Monday 31 July 2023

Evidence for Indonesian Songbirds being traded on TikTok.

Wild-caught Songbirds are traded across Southeast Asia to be kept as pets or ornaments, released in ceremonies, and, particularly, to be used in singing competitions. This is considered to be a significant threat to many species, to the extent that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared an Asian Songbird Extinction Crisis in 2017, with Indonesia considered to be the critical hotspot for this activity. The advent of the internet has provided Songbird dealers with ample new opportunities to reach potential customers, through sites such as the online marketplace OXL. The trade in wildlife (and other illegal goods) via online marketplaces can be fast moving and difficult to address, as dealers will often quickly move to a new website once conservationist or law enforcement agencies become aware of their activities.

In a letter to the journal Oryx published on 21 July 2023, Sicily Fiennes of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, and Silvi Dwi Anasari and Novi Hardianto of Kausa Resliensi Indonesia, report that the TikTok platform is being used by traders in in protected and threatened species of Indonesian Birds.

TikTok has about 110 million users in Indonesia. The site joined the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online in 2021, and subsequently released guidelines which stated that t ‘any content that depicts or promotes the poaching or illegal trade of wildlife is not allowed on our platform and will be removed when identified’. The site claims that 74% of such content is taken down before it is observed by a single viewer, but some well documented breaches of this have occurred, including the promotion of exotic pets in the US, some of which may have been sourced illegally, and the organisation and promotion of Badger persecution in the UK.

Fiennes et al. report an example of at Greater Green Leafbird, Chloropsis sonnerati, being offered for sale on TikTok. Greater Green Leafbirds are currently considered to be Endangered under the terms of terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, and are protected under Indonesian Law. However, the species remains a popular pet across Java. 

An example TikTok post that depicts wild songbird trade in Indonesia. Cak ijo is shorthand for cucak ijo, the trade name for Leafbirds (Chloropsis spp.), PH, paruh hitam (black beak); jamin jantan (guaranteed male, although the photo could show either a juvenile male or an adult female of the Greater Green Leafbird, Chloropsis sonnerati); 450 ecer implies 450 000 Indonesian Rupiah (about UK£24 or US$30); WA is shorthand for WhatsApp. The telephone number and the name of the shop has been obscured.

The online trade in Songbirds presents a range of new challenges for conservationists monitoring the trade in Indonesia. Dealers are clearly incentivised to use such platforms, which give a perception of anonymity, and enable them to reach a wider potential customer base, thereby securing higher sales prices. Fiennes et al. are able to demonstrate that such dealers are able to flout TikTok's guidelines, and recommend that wildlife trade monitoring programs pay more attention to TikTok and other emerging platforms.

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