Saturday 20 February 2016

Indonesian Pittas on sale in Javan Bird Markets.

Indonesia has a thriving trade in wild-caught Birds, with markets trading in a wide variety of species selected for their looks, plumage of abilities as mimics. Some Birds are able to survive well in captivity, but the majority of species are thought to have short cage-lives, particularly if they are stressed by handling, kept in undersized cages or fed an inappropriate diet. Until recently this trade has not been studied extensively, but it is thought to have a strong impact on wild populations of some species, and in some cases may be linked to severe declines in population sizes.

In a paper published in the journal Birding Asia on 17 February 2016, Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, James Eaton of Birdtour Asia and Serene Chng, also of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, discuss the results of a series of surveys of Bird Markets on Java in 2014-15, in which shops were assessed for the presence of Pittas, a group of colourful but secretive ground-dwelling Passarine Birds considered to be at serious risk from the wildlife trade. 

There are currently fifteen recognised species of Pitta found in Indonesia, with four classified as Vulnerable under the terms of the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species (the Schneider’s Pitta, Pitta schneideri, and Graceful Pitta, Pitta venusta, both of which are found only on Sumatra, the Blue-headed Pitta, Pitta baudii, which is found only on Borneo and the Fairy Pitta, Pitta nympha, a migratory species which overwinters almost exclusively on Borneo) and three species classified as Near Threatened (the Giant Pitta, Pitta caerulea, Garnet Pitta, Pitta granatina, and Mangrove Pitta, Pitta megarhyncha), although the group is currently undergoing a taxonomic review which is likely to raise the number of species, and therefore shrink and fragment the range of several species, which in turn is likely to raise their conservation status. All are protected under the Act of the Republic of Indonesia No. 5 of 1990 concerning Conservation of Living Resources and their Ecosystems, which has provision for both large fines and lengthy prison sentences for trading in the Birds; however the open way in which Birds were being traded suggests that this law is not enforced, and traders may not even be aware of it. The calls of Pittas are not generally considered attractive to Human ears, consisting of rather shrieky blasts of one-to three notes, so the Birds are thought to be traded for their bright plumage.

Shepherd et al. surveyed a total of eight markets, three each in Jakarta and Surabaya, plus one each in Malang and Yogyakarta, in July 2014 and June 2015. 

Only one market, Tuli in Surabaya, had no visible Pittas on sale. At Bratang Market in Surabaya two Birds were found on sale, a Javan Banded Pita, Pitta guajana, and an Elegant Pitta, Pitta elegans. At the third Surabaya site, Kupang Market, another Elegant Pitta was found on site as was a Malayan Banded Pitta, Hydrornis irena, a species not found on Java at all (it is found on Sumatra, as well as Peninsula Malaysia and Thailand), suggesting that Birds were being transported some distance to be traded.

At Barito Market in Jakarta three shops were found to contain a total of four Javan Banded Pittas, while at Jatinegara Market, also in Jakata, 22 Javan Banded Pittas were found across six shops and at Pramuka Market, again in Jakarta, 37 Javan Banded Pittas were found across seven shops and one shop was also found to be selling two Hooded Pittas, Pitta sordida. Pramuka is considered to be the largest Bird Market visited during the study, while Jatinegara Market is a smaller market, but has a higher proportion of high value Birds on sale, so the fact that these two markets contained the largest number of Pittas for sale is unsurprising.

Caged Javan Banded Pittas, Pitta guajana, Pramuka market, Jakarta, 22 July 2014. Shepherd et al. (2016).

No evidence of Pittas from outside Java was found in any of the Jakarta markets, though a number of other Birds known to be found on Sumatra but not Java were visibly on sale. Shepherd et al. enquired into the prices of Birds on sale in Jakarta, and were quoted 1 200 000 Rupiahs (~US$100) for a Hooded Pitta and 500 000 Rupiahs (~US$42) for a Javan Banded Pitta.

At Malang a total of 10 Javan Banded Pittas were found on sale in four shops, while one shop also had two Elegant Pittas on sale. At Yogyakarta a single Javan Banded Pitta was found on sale.

Shepherd et al. note that anecdotal evidence suggests Pittas (which are Territorial Birds with low population densities) are not specifically targeted by trappers, but are mostly caught as by-catch by mist-netters targeting species such as Chestnut-capped Thrush, Zoothera interpres, and that as well as those that end up in pet shops some are eaten or traded as foodstuffs. 

Pittas have also been observed on sale in Medan and Banda Aceh in North Sumatra, as well as in Bangkok and at other locations in Thailand. Shepherd et al. therefore suggest that in combination with habitat loss the pet trade presents a significant threat to these Birds, and that both legislation on the trade and enforcement of existing legislation needs to be tightened across the region.

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