A post was brought to my attention recently regarding a small flock of birds that were confiscated by the Indonesian police. The birds were critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoos, and were found cruelly crammed into plastic bottles so that they could get through customs at the Port of Tanjung Perak, in Surabaya, Indonesia. Though these birds have been through a literal hell, they still number among some of the luckier ones as many other birds are caught and traded each day in an open manner at some of the open air bird-markets that are situated all across Indonesia. Hug your fids tight, then hug them even tighter because some of the things you are about to see will make you realize how fortunate our fids actually are, and how many birds in fact, do not get to be so lucky.
These cockatoos had been cruelly stuffed into bottles to restrain them while smugglers attempted to sneak them through customs.
The Indonesian Bird Markets
Goffin cockatoos at a bird market in Medan, Indonesia
Bird markets are a common occurrence across the world with similar setups existing in countries like Hong Kong, India, and various parts of South America. Among all such establishments, however, the bird markets of the Indonesian isles are largely regarded as being of a class of its own, when compared to similar establishments around the world. The reason for this is the sheer number of birds that are traded at such markets on a regular basis. The much well-known bird markets of Medan, for example, are hailed far and wide as boasting the largest collection of bird species in any given location. Though many of the birds are shipped - even smuggled - to neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, it is perhaps the thriving local demand for exotic bird species that continues to fuel the proliferation of bird markets across the nation. Consequently, it is unsurprising that many of the bird markets across Indonesia have also become the site of illegal trafficking, and trading of many protected and endangered species of birds in what are arguably some of the most deplorable conditions known to man. The reason why Indonesia, above all other places in the world, can function as the hub for the exotic bird trade is because of her unique eco-system that seems to combine the best of both the Asian and Australian continents. Consequently, many exotic birds and parrots that exist in Australia or other Asian countries, often have sister-species that can be found in various locations across the Indonesian isles. While on the one hand, this means that Indonesia boasts some of the most diverse and unique bird species in all the world, on the other: it also translates into ample opportunity for the exploitation, of these amazing animals as well.
In between the years of 1997 and 2001, a study was conducted by Chris R. Shepherd of The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) to assess the impact of the Indonesian bird markets. The four year study ultimately revealed that the bird markets of Medan, Indonesia, was in fact one of the most notorious hot spots for illegal wildlife trade in the world. An estimate of at least 3500 birds were reported, of which total number of 300 different species of bird were identified by the researchers, during each survey. Of the 300 bird species that were identified, at least 56 were considered to be critically endangered and supposedly protected by Indonesian wildlife law. It was also discerned during the period of study that the unsanitary conditions in which the bird were displayed - often caged and crowded into cramped enclosures that were stacked on top of each other - resulted in a high rate of :overnight mortality among the market birds. The prevalence of disease in the crowded and unhygienic conditions of the market were recognized by the traders but little was done save to remove birds that were considered more economically valuable and therefore "less disposable" than their "cheaper" counterparts. Certain birds such as cassowaries, and imported parrots, were often kept in separate locations and not displayed at the markets for similar reasons.
More chattering lories at the pramuka bird market
A black capped lory housed in unsanitary conditions at the Yogyakarta bird market
Birds frequently die overnight succumbing either to shock, or more likely to the unsanitary conditions of the markets.
Other species of birds that were ill suited for captivity such as kingfishers (halcyonidae. alcedinidae), woodpeckers (picidae), pittas (pittidae), and true owls (strigidae) and nightjars (caprimulgidae) were also readily available at the markets. These birds were sold for relatively low prices as many of the traders considered them to be "novelty pets" that were not expected to survive long in captivity. Having been sent to the markets shortly after being caught from the wild, many of the birds succumb to shock or stress and end up refusing food or water. The dietary requirements of many of these specialist feeders was also deduced to have not been met at the markets. Although the markets trade largely in birds, other animals are often available opportunistically or when there is demand. Otters (mustelidae), leopard cats (prionailurus bengalensis), small primates such as macaques (cercopithecidae) and gibbons (hylobatidae), and the slow loris (nycticebus coucang) are also readily available, often with their teeth removed or otherwise "blunted" through the crude use of nail-clippers to make them "suitable" as pets and house animals. Blood pythons (python curtus) were also frequently sold to dealers for their skins
Caged owls at the yogyakarta bird maret
|Javan mynahs and fire tufted barbets at the Medan Bird Market|
Purple breasted starlings crammed in cages for sale.
The slow loris is the only venomous primate in the world and often has its teeth cut off by nail clippers before it so sold as a "tame" animal at the bird markets.
A young monkey has its fangs forcibly removed by pliers in order to "tame" it for captivity.
photo by Mark Leong.
Hundreds of blood pythons and other reptiles are slaughtered each day for their skins in Sumatera, Indonesia
photo by Mark Leong
Despite recognizing that the trade in many of these species of wildlife is illegal, little has been done by authorities to date. On February 28th, 2015, current Indonesian president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who reportedly has an academic degree in forestry, is reported to have bought over 300 birds from the Pramuka Bird Market in East Jakarta for release, purportedly to "maintain the ecosystem in the two areas". Many, concerned local citizens and bird lovers have criticized this move, however, as it does not inherently address or resolve the issue regarding the illegal trapping, sale, and trafficking of local wildlife whilst providing poachers and trappers with the incentives to trap more animals to replenish their stock. Others have urged President Jokowi to instead take more definitive measures to enforce wildlife and conservation laws to crack down on the illegal, unsanitary, and unsustainable practices that are going on at such bird markets across the Indonesian isles.
A follow up study that was carried out in 2006 revealed that very little had changed at the bird markets. Despite governmental institution of a "harvesting quota" for protected species of birds and animals, little enforcement is carried out on the ground and has reportedly resulted in a sharp decline of bird populations. As of 2006, Many traders reported a difficulty in obtaining certain species of birds in locations where they had been previously common. Some notable declining species that were reported by the traders themselves were the red lorikeets eos bornea and the blue streaked lorikeets eos reticulata. Demand for these birds were also noted to have increased due to a perceived shortage and rarity of the species and traders were reported to have resorted to nest-raiding to fuel that supply. Some birds are bred for sale by private breeders though at the time of the study, as many as 95% of traders reported to having collected their birds from the wild. What makes the situation in Indonesia all the more disturbing is the fact that such illicit, unethical, and illegal trade of protected birds are able to occur in broad daylight and on such a large scale. The black market, in other words, is one that happens openly. Poachers and trappers are trading without fear.
As the rest of the world watches on and laments, and tourists are encouraged to boycott such markets, the REAL work has to be done on the ground, by Indonesians: concerned citizens and bird lovers, who must stand up and speak out against what is happening to some of their country's most beautiful animals.