These little-known, colorful birds are latest victims of Indonesia’s caged-bird trade

  • In Indonesia, pittas are protected by law.
  • Yet, pitta trade in Indonesia’s markets is widespread, study has found, suggesting that the law is not enforced.
  • Between 2014 and 2015, researchers found 81 pittas belonging to four species being sold openly in Indonesia’s caged-bird markets.

The elusive, little-known pitta is fast-becoming the victim of wildlife traffickers. Commonly called “jewels of the forest”, these bright and colorful birds are being sold openly — and illegally — in Indonesia’s bird markets, a new study by TRAFFIC and Birdtour Asia has found.

Most of the world’s pittas are found in the tropical forests of Asia. In Indonesia, these birds are protected by law. So hunting, capturing, trading pittas or keeping them as pets, is illegal. Moreover, violations can result in imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of up to IDR100 million (about $8,000), the authors write in the study published in BirdingAsia. Yet, pitta trade in Indonesian markets is widespread, the team found, suggesting that the law is not enforced.

“I was flabbergasted,” co-author of the study, TRAFFIC’s Serene Chng, said in a statement. “It takes lot of effort and patience to spot a pitta in the wild, but it’s not difficult to find them for sale in Indonesia’s bird markets,”

Between 2014 and 2015, the team from TRAFFIC and Birdtour Asia surveyed eight bird markets in four Javanese cities, three bird markets each in Jakarta and Surubaya, and one market each in Maland and Yogyakarta.

During the course of their survey, the team found 81 pittas belonging to four species, being sold openly in the markets.

The Malayan banded pitta is a commonly spotted bird in Indonesia's bird markets. Photo by JJ Harrison (Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0).
The Malayan banded pitta is a commonly spotted bird in Indonesia’s bird markets. Photo by JJ Harrison (Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0).

The Javanese banded pitta (Hydrornis guajana) was the most commonly sold species, the team found, commanding a price of around IDR500,000 (about $42). Hooded pittas (Pitta sordida) in some markets were being sold for IDR1,200,000 ($100).

These prices are relatively high, the authors write, “almost on par with the popular laughing thrushes which are frequently sold as songbirds”.

Indonesia is a hub for caged-bird trade. In fact, the scale of this trade is so massive that some of the most-commonly traded birds, such as the songbirds, are quickly disappearing from the wild.

Experts are worried that if the trade in little-known birds like pittas is ignored, these birds could suffer a similar fate.

Pittas are very popular among birdwatchers because of their colorful plumage. So to help figure out the scale of pitta-trade in Indonesia’s markets, TRAFFIC is engaging with the birdwatching ecotourism industry.

“Through these joint efforts we’re trying to illustrate to the industry how illegal trade is impacting some of the species most sought after by birdwatchers around the world,” Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said in the statement. “We’re connecting with an audience that not only values these birds, but also an industry that makes it economically important to conserve them in the wild.”


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