Indonesia birds extinction
A Javan hawk-eagle at Bandung Zoo, JavaWiki commons/Midori

In Indonesia, 13 species of birds have been identified as being at risk of extinction due to overharvesting, scientists have warned. This is because there is an enormous demand in the local domestic pet trade for these birds.

The study, published in journal Forktail, suggests many species – birds but also fishes and mammals – are in serious decline in the wild owing to the pressure exerted on them either by an illegal or an unsustainable legal trade.

Threat to national bird

Using data from multiple sources, whether from their own observations or from official studies and records, the scientists set out to document the scale of the bird trade in Sumatra, Java, Bali and Indonesian Borneo.

They identified 13 species – including Indonesia's national bird, the Javan hawk-eagle – which appeared at risk of global extinction.

Great Helmeted Hornbil
The helmeted hornbill is being killed in the illegal trade to satisfy demand from ChinaWiki Commons/ Carel P. Brest van Kempen

Among them, 14 subspecies are similarly threatened, with five subspecies probably already extinct, at least in the wild, due to trade, but also to habitat loss.

Additionally, while most species are sold as pets, one of them, the helmeted hornbill, is often illegally killed for its unique solid bill casque – which can be carved as a substitute for ivory to meet demand in China. Around 500 helmeted hornbills are though to die monthly as a result.

Out-competing native species

Another problem is the fact that threats do not just stem from the removal from the wild of large numbers of individuals of those different species.

"A much less well documented but potentially grave threat comes from the escape, deliberate release or deliberate hybridisation of individuals of other species imported into areas to which they are not native", the authors say.

The problem is that these birds can then out-compete the native species once they are in the wild, putting their populations at risk.

What can be done?

Despite the dire situation, little is done to fight the practice. Keeping birds as pets is a long-standing tradition in Indonesia. Beyond the excessive demand for wild, exotic birds as pets, weak legislation, lax enforcement and habitat loss mean the species are particularly threatened.

The solutions would involve a combination of better law enforcement, public awareness campaign, conservation breeding, as well as market and genetic surveys.