By Rachel Nuwer, The New York Times, October 23, 2015
A salesmen and his birds in one of Jakarta's markets. Researchers warned that the trade in wild birds was driving some species to extinction. Photo: WEDA/European Pressphoto Agency
There is a saying in Java: “A man is considered to be a real man if he has a house, a wife, a horse, a dagger and a bird.”
Birds are the most popular pet in Indonesia, sought as living objets d’art, good luck charms or, in the case of rare species, status symbols.
This national fondness, however, is taking a toll. Last year, in a three-day survey of Jakarta’s three largest bird markets — one of which is Asia’s biggest, if not the world’s — investigators working with Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group, found more than 19,000 birds representing more than 200 species.
“While we expected the numbers to be high, nearly 20,000 birds is very alarming,” said Chris Shepherd, Traffic’s regional director in Southeast Asia. “The diversity of the birds in the market, including threatened species, is also terrifying.”
Dr. Shepherd and his colleagues found two critically endangered species, the Bali myna and the black-winged myna, as well as a number of other species near extinction. Some number fewer than 100 living individuals, while others sold in the market are extinct in the wild.
Still others, they fear, may have already been driven to extinction by the trade. Some of the species that Dr. Shepherd saw for sale in the 1990s, including the Javan green magpie and the Nias hill myna, were missing in this latest survey. Field reports show that those species have also all but disappeared from the wild.
In a new report, the researchers call for the Indonesian government to enforce an existing law that bans the trade of any wild-caught birds — the vast majority for sale in Jakarta — and to act on national and international legislation protecting some individual species.
Such action has worked in the past. In the 1990s, live orangutans, leopards and pangolins were openly sold in Jakarta, but the government cracked down, and today they are sold only on the black market, in much smaller numbers.
Illegal and unsustainable trade in birds also exists in neighboring countries, including Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.
“It’s frustrating that we’ve been watching this happen for so long, yet there’s still not a lot of support for stepping up efforts to do something about it,” Dr. Shepherd said. “For the vast majority of these species, it’s not too late, but that will require acting now.”