Selling Noah's Ark? The collapse of Asia's bird biodiversity

From her base in southern China, ALERT member Alice Hughes gives us a perspective on the daunting challenge of the illegal wildlife trade, which seems to have a global epicenter in Asia.

Popular species: spectacular Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise from Indonesia

Popular species: spectacular Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise from Indonesia

If you have ever ventured into the forest you will know the whine of insects, and the ringing calls of birds that envelope you as you breathe in the humid air. 

Now, imagine that forest without the calls of the birds or the rustle of vertebrate life.  You are imagining the forests that are fast becoming a reality across much of Asia, under the relentless pressure of hunting for various forms of trade.

Indonesia is one such case.  As a global biodiversity hotspot for birds, it now finds itself a market for their extinction.  A TRAFFIC survey released this week found an incredible 19,000 birds of 206 species for sale -- at just three markets in Jakarta and in just three days.  And only 2 percent of these birds were legally harvested.

Among the birds found in Jakarta markets, 41 species are endemic (unique) to Indonesia.  Further, nine of the species are classed by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction, four of which are Endangered or Critically Endangered.

The stunning number of birds found in just three days suggests that the annual sale of birds in Indonesia would involve hundreds of millions of individuals, including many globally endangered species.

Birds for sale in a Jakarta market  (Kanitha Krishnasamy/TRAFFIC)

Birds for sale in a Jakarta market (Kanitha Krishnasamy/TRAFFIC)

A Songbird Crisis Summit will be held in Singapore this week to highlight the illegal bird-trade crisis, and to seek strategies to secure a future for birds across the region.

Without rapid action to enforce existing laws and enact new regulations, we will undoubtedly witness the extinction of bird species from across the Asian region.  These forests may no longer ring with the calls of species found nowhere else on Earth.

What to do if you see an eco-crime

Ever seen somebody do really wrong by the environment?  Don't get mad, get even...

Frequent victim... (photo by Ralph Buij)

Frequent victim... (photo by Ralph Buij)

For the first time, there's a whistle-blower site that's dedicated to eco-crimes, including illegal logging, poaching, and the illicit wildlife trade.  Known as Wildleaks, it's designed to provide a simple and totally secure way to dob in eco-offenders.

A website like this is more than timely: wildlife crimes are burgeoning in many parts of the world.  The illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn alone have had appalling impacts on elephant and rhino populations (see our blogs below), and that's just scratching the surface of the problem.  Organized crime is implicated in many cases.

Interpol and the World Bank, for instance, estimate that illegal logging is costing developing nations around US$30 billion annually, and that's merely lost government revenues.  The price tag approaches US$100 billion if the environmental toll is included too.

So pass along the word to friends and colleagues about Wildleaks.  Wildlife crimes flourish in the shadows but falter where the light shines...