Songbirds in Southeast Asia have become the object of excessive but culturally deep-rooted overuse in recent decades, both for trade, for singing competitions, as pets, status symbols, for export, but also for traditional medicine and food.

The demand for songbirds in Southeast Asia

is extremely high, affecting hundreds of species and millions of individuals a year. The trade is mostly illegal and obviously not sustainable. It is therefore seen as the primary threat to many species in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Greater Sunda Islands region.

The Great Sunda Islands with Brunei, West Indonesia (Bali, Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra), as well as Singapore, Malaysia, Southern Myanmar and Southern Thailand is an ecologically very diverse region with more than 850 bird species. It is one of the global biodiversity hotspots with high endemism. Indonesia has one of the highest rates of bird species at risk of extinction in the world, and the highest rate in Asia (threatened with extinction, endangered or at risk, IUCN Red List, 2017).

Why here of all places?

The problem is cultural. For a long time, caged birds have been popular pets in Southeast Asia. Owning a bird is a common practice. Anyone can buy a bird in the market regardless of their social status. However, it's not just about pets. Songbird competitions are another important cultural aspect. They also offer financial motivation for family income. As the tradition has evolved and changed over time, the culture of songbird husbandry has grown and developed into a sports and mass industry spanning all industries from cage manufacturing to food and nutritional supplements. There are a number of bird clubs that make songbird competitions huge sporting events, making them a lucrative business. Although there are many legitimate breeders in Indonesia, there is still an alarming number of trappers, wholesalers, and stores that illegally trade wild birds. This is mainly because people believe that wild birds can sing better, are stronger and more potent. In addition, it is often much easier to catch birds than to breed a bird. Unfortunately, many of the wild-caught birds survive no more than the first few days in the cage.

Why now of all times?

The extent of songbird exploitation in Asia is devastating and has been underestimated for a long time. Our knowledge of the threat status of populations lags behind the pace at which species are disappearing. The IUCN categories would have to change much faster to reflect the real situation. In addition, only a few of the affected species are currently protected under national (distribution countries) and international laws.

And even if the species are locally protected, the trade bans are not enforced sufficiently even for the most threatened species.

The campaign aims to stop the ongoing extermination of songbirds in Asia and to raise awareness among the zoo community, among visitors and partner organizations. To achieve these goals, the zoo community must pull together to provide the necessary human resources, know-how and funding.

If everyone works together, as many Asian songbird species as possible can be saved from extinction.

 

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Silent Forest