The IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) published a brief report
outlining its work scope and achievements since its inception in 2017 and future plans for the tackling of the Asian Songbird Crisis. The report provides updates on the songbird conservation efforts led by the ASTSG’s members between 2017 and 2020, under the group’s five main themes.
Field-based surveys conducted informed the ASTSG’s priority conservation actions and identified further research areas. The findings also contributed to the changes in several species conservation statuses. Among them are Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor), Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons) and Javan Pied Starling (Gracupica jalla).
Genetic research helped to identify new genomically distinctive populations of songbirds affected by the trade, notably Javan Jungle Flycatcher (Cyornis banyumas), Simeulue Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa miotera), Sangkar White-eye (Zosterops melanurus), Javan Pied Starling (Gracupica jalla) and three sub-species of Black-winged Myna (Acridotheres melanopterus). A number of internationally renowned zoos and local breeding centres contributed to the establishment of ex-situ populations for songbirds threatened by the trade. Currently, several facilities in Southeast Asia are running conservation breeding programmes for the ASTSG’s priority species, including Greater Green Leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Maratua Shama (Kittacincla (malabarica) barbouri), Barusan Shama (Kittacincla (malabarica) melanurus), Javan Pied Starling (Gracupica jalla), Wangi-Wangi White-eye (Zosterops sp. nov.), Javan Green Magpie (Cissa thalassina).
The ASTSG’s trade and legislation team conducted multiple market surveys, including online, and analysed seizure data. Although much of the work focused on the trade in Indonesia, trade in other countries and international trade were also researched, including China, Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam and others. The findings supported legislative and law enforcement actions against those smuggling and selling songbirds without permits.
Demand reduction and consumer behaviour change studies were conducted in Indonesia, Singapore and Viet Nam, forming the basis of future behaviour change interventions. Demand reduction, education and community engagement initiatives were launched at different scales by organisations ranging from European zoos to local NGOs.
David Jeggo, Chair of the ASTSG and the report’s co-author, believes that “This long-awaited report will be useful for academics and conservationists researching and tackling the unsustainable songbird trade in Southeast Asia, as well as for other stakeholders involved in the trade.” The report also briefly outlines the direction and plans for the group in upcoming years.
Text by Loretta Shepherd, Monitor Conservation Research Society
New study highlights the emerging trend of trade in Grey-backed Myna sold online as ‘Baluran locals’- indicating ongoing and potential future poaching in Indonesia’s Baluran National Park (BNP).
Located in East Java, BNP is the most significant stronghold of the entire Black-winged Myna complex and is one of two remaining locations where the Grey-backed Myna is still known to occur in the wild. It is home to the largest known coherent population of this taxa, estimated at a minimum of 50 birds in 2017 and no more than a few dozen in 2020, though very recent yet unpublished research suggests that the population size may actually be larger, ranging between 140 and 220 individuals.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, the study’s authors recorded a minimum of 19 Grey-backed Mynas offered for sale on social media. Sixteen different sellers were identified, suggesting that most of the sales were conducted opportunistically.
Considering the dire conservation status of Baluran’s Grey-backed mynas, any trade in wild-caught individuals should be considered highly alarming and must be countered as swiftly as possible.
“It is critical that songbird poaching in Baluran National Park is addressed urgently,” said Simon Bruslund, the study’s lead author, drawing attention to online trade advertisements of Grey-backed Mynas purportedly sourced from BNP. “Indonesia must use the tools it already has to intervene against the ongoing illegal capture and trade in Grey-backed Mynas from BNP”.
As evidenced, the illegal commercial trapping fuelled by a deeply ingrained Javanese hobby continues to threaten Asian songbirds.
To further counter potential poaching activities, the authors encourage the establishment of a rapid reporting system through which observations or trapping, trading, and keeping of Grey-backed Mynas can be swiftly reported to the authorities, and the introduction of SMART patrols which has proven effective elsewhere.
This study is part of the Monitor Songbird Lab – a research cooperation involving the EAZA Silent Forest Group and the Monitor Conservation Research Society.
Mirabelle Arts, supported by the EAZA Silent Forest Group on scientific back-ground of the narrative, and with financial support from the Arts Council England and UNIT 15, have developed the , a circus theatre piece inspired by and aimed at raising awareness of the Asian Songbird Crisis.
Each artist represents an endangered songbird species, with intricate costume design and engaging narration by our own Jonathan Beilby. The artists mimick their looks and behaviours while the narrator highlights the dangers they face.
The show, currently under development is available for viewing as a video-showing which welcomes feedback. Read more about the Silent Forest Circus and updates on the activities page.
Congratulations and good luck for this beautiful initiative from the EAZA Silent Forest Group!
Text by Chris R. Shepherd, Executive Director, Monitor Conservation Research Society.
Monitor Conservation Research Society and the EAZA Silent Forest Group have joined forces to create the Monitor Songbird Lab; a joint effort to increase evidence-based research outputs on songbird trade and its effects on biodiversity.
Amongst its work is the development of the world’s first global open-source songbird trade database, to be hosted on the Monitor website, as well as the creation of a comprehensive data package on the global songbird trade, in close cooperation with the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance and the University of Southern Denmark. Other collaborations with universities and zoos have already resulted in the publication of several scientific publications.
Learn more about Monitor Conservation Research Society and their collaboration with the Silent Forest Group here.
Text by Bertie Ferns, Conservation Breeding Manager, Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre
I hope this e-mail finds you well and in good spirits. We are pleased to bring you edition #20 of the CCBC newsletter providing you with news on our activities from the past couple of months. Despite the challenges of this year we are still able to progress with thanks to unwavering support, thank you.
I hope you enjoy reading our good news and it brightens your day.
A new study published in Ardea – the scientific journal of the Netherlands Ornithologists’ Union – highlights the unprecedented decline of the critically endangered Javan Pied Starling Gracupica jalla.
Dr. Bas van Balen, the lead author of the study, explains that “Fifty to hundred years ago the Javan Pied Starling was one of the commonest birds in Java’s farmlands. Now, no wild birds are known to survive in the wild. Just a few occasional escapes can be seen.”
An estimated more than 1.1 million birds are held in households in Java, all stemming from commercial enterprises across the island. To our knowledge, there is no other known case where a bird species has become extinct in the wild but can be bought openly and legally in commercial outlets within its former range.
The two most important causes of extinction are trapping for the songbird trade and the use of pesticides in the agricultural fields which are believed to have greatly depleted the topsoil food resource of the species. The species is specialised for ‘prying’, a foraging technique which allows them to feed on earthworms and other soft-bodied invertebrates.
The Javan Pied Starling is a recent (2016) taxonomic split from Asian Pied Starling Gracupica contra. The former has disappeared almost entirely unnoticed from its native range in Java and Bali, Indonesia; in a circumstance that Dr. Nigel Collar of BirdLife International and co-author of the study describes as “unique in bird conservation”. He explains in almost disbelief that “for a species with a high tolerance of disturbed habitats, especially agricultural areas, and which used to be found in large roosts inside city limits, the current situation is truly extraordinary. Here is a bird that is extinct in the wild but which you can find quite easily in bird shops and people’s homes. There is no other case like this on earth”.
Bas and Nigel point out that their study is another grave reminder of the impacts of the ‘Asian songbird crisis’, brought about by the large-scale trapping of wild birds throughout Indonesia, particularly Java and Sumatra, to meet the demand for domestic pet bird trade.
The IUCN Species Survival Commission Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) identifies 44 bird species as heavily impacted by songbird trade. Of these, 21 are already listed as globally threatened, of which 19 inhabit Indonesia. Nine critically endangered species include the Javan Pied Starling. David Jeggo, Chair of ASTSG explains that “Most of these species were ‘uplisted’ during the 2016 IUCN Red List update highlighting that the impacts of wild harvest are now glaringly visible as rare species continue to decline to the point that many are disappearing from their wild habitats.”
Interestingly, the Javan Pied Starling is not popular in songbird contests that are widely thought to have caused the decline of many songbird species. The trade in this species is fuelled by its popularity as a pet caged bird – a long-established Indonesian hobby with profound cultural roots.
BirdLife and Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia) aim “to bring to an end illegal, unregulated and unsustainable trade in birds”. This means clamping down on trade that threatens the populations of wild-caught birds. Burung Indonesia is encouraging songbird keepers to shift the balance of songbirds’ provenance towards captive-bred stock that may help the status of birds like starlings and bulbuls, which breed readily in captivity.
However, for a species already gone from the wild, conservation is far more complex than stopping trade and protecting habitats. Fortunately, the new study provides clues. The authors reviewed all information (published and unpublished) they could find to provide an evidence base for any future endeavour to re-establish a population in the wild. They found that the species was once widespread in at least 168 localities in Java and 13 localities in Bali. Nine localities were also reported in eastern Sumatra.
In an emergency online meeting called to discuss the conservation of the Javan Pied Starling in early March this year, conservation biologists, all linked to the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group, broadly agreed that a captive population needs to be assembled for conservation breeding and safe release into the wild. That population needs to be as large as institutional and financial capacity in Java will allow, to increase the chances of capturing the genetic diversity in the commercially held stock. A number of institutions in Java may be able to help with the establishment of a conservation breeding programme.
Jochen Menner of Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark explains that “Acquiring genetically pure birds for captive breeding will be an issue because there are a number of mutant plumages and possibly even hybrid individuals in captivity. However, that shouldn’t stop us from trying”. Prigen has offered to coordinate the captive breeding effort and where work has already begun.
Internationally, established zoos and avicultural institutions have also expressed interest in pooling financial resources and avicultural expertise in support.
There is also room to raise awareness about the detrimental impacts of pesticide use on birds in agricultural environments. Simon Bruslund, Head of Conservation, Marlow Birdpark points out that “pesticides are believed to have greatly depleted the topsoil food resource of the species. The species is specialised for ‘prying’, a foraging technique which allows them to feed on earthworms and other soft-bodied invertebrates.”
“The plight of the once common Javan Pied Starling reflects the need more broadly to encourage the sustainable management of grasslands and agricultural landscapes across Asia which are home to many species which are either threatened or are likely to become so.” – says Mr. Vinayagan Dharmarajah, Regional Director of BirdLife International (Asia).
Research is urgently needed to identify sites where birds might be released in future and where they will be safe from trapping and the influence of pesticides on their food supply. There is a real need to “create safe havens,” says Stuart Marsden, Professor of Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK and vice-chair for field research in ASTSG. Stu explains that “searches are still needed in case there are a few places where a small wild population possibly survives. But we shouldn’t raise our hopes too high. There have been no records of the species in the wild since the start of the century.”
Mr. Adi Widyanto, Head of Conservation and Development, Burung Indonesia sees songbird trade and keeping as a challenge to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development but also an undisputed economic opportunity for those involved in the value chain. He later adds “Considering the scale of the issue, there is a need to develop conservation actions that are inclusive. This would mean engaging the relevant actors in the sector to work out the most optimum solution that captures diverse interests.”
“Safe havens in Indonesia will only work if communities are fully engaged and supportive” argues Dr. Anuj Jain of BirdLife International who also co-chairs the ASTSG’s community engagement group. BirdLife has successfully implemented an “Ibis rice” scheme engaging over 250 farmer families that protect ibises in Cambodia. Anuj is hopeful – “Maybe one day, we will have “Javanese Starling rice” – rice free from pesticides where communities are incentivized and where eco-tourists and Javan Pied Starlings roam free.”
The IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) was established to prevent the imminent extinction of songbirds threatened by unsustainable trapping and the trade in wild-caught passerines. In addition, it seeks to address the impact of the trade and to find solutions through which the growing threat to an ever increasing number of songbird species can be reversed and improve the conservation status of all species involved.
Although there are various institutions working on songbird conservation issues, having a coordinated effort under this Specialist Group will create a synergy by bringing subject matter experts from different fields together for the common purpose of Asian songbird conservation. Given that the threats facing songbirds are multi-faceted and require a range of different yet coordinated strategies, the Specialist Group will facilitate this coordination.
The Wangi-Wangi White-eye was discovered in 2003 and although widely recognized as a separate species it is still in the process of being scientifically described. For several years there have been concerns about the bird’s conservation status and the Silent Forest pre-selected project partner Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark (PCBA) have been precautionary breeding the pale billed white-eye species in their facilities since 2019. The PCBA curator Jochen Menner spend his holidays on the Island of Wangi-Wangi to gain a better picture of the species status for himself. He has kindly shared his disconcerting trip report with us which suggest the species is perhaps not as widely distributed in secondary habitat as we had hoped and that more research is urgently needed on the ecology of this “new” species.
Text by Thomas Amey, Director of Social and Environmental Programmes, EcosystemImpact Foundation
Home to some of the world’s rarest bird and turtle species, Bangkaru Island remains…
wild and remote, off the Northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. An Island of natural treasures!
EcosystemImpact and wildlife agency BKSDA have a team of rangers that patrol this Island Paradise and are on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To keep these dedicated rangers in the field, protecting species like the iconic Nias Hill Myna, White-rumped Shama, Silvery Pigeon and Leatherback Turtle, we need to raise $45,000 annually to enable the rangers to do their job.
Without the rangers, many bird species that call Bangkaru home could be pushed to extinction by poachers. Bangkaru is one of only four places in the world that maintains a population of Nias Hill Myna. Research has shown that the Nias Hill Myna population on Bangkaru is possibly the only remaining viable population in the world. These birds have been pushed to the edge of extinction due to trafficking for the illegal pet trade and are now Critically Endangered.
The ranger’s carryout anti-poaching patrols whilst collecting data on Bangkaru’s critically endangered species. The data is then analysed by EcosystemImpact’s team and used to inform future conservation action. Due to the rarity of these bird species, and the very real threat of extinction, EcosystemImpact is part of regional and international groups working to save these iconic bird species.
Bangkaru is also a nesting site of international importance for Green and Leatherback Sea Turtles. As well as patrolling Bangkaru’s forest and beaches, the rangers remove piles of plastic from the beaches that become obstacles for turtles and their hatchlings on their way to the ocean.
Raising funds during the pandemic has been more challenging than usual. But the threat of poaching for the pet trade does not go away. Please help us if you can. Any contribution you can make towards keeping the rangers on Bangkaru every day of the year would be hugely appreciated.
Together We Heal Our Planet.
The Treasure Island Project is an ongoing annual priority committment of the Silent Forest Group including intensive technical support as well funding. We work at a zero administration budget and 100% of donations directed towards Silent Forest or EcosystemsImpact which are earmarked for “Treasure Island” goes to support EcosystemImpact’s Bangkaru Rangers.
A the new publication by Sarah Heinrich et al. “A case for better international protection of the Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor)” is fresh off the press. This completed as a cooperation between researchers from Monitor Conservation Research Society, Chester zoo, Marlow Bird Park and the University of Adelaide. The paper argues for a need of strengthened international protection and in particular highlights the potential illegal and unsustainable trade in the European Union in this Endangered species. Read the full paper here
Great news from Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre (CCBC). With the support of ASAP the coming breeding season for the Javan Green Magpie and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush can come. CCBC applied to ASAP’s Rapid Action Fund to continue the breeding programmes of the three birds. ASAP has teamed up with the Oriental Bird Club to provide the funds needed by CCBC.
ASAP is offering opportunities to apply for grants to the ASAP partners organisations for urgent and emergency conservation of ASAP species which are critically endangered Asian species.
Check out the news from the Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark in eastern Java. One of the pre-selected projects of the Silent Forest Campaign and a continued partner of many zoos and the Silent Forest Group
After month of writing up the collected experience by EEP coordinator Manoj Kumar the manuscript has been under review by the EAZA Songbird TAG for additional months. Now it has finally been published and it is worth taking a closer look. The Straw-headed Bulbul is a challenging species to breed in captivity and the effort and attention Manoj and his colleagues is putting into a focussed management will be instrumental for establishing an ex-situ assurance population of this species in the long-term.
Text by Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, Monitor Conservation Research Society Executive Director
Researchers from the Monitor Conservation Research Society and the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group have evaluated the trade in the Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus) and the effects which the long-term CITES appendix II listing have had on the species conservation.
The Chinese Hwamei is one of the few Asian songbirds listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Data was compared from Asian countries outside the species range where the international trade is high but should be regulated by CITES. Assessing if CITES import and export figures matched with observations in the bird markets, and online trade.
The study found that numbers of Chinese Hwamei for sale outside the natural range appear to have been impacted by the CITES listing. Still there is regular trade ongoing without the necessary legal documentation, in violation of the Convention. Neither Thailand nor Indonesia have reported the legal import of any Chinese Hwamei since its CITES-listing, despite some 2,000 birds having been recorded openly for sale in these countries, suggesting large-scale undocumented and therefore illegal international trade in the species.
Given the global nature of the trade in a growing list of songbirds, it is essential that CITES be effectively used to ensure illegal and unsustainable international trade is not a threat to the conservation of these species.
Text and images by Pratibha Baveja, PhD Candidate at National University of Singapore, Singapore
Recently, a research team from National University of Singapore (NUS) in collaboration with Syiah Kuala University and Aceh Birder conducted an expedition to investigate the avifauna on the ornithologically lesser explored islands of West Sumatra (see map below). One of the major goals of this expedition was to document the current status of Barusan Shama Copsychus (malabaricus) melanurus on these islands. Barusan Shama is one of the most heavily traded and highly priced birds in the Indonesian bird markets. It is distinguished from the more widespread White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus as it has a complete black tail, darker red underparts and less pronounced sexual dimorphism. However, as Barusan Shama is not recognized as a distinct species by BirdLife International, there is no concrete conservation or legal protection status for this unique taxon. Consequently, these birds have been the subject of frequent hunting and their numbers, over the years, have dwindled to precariously low levels, bordering on near extinction.
According to taxonomy of Eaton et al. 2016, Barusan Shama is recognized as a distinct species with four subspecies: melanurus from Nias and presumably Mentawai, hypolizus from Simeulue, opisthochrus from Babi and Lasia and mirabilis from Panaitan. Between 2014-2019, our team visited the West Sumatran Archipelago to assess the current ground status of the species and collect sample for genomic analyses to discern the taxonomy of the White-rumped Shama complex. During these visits, we used visual, acoustic and mist-netting surveys supplemented with local ornithological observation, through community interviews to get a holistic picture of the bird status on these islands over the years.
Current status on West Sumatran islands
Simeulue: During the 4 visits to the northernmost deep-sea island of West Sumatran chain, Simeulue, we did not encounter any Barusan Shama in the wild visually or otherwise. Our interaction with locals who were familiar with the bird that is locally known as murai batu agreed that the bird is extinct in the wild or extremely rare. During previous visits to the island, we had formed a trustworthy association with one of the main Shama breeder in Sinabang, the capital of Simeulue, who informed us that the local capture rate had declined steeply from 1-2 individuals per week in 2014, to 1 individual per month in 2015. We managed to visit the breeding facility in Sinabang and collect blood samples for different island individuals through the breeder in 2019. The breeder was very cautious with the shamas and allowed us to take samples after we assured him that the process would not aesthetically damage the bird’s appearance or make it weak. We were hardly given 1-2 minutes to collect sample with each individual. The extreme caution shown by the breeder is not surprising as the market price of the bird can be as high as 5 juta Indonesian rupiah (~US$ 370) and any harm would translate into a great financial loss for him. Through these interactions with locals and our surveys on the island of Simeulue where all the surviving forests are close to human habitation, we are convinced that hypolizus is extinct in the wild and only a few individuals survive in captivity (~100 individuals).
Babi & Lasia: Babi and Lasia are officially uninhabited, deep sea paleo-islands south of Simeulue and reaching these islands involves a 5-6 hours boat journey from Simeulue, often marred with inclement weather. Due to the physical hardships of reaching these islands, one would assume that it would have a few surviving shamas, yet the situation was opposite.
During our 3 visits to Babi between 2015-2019, we surveyed approximately 2 km into the interior of primary forests of Babi trying different forest trails but did not encounter any shamas in the wild. Babi has a single antenna tower. The warden managing the tower recounted how the shamas fell prey to hunting and poaching activities. The Javanese trappers had visited the islands around 2010, catching thousands of shamas and the local trappers followed suit. The warden’s anecdote aligned with our observation of many fisherman boats on both Babi and neighboring Lasia.
As these are small islands, opisthochrus is most likely extinct in the wild, while a few individuals might still be found in captivity.
Bankaru & Tuangku: Bangkaru and Tuangku are shelf island members of the Banyak archipelago, south of Simeulue and north of Nias, harboring an undescribed population of shamas. Bangkaru has a lot of primary rainforests and is uninhabited except for a few forest rangers employed for turtle conservation. We stayed at the rangers’ station and were assisted by the rangers in our extensive forest trails on this island in 2018. With the guidance of the most experienced ranger to the known habitats of shama, we traversed through the different microhabitats on Bangkaru, climbed the waterfall to reach the highest hill and ultimately landed on the other end of the island with no visual or acoustic encounter of Barusan Shama despite using playback devices. The mist netting surveys also did not yield any shama. On the highest hill of Bangkaru, we noticed traces of plastic within the core forests, indicating recent human presence. According to the forest rangers, poachers were relatively less frequent to Bangkaru compared to Tuangku due to the presence of the rangers, however, we noticed fisherman boats anchored on the eastern coast of Bangkaru facing Tuangku. The most experienced ranger told us that his own personal encounter with a shama was a year back. As Bangkaru is a small island, there is little chance of survival of shama on this island.
From Bangkaru, we traveled to Tuangku via a 2-hour boat journey. The island had a number of villages and we witnessed ongoing large scale forest conversion in Tuangku. Through our surveys and local interactions, we found that the shamas have been extinct on the island, conforming with the Bangkaru rangers’ knowledge of the high poaching pressure in Tuangku.
We encountered a single Bangkaru individual with the local breeder in Singkil, a town adjacent to the Banyak islands in mainland Sumatra. The morphology of the individual suggested that the Bangkaru population could be intermediate between White-rumped Shama from Sumatra and Barusan Shama of West Sumatran islands. Further genomic analyses would confirm the identity of this population.
Nias: Nias, one of the largest West Sumatran islands, is the most degraded island having a few remaining patches of secondary forests. Almost all the forests have been converted to villages or rubber plantations and we did not find any shamas in the wild during our surveys as expected. In the capital Gunungsitoli and region surrounding the capital, we saw a large number of caged Barusan Shama displayed by the roadside vendors that were caught a few years back. Nias faces a high poaching pressure and based on our interaction with locals and our field surveys, it is highly likely that melanurus is extinct in the wild on this island.
Mentawai: As Siberut from the Mentawai archipelago is still covered with primary forests, it was thought to be the last refuge of Barusan Shama in the wild. In 2019, we visited Siberut with the hope of finding a comparatively less threatened and large population of Barusan Shama. Our first day on the island was enough to wipe out all our illusions. Siberut was an island undergoing a rapid transformation, both in terms of habitat and human culture. While the large-scale deforestation to construct the Trans-Siberut Highway would ensure habitat loss, the approach of religious missionaries would ensure that the ensuing established villages inhabited by tribal population would have a religion.
Based on local advice, we began a two-day hike to the hill forests of West Siberut that were yet not ‘developed’ to increase our chance of encountering the wild shamas. All our porters were extremely familiar with the shama, few of the younger ones even possessed shama calls in their mobile devices. During our hike through the recently established villages, we observed evidence of local trapping of birds; we saw small cages cramped with different species of birds including Olive-winged Bulbul and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker demonstrating that the trappers were not species-specific. Also, we observed traditional bows and arrows hung to the wall and men carrying air rifles. Through most of the hike in the forest near the villages, we were accompanied by the mechanical sound of chainsaws. We set up our camp at a high elevation within dense primary forest and carried out mist netting, visual and acoustic surveys for the next 3 days. A detailed video interview with one of the porters explained how only 1-2 years ago, Palembang traders had arrived and taught the locals to trap shamas, buying thousands of shams at a low price and selling them at a higher price later, ultimately wiping most of the shama population in Siberut. We mist netted a single juvenile Barusan Shama in this area, giving us hope that a small population of wild shama still survives in this remote location of Siberut. Even though we did not share that we had mist netted a shama with the local porters, we noticed that during the brief period when we heard the shama before mist netting it, one of the porters who had formerly been a trapper himself became extremely attentive. A new wave of poaching activity could endanger the survival of the small population of shamas in Siberut.
Panaitan: In Panaitan, Barusan Shama was last reported in 1980s. We did not visit this island but most likely it is extinct here due to its proximity to the Javan bird markets.
Our assessment of West Sumatran islands suggested that melanurus from Nias and presumably Mentawai survives commonly in captivity. A few individuals (~100) of hypolizus from Simeulue and a handful of opisthochrus from Babi and Lasia might also survive in captivity. Unfortunately, mirabilis from Panaitan is already extinct.
We rarely met anyone who was unfamiliar with murai batu, such is the popularity of Barusan Shama in the wildlife trade. In fact, we met people who are trained in elaborate methods of bird-hunting involving gums, decoys and torchlights. Undeniably, hunting is so widespread that it seemed like we were always a step behind the poachers in reaching the islands. The current dire status of Barusan Shama on West Sumatran islands suggests that the only way to save this unique taxon from extinction is through immediate efforts of ex-situ conservation breeding. In late 2019, few stakeholders including Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Ecosystem Impact Foundation (EIF) and members of the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) have already come forward to begin implementation of conservation breeding facilities. The genomic analyses of shamas, currently underway in National University of Singapore, would guide these concerted efforts. These efforts should be complemented with human behavioral interventions that would ensure long term survival of the species.
With an integrated conservation action plan, we hope that the Barusan Shama will continue to sing in the forests of the West Sumatran islands where their songs are not judged for prestige or money, but embraced as a part of the nature and its beauty.
Note: The results of this expedition have been published and can be found together with many other interesting publications on the website of the NUS Avian Evolution Lab
How is the Corona Virus Pandemic affecting the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme and its development of a Songbird Breeding Centre?
Text by Ian Singleton, SOCP
We would have hoped already to see buildings coming up… rather than just presenting a few sticks in a muddy field! Construction plans are delayed but it is not limitations in the current situation.
How is the situation in everyday life? The answer is basically very ’strange’! The reason is say that is that most of Indonesia is carrying on totally as normal…..out on the streets, in traffic jams, going to coffee shops, etc etc…..and yet the number of cases and deaths are extremely low!
Of course, there is massive under-reporting but even allowing for that, the numbers are still remarkably low! So, it is indeed weird as we really don’t know what is happening and it’s difficult to fully understand the situation.
Whilst much of the world is also debating what is going to happen in the second wave, I think we haven’t even had our first wave yet… and with it now being the month of Ramadan, and the numbers travelling around the country having been steadily increasing the last couple of weeks and about to peak this weekend, with millions of people also visiting relatives and friends, I think we are about to see a BIG increase in cases, to a peak in mid to late June. Let’s see…
As for how it’s affecting us at the SOCP, we realised early that there is a significant risk that orangutans could be affected, and this is supported by a few journal papers. We therefore locked down all our facilities with captive orangutans early on (the quarantine and reintroduction centres) and also ceased all activities at any of our field research stations to minimise any risk to the wild populations.
We have developed and implemented new policies and procedures to minimise risk of infections to staff and orangutans in our care, and protocols in case they do become infected. We’ve also raised funds and are now building a new high biosecurity “Covid quarantine facility” of 5 cages, totally isolated and at distance from all other facilities and apes at our quarantine centre. This is because whilst we are not sending any orangutans out of the centre (e.g. to the reintroduction sites) orangutans are still arriving. Therefore, we need to make absolutely sure they’re SARS-CoV-2 free before they are progressed through the system near other animals.
At the same time, we’ve had a hard look at our budgets. We estimate we are likely to incur around USD 150,000 unforeseen and unbudgeted costs at the quarantine and reintroduction centres (extra food and medical costs as we have 50% more orangutans than normal (74 versus a normal average of around 50, as we have been unable to release any), and we are trying to buy longer lasting foods etc in case of problems with supplies, and much higher prices for personal protective equipment for staff and vets. etc. All at the same time, like everyone else, we are predicting a significant drop in grants and donations for the rest of 2020, which will almost certainly run into 2021 as well, and maybe beyond.
So basically, interesting, and busy times, never a dull moment. Workload has increased for most of us due to all of the above, and having to hold more discussions online, often in several different time zones.
Therefore, the construction of the Sumatra Songbird Sanctuary facilities has been additionally delayed, however funding stands and we are confident that construction can proceed fairly soon to form homes for severely threatened Sumatran songbirds.
This incredible drone shot shows Bangkaru Island from a new perspective. At the upmost capabilities of Alex Westover’s drone, this photo was captured as a last-minute decision just before leaving the island.
‘It was such a last-minute shot that I almost didn’t end up getting. I’m glad that didn’t happen!!’
In December 2019 a team of international wildlife photographers ventured to Bangkaru to capture the biodiversity and beauty of this wild and remote island. When we say remote, we mean remote. To get to Bangkaru, one must travel from Medan on mainland Sumatra – already quite remote – to Simeulue Island via small island-hopping plane. From Simeulue it is then an 8-hour boat ride, or at least it should be. On this occasion one of the boats motors failed, making the journey 12 hours.
‘Getting to Bangkaru is an adventure in itself. 14 hours from Australia, 3 hours in Medan, another flight, 12 hours on a boat and we made it! And it’s all so worth it to be in a place as beautiful as Bangkaru.’
None of this is easy, especially not with a camera crew and all the gear. After offloading the gear from the boat in a
sheltered bay, the equipment had to be carried through the jungle to the camp spot. A makeshift basecamp was set up on one of Bangkaru’s beaches and the team spent a week photographing and filming Bangkaru’s spectacular landscape and wildlife. The video footage of this expedition can be seen here on EcosystemImpact’s website.
There truly are very few places left in the world as unaltered by humans than Bangkaru. This does not however, mean that Bangkaru’s wildlife is safe. In fact, far from it. Before setting up the Bangkaru Ranger Programme, close to 100% of turtle eggs were poached and it is estimated thousands of birds captured of the pet trade.
Ranger programmes work because the ranger’s presence and ability to enforce the law deters poachers. In 2016, EAZA, EcosystemImpact and partners Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA) and Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BKSDA) successfully implemented the first capture and legal prosecuting of poachers in the area. This action showed local communities we are serious about conserving Bangkaru’s wildlife and we are happy to report that since this intervention there has been no recorded turtle egg poaching and a noticeable reduction in bird poacher activity.
EcosystemImpact and EAZA’s Silent Forest campaign is continuing to develop and strengthen our ranger presence on Bangkaru. We are also working with local communities to bring environmental education to schools to heighten environmental awareness and further reduce poaching.
Thanks to intuitive avicultural skills and innovative methods used by the Prague Zoo’s bird team a chick from one of the rarest birds in the world could be saved. The young Javan green magpie, was reared safely by using a puppet but also introduced back to its parents for important social learning skills, enabling it to contribute to the ongoing breeding programme. Prague zoo is only one, out of three European institutions which has reared the critically endangered magpies.
Read the whole story by Lenka Pastorcakova and Antonín Vaidl from Prague Zoo and learn why this chick was in danger and how the team succeeded to rear the young corvid with a hatching weight of only 5.85 grams and eventually introduce it back to its parents right here.
As part of the Save Magiao project the planning of the education and pride campaign for the Nias Island songbirds and especially the Magiao, the Nias Myna (Gracula robusta) continues. Currently we are developing a poster with the most threatened birds of Nias and with the Magiao in the center. We aim to place this poster in all classrooms on Nias and hopefully also in many other public buildings. The poster will feature magnificent artwork by Danish artist Carl Cristian Tofte who kindly made the paintings of the Nias species for the poster. Carl Christian and his partner fine artist Jessica Lee Hjort donated the rights to use the paintings and the designwork of the poster. We look forward to presenting the finished poster here on the Silent Forest website.
Author Tom Amey, Director of Social and Environmental Programmes, Ecosystem Impact Foundation.
In December 2019, a decision was made for Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA) to transition the Bangkaru Ranger Programme to Ecosystem Impact Foundation (EI). It was felt that direct management by EI would be more efficient & effective. It also enables EI to build on the Bangkaru bird & turtle conservation work and expand this to Simeulue.
With HAkA’s MoU with Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BKSDA) for the Bangkaru programme ending March 2020, the first quarter of this year has been spent focusing on securing the renewal of this MoU / transitioning to EI.
During the interim period between the existing MoU ending and EI gaining the new MoU, EI and HAkA have worked together with BKSDA to secure the Bangkaru Rangers status as Masyarakat Mitra Polisi Hutan (Community Forest Ranger Partners). This gives the rangers the necessary legal basis to continue patrolling Bangkaru. EI have – through EAZA funding support – provided a formal commitment to BKSDA to finance the rangers.
EI has developed the MoU proposal to BKSDA, with an MoU request being the ability to carry out surveying of terrestrial and marine biodiversity on Bangkaru. This will give EI and partners the ability to carry out further scientific data collection into the birds of Bangkaru.
All 7 rangers as well as HAkA’s former Bangkaru Coordinator will be moved to EI staffers from 1 April 2020. HAkA are being very supportive of this transition and we will continue to partner.
Bird Conservation Work on Bangkaru, and Future Developments
Entry points and camp locations of bird poachers have been identified in partnership with a new local conservation organisation working in the area – YSAN. We have worked through a viable terrestrial monitoring program to further address bird poaching on Bangkaru that we will be implemented in the coming months.
Author Jochen Menner, Curator of Birds Taman Safari 2/ Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark
The PCBA was established in 2017 to serve as a breeding facility for the most endangered Indonesian species, the main focus is on songbirds. The centre is located within the grounds of Taman Safari 2, Prigen in East Java, it operates as a joint effort of Taman Safari, EAZA institutions and the ZGAP.
By January 2020 we were able to complete the construction of the fourth songbird breeding complex, consisting of 22 aviaries. 11 of them measuring 2.5m/2.5m/3m the others 7m/2.5m/5m. The smaller aviaries are currently accommodating a group of 10 (5.5) Javan Pied Starlings (Gracupica jalla) which we are keeping as a colony to decrease the problem of partner aggression. The remaining 6 smaller aviaries are used for Leafbirds (Chloropsis sonnerati and C. cochinchinensis), currently being housed individually in the hope to achieve proper breeding condition. Leafbird aviaries in complex 4. Photo PCBA Male Javan Leafbird in PCBA. Photo Roland Wirth
The 11 larger aviaries are used to house our most sensitive pairs of larger species. For example, we are keeping Javan Crested Jay (Platylophus galericulatus garlericulatus), Rufous fronted Laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons rufifrons), Nias Hill Myna (Gracula robusta) and Nusa Tenggara Hill Myna (Gracula venerata) there.
With the completion of unit 4 the PCBA now consists of 121 songbird aviaries housing 24 species. In January the construction of the units 5 and 6 started and is progressing very fast, so that the completion by May seems doable. These 2 units will consist of an additional 62 aviaries with the dimensions of 3m/1.5m/3m and will be used to breed smaller and medium sized songbird species. All aviaries will be equipped with connecting slidedoors to give us the chance to connect and separate flexibly.
Construction on complex 6 in February 2020. Photo PCBA
Important recent breeding results
Within the last 6 months we managed to breed 10 threatened Songbird species. The most remarkable amongst those might be Wangi-Wangi White-eye (Zosterops sp.) and Maratua Shama (Kittacincla malabarica barbouri). Both taxa seem to be kept worldwide in no other institution and are of highest conservation priority.
The Wangi-Wangi White-eye is endemic to Wangi-Wangi island in the Tukang Besi archipelago, with its naturally very small distributions its vulnerable to any kind of disruption. Recently a massive increase of tourism activities has taken place on Wangi-Wangi, so a lot of suitable habitat might be lost but an even bigger threat poses the poaching for the cagebird trade. This White-eye was virtually unknown in the trade until relatively recently but with more and more Javanese workers coming to Wangi-Wangi, the species is now occurring in bigger numbers in the Javan and Balinese trade.
So far, we managed to breed with 2 pairs while 2 more are building nests, these first promising attempts will hopefully be the foundation of a successful conservation program and valuable knowledge for .
Wangi-Wangi White-eye with the very first chick. Photo PCBA
Even more dire seems to be the situation for the Maratua Shama, endemic to Maratua island off the eastern coast of Borneo it hasn’t been seen on the island since 2011 and might very well be extinct in the wild.
Within the last 18 months we managed to secure 8 individuals of which 1 died, the remaining 7 turned out to be 1.6 and might have represented the largest part of the global population by then. Since about 6 months no Maratua Shamas have been offered in the online trade, indicating that we may have managed to get hold of some of the very last survivors.
Between October 2019 and January 2020 in total 7 Maratua Shama chicks hatched at the PCBA, 6 of them are still alive, bringing our small population to 4.9.
In January we paired our only adult male with a second female, to get as many founders involved as soon as possible. This new pair immediately produced its first clutch and successfully raised 2 chicks.
The first (likely extinct in the wild) Maratua shama hatched at the PCBA. Photo PCBA
Author Tom Squires, PhD Candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
The Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi), so emblematic of the island it is endemic to, has been reintroduced to Bali Barat National Park over the past 30 years in attempts to re-establish a wild population. The population of this highly sought-after songbird was decimated from the mid-20th century onwards by trapping to supply the insatiable demand from the cagebird trade. In support of latest reintroduction efforts, an ecological monitoring project has been undertaken, its goal being to gather detailed information on the wild population and share this with the national park for the benefit of important ongoing conservation activities. Such monitoring can provide valuable insight regarding the species’ ecology, demographics, dispersal, and long-term population viability. Much of the data required for this analysis have been collected over the past 12 months, but fieldwork is still ongoing. Here, we provide a summary of the monitoring work we have been carrying out.
Population Distribution and Abundance
For the past 12 months, Tom and research assistants Panji Gusti Akbar, Muhammad Arif Romadlon and Aldina Rahmadhani, mapped the occurrence of Bali myna within and surrounding Bali Barat National Park. Well over 1,000 encounters with Bali myna were recorded, giving us a good idea of where birds spend their time, as well as daily and seasonal variation in habitat use. With this information, we will be able to determine which areas are most likely to support a range expansion, and areas outside the national park that birds might be expected to disperse to in the future.
Habitat Preference and Suitability
To complement the bird occurrence data, we undertook an extensive park-wide habitat survey, recording habitat structure and vegetation characteristics in 10 m radius plots. Muhammad and Aldina, recent Indonesian graduates with a primary interest in botanical field research, joined the project and after an instructive week with Bali Barat’s botanical expert, Bapak Putu Yasa, amassed an impressive dataset of >700 habitat plots across the national park and in the area immediately surrounding it. These data will be used to generate an up-to-date supervised habitat classification for Bali Barat National Park and its surrounds, as well as to examine more detailed habitat associations of Bali myna.
Nestboxes have been installed at each Bali myna release location to offer birds safe and easy access a nesting site. This has the added benefit of enabling relatively straightforward monitoring of breeding productivity, although it is still demanding work that takes time and patience throughout the breeding season, and an in-depth understanding of behaviour to ensure disturbance to birds is minimised. Mas Untung, Andri and Sasmita have taken on this task of detailed monitoring of the nestboxes and natural nest cavities used by Bali myna in close cooperation with national park staff. They are collecting extremely valuable breeding data, and with the help of an endoscope (or “snake camera”), have been able to collect some of the first definitive data on clutch size, numbers of chicks, and nesting success from wild birds. This work will continue until the end of the breeding season, thought to be around May/June, although some birds may actually continue to breed after this period, one reason for this important work to be a continual effort.
Above Untung and Andri are in the process of checking a nest with an endoscope
Survival and Movement
Ever since the first aluminium ring was attached by Hans Christian Cornelius Mortensen in 1899 to another member of the Sturnidae, the European starling, modern-day bird ringing has helped us determine how long birds live for and where they go. The use of coloured plastic rings now means that birds need not be re-caught to know their identity, reducing disturbance. Using these methods in Bali Barat on a sub-sample of the Bali myna population has helped us to understand the movement of birds between release sites – indeed, we have confirmed that birds are moving more than we expected! Furthermore, through continual monitoring and repeated registrations of the same birds over time, we are able to measure the birds’ apparent rate of survival, an important metric required to help build a population viability analysis.
With the end of the current breeding season will arrive the final data required for the planned analysis to begin and for results to be published and shared with the national park, project partners, and wider scientific community. Completion of this initial analysis is anticipated by July 2020.
This work has been made possible thanks to funding from the EAZA Silent Forest campaign, and Tom also receives funding from Chester Zoo and MMU as part of his PhD.
Authors Sunny Nelson, Stuart Marsden & Tom Squires
Sunny (Lincoln Park Zoo) along with Tom and professor Stuart from Manchester Metropolitan University recently visited Bali Barat National Park, Bali Safari & Marine park and Nusa Penida to develop the Silent Forest Campaign pre-selected Project for Bali Myna conservation. We concentrated on community projects – the rationale being that local communities need to be on board if conservation efforts to bring the species back to the wild are to succeed long-term.
First stop was to work with our friends from Bali Barat National Park. Talks with park director Pak Agus Krisna and his staff were fruitful and we hope they will pave the way for some imaginative outreach projects with local primary school children all centred around Bali Mynas. Monitoring of the Bali Myna releases at BBNP has shown that some of the offspring of released birds are on the move – and this movement is tending to be towards the eastern parts of the park and even to community areas outside of the park.
Another project component we are currently planning is to work with hotels and other businesses near the tourist resort of Pemuteran. If hotels can be persuaded to put up nest boxes and provide feeding stations for the birds, then this might be a win-win situation with the mynas finding a safe haven outside the national park while local businesses promoting themselves to tourists as a ‘Jalak Bali-friendly community’ (Jalak is the Indonesian word for starling).
Here Sunny is discussing and learning about local community projects
Next stop for the team was a visit to the new Bali Myna release site at Bali Safari & Marine Park. We were so impressed with the release efforts of Dr. Kadek and his team, all backed up with some great outreach efforts with local communities led by Dayu Ari. It will be of course some time before it is known whether this release has ‘taken’ or not, but early signs are good.
Searching for Bali Mynas on Nusa Penida with the FNPF team.
Our final stop was the island of Nusa Penida, where the inimitable Dr Bayu and his team at Friend of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) have been working for more than a decade on Bali Myna releases. This release is going well with several pairs observed on the island. We expect to support some work on both monitoring and assessing community engagement needs naturally depending on future funding opportunities.
The EEP Committee has approved the name change of the EAZA Passeriformes TAG into “EAZA Songbird TAG” as per 6 January 2020.
During the last TAG meeting in Valencia we proposed this name change to the participants with the argument that the scientific order name is not always really user friendly. Also, sometimes it tough to stay scientifically accurate as a “order name” might indicate because taxonomy changes happen, or practical accommodations has to be made for certain species to be integrated in a different TAG than the name might indicate.
Currently the EAZA Songbird TAG covers “only” species of the order Passeriformes which is already the largest group of birds with more than 6600 different species distributed throughout the world.
Under the TAG the working group on Asian Songbirds threatened by trade was instrumental for initiating and developing the Silent Forest Campaign between 2017 and 2019. This working group will continue its important work as a part of the Songbird TAG under the name Silent Forest Working Group. Members of this group routinely meets twice a year, mostly in conjunction with another EAZA meeting.