Archived 2016 topics: Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor): uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

Following the split of the Sumatran Laughingthrush (BirdLife species factsheet) from White-crested Laughingthrush G. leucolophus (Collar 2006) it was listed as Vulnerable on the basis that it was likely to have a small global population and rapid declines were thought to be ongoing. It was noted that further information could lead to the species being uplisted to Endangered.

Results from surveys of bird markets in Sumatra and Java coupled with field surveys in suitable habitat for this species have reinforced the apparent severity of the threat to the species (Eaton et al. 2015, Harris et al. 2015). The price of the species has increased from $8-15 in 2007 (Shepherd 2007) to over $90 in 2014 (Chng et al. 2015). In the wild birds had been trapped out of readily accessible areas before 2009 (Brickle 2009) and more than 45 km of transects in North Sumatra in 2013 yielded just a single record (Eaton et al. 2015). Trappers in West Sumatra stated in 2015 that it remained in forests three days walk from a road (Eaton et al. 2015). Due to the enormous scale of deforestation on much of Sumatra with its associated roads there are now few areas more than three days walk from a road in this part of the island.

The largest extent of remaining habitat is in Aceh province, where the species is still relatively widespread though highly localised and heavily trapped (Eaton et al. 2015). Recent bird tours to this area have located groups by the roadside, indicating that trapping pressure is lower in this culturally separate region of Sumatra (Eaton 2014).

Over the course of the previous three generations (14.1 years) it is inferred from trade data and observations in the wild that the species has suffered a very rapid population decline in excess of 50% and which appears to be ongoing. Therefore it is proposed that Sumatran Laughingthrush qualifies for listing as Endangered under criterion A2c + A3c + A4c, due to trapping for trade compounded by habitat loss.


Brickle, N. 2009. Seeking the elusive Black-and-white Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor in the Alas Valley. Birding ASIA 11: 15.

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

Collar, N. J. (2006) A partial revision of the Asian babblers (Timaliidae). Forktail 22: 85-112.

Eaton, J.A. 2014. Tour report: Remote Sumatra, Indonesia – 3rd – 21st September 2014. birdtourASIA, UK.

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.

Shepherd, C. R. 2007. Trade in the Black-and-white Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor and White-crested Laughingthrush G. leucolophus in Indonesia. BirdingASIA 8: 49–52.

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4 Responses to Archived 2016 topics: Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor): uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

  1. Serene Chng says:

    TRAFFIC would like to share information on trade observations of this species, in a bid to quantify and better understand the threat from overexploitation. We strongly support the suggested listing of the species as Endangered.

    This species is regularly seen in markets in Indonesia. 8 individuals were recorded from 5 stalls in an inventory of five markets in Surabaya, Malang and Yogyakarta in June 2015 (Chng and Eaton, 2016). Additionally, 5 individuals were recorded for sale in Bandung in September 2016, with an individual offered for IDR1.5 million.
    From previous studies, prices for Sumatran Laughingthrush were available also across a number of locations and years (data from Medan 2007 and Jakarta 2007 prices are from Shepherd (2007), Medan 2008 prices are from Shepherd (2010) and Medan 2013 prices are from Harris et al. (2015)). Particularly in Jakarta, where the same researchers carried out both surveys, it is clear that there has been an increase in prices, mirroring the increasing rarity of the species.

    Chng, S.C.L. & Eaton, J.A. 2016. In the Market for Extinction: eastern and central Java. TRAFFIC. Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

    Harris, J.B.C., Green, J.M., Prawiradilaga, D.M., Giam, X., Hikmatullah, D., Putra, C.A. & Wilcove, D.S. (2015). Using market data and expert opinion to identify overexploited species in the wild bird trade. Biol Conserv 187:51-60. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2015.04.009

    Shepherd, C.R., Eaton, J.A. and Chng, S.C.L. In press. Nothing to laugh about – the ongoing illegal trade in laughingthrushes (Garrulax species) in the bird markets of Java, Indonesia. Bird Conservation International.

  2. Serene Chng says:

    We can also add further details on field observations from our upcoming paper (Shepherd et al., in press):

    Found throughout the montane forests of Sumatra, the species was previously considered conspecific with White-crested Laughingthrush (Collar 2006; Shepherd 2007). Since gaining species status, interest has grown in the species from birdwatchers and researchers. Despite this, there are very few records away from remote areas (Eaton, J. A. pers. obs.), with most field observations now coming from the northernmost province of Aceh on Sumatra, which most sellers indicate as the origin of birds observed in markets (Eaton, J. A. pers. obs.). Former trappers who are now birdwatching guides inside Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park indicate that although it was formerly common and easy to catch, there have been no recent records of this conspicuous and vocal species. Since 2000 we are only aware of sightings from six areas on Sumatra. It is now absent from the wild from many areas on Sumatra (Eaton, J. A. pers. obs.) but are still regularly encountered in small numbers in markets throughout Sumatra (Eaton, J. A. unpub. data).

  3. Andrew Owen says:

    This species appears to be being offered for sale in lower numbers in Jakarta than in recent years.
    Only 5 birds were seen in march 2016 in Pramuka market, compared to the 20-30 birds regularly seen in previous years 2008 to 2013.
    Prices are considerably higher, with 2 birds being offered for 1.2 million Indonesian Rupiah each, suggesting birds are becoming more difficult to locate.
    It appears to be being replaced in the markets with the “next best thing species” of Sunda, Black and Spectacled Laughingthrushes, all appear to be offered for sale in greater numbers.
    As mentioned, there are very few sites where birders can still find this species, with North Aceh the most reliable.
    Aceh province also appears to be the main source of birds for the markets.
    This species is clearly in steep decline and I would concur with the comments above and the recommendation to elivate it to endangered.
    Additionally giving it protected status under Indonesian law may help if there can be some level of enforcement.

  4. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 28 October, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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