- On Saturday, the Indonesian president released 190 birds into the wild in the name of preserving nature.
- Conservationists are glad to see the president show an interest in protecting wildlife, but they would have preferred he didn’t buy the birds at the notorious Pramuka wildlife market.
- Such markets need to be shut down, say conservationists who express alarm at the country’s dwindling songbird populations.
On Sunday, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo released 190 birds into the wild outside the Presidential Palace in Bogor, a suburb of Jakarta. “We have to protect the ecosystem,” the Indonesian president wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
He did it in the name of preserving nature in urban areas, but some conservationists responded with one part dismay. The birds had been purchased at Pramuka, a notorious wildlife market in East Jakarta.
“Our President means well in buying birds and releasing them, but all he is doing is supporting criminals who illegally sell wildlife at this terrible market,” said Gunung Gea, director of Scorpion, a wildlife trade monitoring group. “Our president should be closing down the market, not shopping in it.”
Hari ini saya lepas 190 ekor burung di Kebun Raya Bogor. Kita jaga terus ekosistem -Jkw pic.twitter.com/w4zDBzDNw3— Joko Widodo (@jokowi) January 3, 2016
No Asian country has more threatened bird species than Indonesia, according to TRAFFIC, another wildlife trade monitoring group, which conducted a comprehensive survey of Pramuka earlier this year. Posing as potential buyers, researchers counted 87 shops, 16,160 birds and 180 species in the market. The capture or trade of wild birds is generally banned in Indonesia, and 98 percent of the birds on display at Pramuka were said to be “harvested outside of the national harvest quota system or in direct violation of laws protecting select species.”
Bird-keeping is an ancient tradition in Indonesia, especially among the Javanese, the country’s largest ethnic group. But Indonesia is depleting its songbird populations so fast it has begun to import from the rest of Southeast Asia.
“It’s very encouraging to see the president of Indonesia taking note of this bird trade crisis and doing something about it,” Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia director, told Mongabay, noting that Jokowi had called protecting songbirds a conservation priority.
“Ideally, what we’re pushing for is much better protection of birds in Indonesia, which means shutting down these illegal markets, not supporting the traders in these markets that are involved in the illegal trade.”
The markets, Shepherd added, “are basically the hubs for all of the trade, they’re facilitating all of it.”
Releasing captive birds carries its own risks, said Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC’s communications coordinator.
“The world is littered with species released into their non-native habitat that have caused considerable harm to the species naturally found there, while there’s also the danger of potentially introducing diseases and other risks,” he explained, speaking generally on the matter. “Rather, any re-introduction into the wild should be carried out in line with IUCN guidelines on such matters. This includes precautions such as a quarantine period, releasing birds back into their native areas from where they originated etc.”