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Two Asian songbirds protected from cage-bird trade

Asian songbirds
Straw-headed Bulbul. Photo by Cheung-Kwok-Yee/Wildlife Conservation Society

At a meeting in Panama, governments from around the world voted on Monday to protect two Asian songbird species that are threatened by the international cage-bird trade.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to put the Straw-headed Bulbul under its highest level of protection and to list the White-rumped Shama under its second-highest level of protection.

After the final adoption of the proposals in the coming days, the birds will join more than 38,000 species, subspecies, and populations of animals and plants that are protected under CITES. Each protected taxa or population is included in one of three lists called Appendices. The Appendix that lists a taxa or population reflects the level of the threat posed by international trade and the CITES controls that apply.

Straw-headed Bulbul will be listed under CITES Appendix I and White-rumped Shama will appear on CITES Appendix II.

“The vote to protect the Straw-headed Bulbul under CITES Appendix I, and the White-rumped Shama on CITES Appendix II will help to ensure that these two songbirds will not go silent,” says Elizabeth L. Bennett, vice president of species conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “All international commercial trade in the Straw-headed Bulbul is now prohibited, and all international trade for the White-rumped Shama is now regulated and monitored to ensure that it does not threaten wild populations.

“The large-scale capture and trade of songbirds for the national and international trade is often illegal, and almost inevitably unsustainable, and is leading to major declines of an increasing number of species in the wild. The scale of the trade can be huge, with large commercial markets in cities in countries across parts of Asia and beyond.”

White-rumped Shama in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

The bulbul, which is listed as critically endangered on the international Red List, has declined by more than 80 percent over the last 15 years, primarily due to trapping for the cage bird trade. “Even though it can be bred in captivity, wild-caught birds are often considered superior singers so are still sought after,” says Bennett. “Trapping for trade in the Straw-headed Bulbul has reduced the wild population to fewer than 1,700 mature individuals, with the only known viable population in Singapore. In Southeast Asia, local extinctions of the White-rumped Shama have occurred in many regions as a direct result of trapping for the cage bird trade.”

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BirdLife International reports that although White-rumped Shama is a relatively common species, it is “traded in vast numbers, so this decision would help conservationists react to what may become an increasing issue, whilst also providing crucial information to understand the extent and impact of this trade.”

“Both of these songbird species are heavily sought after and impacted by the international trade to supply cage birds in southeast Asia,” says Anuj Jain, BirdLife’s Bird Trade coordinator for Asia. “BirdLife supports these listing proposals and will also be making a major push for CITES to improve the currently low representation of songbirds in its Appendices, relative to their high prevalence in trade and the conservation impact this is having and will increasingly cause.”

That point is echoed by an advocacy group called Silent Forest, which brings attention to the Asian songbird crisis. It says that more than 1,000 songbird species are present in the international bird trade, and yet only 1.4% of songbirds are protected on CITES appendices. Among all other bird species on the planet, 35% appear on CITES appendices.

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“It is now time to make proper assessments of the sustainability of international songbird trade and in the future follow-up with more CITES proposals for this group of birds,” writes Simon Bruslund of Silent Forest.

Read more about CITES protections for the bulbul and shama

Over-loved African Grey Parrot gains CITES protections

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