J. 2015. Trade-driven extinctions and near-extinctions of avian taxa in Sundaic Indonesia. Forktail 31: 1-12.

Harris, J. B. C., Green, J. M. H., Prawiradilaga, D. M., Giam, X., Giyanto, Hikmatullah, D., Putra, C. A. and Wilcove, D. S. 2015. Using market data and expert opinion to identify overexploited species in the wild bird trade. Biological Conservation 187: 51–60.

Nijman, V. 2010. An overview of international wildlife trade from Southeast Asia. Biodiversity Conservation 19: 1101-1114.

Shepherd, C. R. 2013. Protection urgently needed for the endemic Sumatran Laughingthrush. TRAFFIC Bull. 25: 53–54.

Shepherd, C. R., Nijman, V., Krishnasamy, K., Eaton, J. A. and Chng, S. C. L. 2015. Illegal trade pushing the Critically Endangered Black-winged Myna Acridotheres melanopterus towards imminent extinction. Bird Conservation International. DOI: 10.1017/S0959270915000106.

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.


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1 Response to Archived 2016 topics: Re-assessment of species threatened by the Indonesian cage-bird trade

  1. Adam Miller says:

    Planet Indonesia is a grassroots NGO based in West Kalimantan (Borneo) Indonesia. Among a number of programs, we are currently the only local NGO in the region with a large program focused on the wild bird trade. Beginning in 2015 we began the first investigations into the wild bird trade in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Our initial goal was to challenge the idea that the bird trade in Indonesia was a Java/Sumatran-centric enterprise, and investigate if the bird trade was rampant in rural areas among other ethnic groups in addition to Javanese traditions.

    We investigated the 7 major cities in West Kalimantan and traveled major roads connecting urban and rural areas to map out shops and collect data. From 3 (ranging from 5-6 weeks per survey minimum time between surveys 6 weeks) surveys covering the entirety of West Borneo, we found a total of 13,498 individual from 123 species in over 90 different shops.

    Our data raises extreme cause for concern as we had initially predicted to find such a large number of species sold in rural and underdeveloped areas in of Indonesia.

    The ten most expensive species were as follows (average price USD):
    Straw-headed Bulbul ($483)
    Rosella Parrot ($240)
    Black-winged Starling ($120)
    Velvet Fronted Nuthatch ($119)
    Orange-headed thrush ($90)
    Hill Myna ($88)
    White-rumped Shama ($83)
    Puff-backed Bulbul ($77)
    Crested Jay ($68)
    Oriental reed warbler ($57)

    The ten most commonly traded species were:
    Oriental Magpie Robin (2265)
    Oriental White-eye (2053)
    White-rumped Shama (1275)
    Canary (1135)
    Greater Green Leafbird (720)
    Blue-crowned Hanging parrot (668)
    Spotted Dove (590)
    Lovebird (485)
    Grey-cheeked bulbul (356)
    Common Myna (311)

    Our data supports proposals presented on this current BirdLife list for the uplisting of several species.

    It is important to realize the vast majority of “high-quality” individuals are sold to Java where they can bring a much higher price. For example, the same straw-headed bulbul in Java can bring nearly 2-3 times the price. Therefore, the 13,000+ individuals we have found for sale in West Borneo represent only individuals that shop owners and agents decided to sell locally versus transiting them to Java. This also raises cause for extreme concern as the 13,000+ individuals we have found for sale represent just a small number of species actually trapped and sold in the region.

    Through our investigations we also found cross-border trade from Malaysian-Borneo into Indonesia. Some agents were bringing as many as 6,000 Oriental Magpie Robins per month into Indonesia. The fact that Indonesian trappers and agents are now targeting Malaysian forests to satisfy the demand for songbirds in Indonesia indicates that many bird populations within Indonesia have been crushed.

    We also conducted interviews with over 70 shop owners and sellers. Unfortunately, this data has not yet been analyzed. We did ask shop owners to identify 5 species that had increased the most in price over the last 5 years, and the 5 that were the hardest to find but had a high demand. Preliminary results reveal in most cases shop owners identified: the White-rumped Shama, Hill Myna, Oriental Magpie Robin, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, and Straw-headed bulbul. Our team is currently analyzing these interviews, as this result is only preliminary.

    We are currently surveying the capital city of every province on the island of Kalimantan. We want to continue investigating the wild bird trade in rural regions of Indonesia as well as investigating trade and transit routes from rural islands (such as Borneo) to Javan urban centers that have large bird markets. To our knowledge, this is the largest study on the wild bird trade in Indonesia ever conducted. Unfortunately, data from other provinces has net yet been analyzed as our investigations have just begun.

    Across the board we support the up-listing of all species proposed on this list. We believe several species are quickly moving towards extinction from the rampant wild bird trade in Southeast Asia.

    For questions related to our work, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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