Indonesian songbird faces imminent extinction

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Just 20 years ago, the black-winged mynas were common enough to be listed at Least Concern and could be still easily observed in the wild. Now, global conservation partnership BirdLife International estimates that there may be as few as 500 left in the wild and list it as Critically Endangered.

In the largest study of its kind, which was funded by a People’s Trust for Endangered Species grant, academics at Oxford Brookes University (OBU) in the UK and Gadjah Madah University in Indonesia have found that three closely-related Indonesian songbirds are on the brink of extinction due to large numbers having been illegally extracted from the wild.

Researchers investigated the trade of black-winged mynas, also known as the black-winged starling, in Indonesian bird markets and online, and assessed the role of captive breeding over the last decade.

Researchers conducted over a hundred surveys in bird markets in Java and conducted an online investigation. They observed some 1,250 black-winged mynas for sale. Turnover was high, with 50% of birds being sold after one week of arriving in the market. The research team estimate that over 10,000 mynas are being sold every year in the Indonesian bird markets, at a retail value of close to one million US dollar.

Vincent Nijman, Professor in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and lead author of the study said: “With additional bird markets in Java and Bali and a thriving online trade, we estimate that the number of black-winged mynas in private ownership in Indonesia is in the order of 40,000 birds.”

“Without proper registration and regulation in the trade of captive-bred mynas, even a small amount of wild-caught birds entering this now substantial trade will act as a serious impediment to the conservation of the species.” added Dr Mohammed Imron from Gadjah Madah University in Yogyakarta.  

The birds held in the markets were observed to be a combination of captive-bred, first-generation captive-born and wild-caught individuals. Some appeared to be crossbreeds between the three species.

Professor Nijman continued: “This species is an example of how wildlife trade, in this case domestic trade, can lead to the extinction of a once common species with few people noticing the decline.

“While large-scale capturing and trade in songbirds has been ongoing since at least the 1960s, in recent years it has become clear that trade is the major impediment for the survival of many bird species. I have visited bird markets in Java over 25 years and I have seen the changes in the trade of this songbird first-hand.”

While the black-winged myna is on Indonesia’s protected species list, loopholes allow second-generation birds to be traded.

In January 2018 Professor Anna Nekaris, co-author of this paper from OBU, became our fourth Conservation Partner for her work saving slow lorises from the illegal trade in Java, Indonesia.

The paper, Wildlife trade, captive breeding and the imminent extinction of a songbird, is published in Global Ecology and Conservation.

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