Famous for its incredible biodiversity, the island nation of Indonesia is the world’s most spectacular natural aviary, hosting more species of bird than any other country on the planet. However, the nation also has a strong tradition of bird domestication, and a new study into the illegal trade in avian pets suggests that this practice may be driving many species to the brink of extinction.
Among the many majestic winged creatures to be found in Indonesian skies is the Javan hawk-eagle, which became the country’s national bird in 1993. Yet according to the study – which appears in the journal Forktail – wild populations are now struggling as the number of birds captured each year is roughly equivalent to the number that are born. As a consequence, the researchers estimate that only 300 to 500 remain in the wild.
Speaking to National Geographic, study co-author Chris Shepherd explained that “organized crime groups are heavily involved in this trade, with massive profits being made and with virtually no risk.” According to the paper, the unscrupulous actions of these unlicensed bird catchers has placed 13 species at a “greatly elevated risk of global extinction.”
While the direct removal of large numbers of birds from the wild is obviously a major contributor to this process, the researchers also find that a range of by-products of the pet industry may be exacerbating the situation. For example, the importation of birds from elsewhere leads to a risk that these foreign species may escape their owners’ homes and mate with local species, resulting in hybrids that could then outcompete native birds.
Hill mynas, imported from mainland Sumatra, are breeding with native birds on the island of Nias. Praisaeng/Shutterstock
On the island of Nias, for example, many people now own hill mynas, which have been imported from mainland Sumatra. As these birds breed with local species, new hybrids are appearing, threatening the survival of some native species.
At the same time, many birds are deliberately being hybridized in order to enhance certain desirable characteristics. For instance, cross-breeding of non-Indonesian starlings with some Javan birds has become widespread in order to create pets with more white in their plumage, which is apparently fashionable.
In response to these findings, the study authors are now urging authorities and conservationists to take action in order to protect those species most affected by illegal pet trading. Among their recommendations is the introduction of sterner legislation against this practice, as well as increasing vigilance and wardening efforts in protected areas.
They also suggest it may be necessary to breed captive populations of endangered species, which will be released into the wild once the illegal pet trade has been brought under control.