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From Sept 26 – 29, the 1st Asian Songbird Crisis Summit was held at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
After spending the first day debating which species should be on the top 30 priority list for the Greater Sunda region, participants split up into 4 groups over the next 2 days to focus on topics of their expertise:
- Field & Genetics Research
- Captive Breeding & Husbandry
- Outreach, Education & Communications
- Trade, Legislation & Enforcement
Participants of the summit included experts from zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the region and from EAZA, and NGOs like Cikananga Conservation and Breeding Centre, Burung Indonesia and Wildlife Conservation Society in Indonesia involved with fighting poaching on the ground. A representative from LIPI, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences also attended. From Singapore, we had Frank Rheindt (NUS), Madhu Rao (WCS & ASAP) and Vinayagan Dharmarajah (NSS) taking part in the meeting. More info on the summit can be found on the TRAFFIC website.
Many of the songbirds on the list are from Indonesia and are being wiped out in the wild because of the domestic trade; however, as the host country of this conference, where does Singapore fit into this? Improved monitoring and enforcement was identified as actions needed for songbird protection here. Songbird competitions – although not as popular here – are still around. Oriental magpie robins, Hill Mynas, White-rumped shamas, and Straw-headed bulbuls are some of the species that are apparently used. All these species can be found locally and more protection is needed because poaching, although at low levels, is happening here.
In addition, Singapore was identified in a 2012 TRAFFIC study on illegal bird trade from the Solomon Islands as a major importer of threatened bird species from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Many of the species supposedly captive bred were non-native to the Solomon Islands, but “local authorities confirmed that [the country] is not known to have substantial bird breeding facilities and registered bird breeders in the islands primarily use their facilities as holding sites for wild-caught birds bound for export”. Also, the numbers of import and re-export in Singapore just don’t add up: e.g. “800 Red Lories (again endemic to Indonesia) were imported by Singapore from the Solomon Islands, yet in that same period, more than twice that number (1677) were re-exported, again all reportedly originating from the Solomon Islands”.
In the meantime, the Conservation & Research team at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, led by Dr Sonja Luz, has been doing an amazing job of organizing meetings and bringing together experts from around the world to take action on endangered wildlife. The songbird crisis has also attracted international attention as seen in this New York Times article!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Some of the things you can do to help endangered songbird species wherever you live or travel are to keep an eye out for the bird species that have been identified and report their locations to any of the organizations involved in the summit. Whether it’s in a pet shop, someone’s house or the market, finding the few remaining individuals of some of these species (such as the Nias Hill Myna) could prevent their imminent extinction by bringing them to a sanctuary where they can be bred in captivity by responsible organizations. A handy app to have on your phone is the Wildlife Witness App that you can use to report any illegal trade of the songbirds (and any other wildlife) to TRAFFIC. The reports will be sent to relevant enforcement authorities to take action against offenders, and will also contribute to a more complete understanding of the bird trade.
You can also learn about bird conservation and watching in Southeast Asia by joining organizations such as the Nature Society Singapore and the Oriental Bird Club, which help to protect bird species in the region. If you are in Singapore on 31 Oct & 1 Nov, the 6th Asian Bird Fair will be held over that weekend at the Botanic Gardens. The annual event aims to promote the protection of birds and their habitats, encourage birdwatching and other ecotourism activities.