1 Jul 2021

4 ways we’re fighting the illegal bird trade thanks to your support

The illegal bird trade is driving Asia’s birds to extinction: but with your help, we can turn things around. Here are just a few areas where the donations of BirdLife supporters have made a real impact over the past year.

The Helmeted Hornbill is now Critically Endangered due to hunting © Shutterstock
The Helmeted Hornbill is now Critically Endangered due to hunting © Shutterstock
By Sarah Proud


Usually we enjoy a good 'before and after' photo, but not in the case of the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil, pictured above. Hunted for their solid head “casques”, which are turned into decorative ornaments, this Critically Endangered species is at breaking point.

Thankfully, with your support, hope springs eternal. Last year, boosted by funding from our appeal, we were able to increase action straight away. Your donations helped the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS, BirdLife in Malaysia) to launch expeditions to Bukit Tiban, Bungo Range and Usun Apau forests in Malaysian Borneo last year, where several of the eight species of hornbills found in Sarawak were detected.

Researchers interviewed locals to understand the situation and their perceptions towards hornbills in the area. For example, places like Bukit Tiban are suffering increasing encroachment by oil palm plantations, whereas places like Bungo Range continue to face hunting pressure.

We were also able to help MNS set out to identify the most important hornbill landscapes in Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. These are the last strongholds that must be protected if we are able to see a future for these extraordinary birds.


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A White Cockatoo spotted in Halmahera, Indonesia © Hanom Bashari / Burung Indonesia

Our Partner Burung Indonesia successfully completed field surveys of the White Cockatoo Cacatua alba (Endangered) in North Maluku province. While hunting of wild White Cockatoos has slowed down in villages where we work, such as Kosa and Gandasuli, unfortunately hunting remains a threat in some satellite islands of North Maluku. One such location is Bacan, where we fear a collapse of White Cockatoo populations.

Our interventions include assessing the extent of poaching and empowering communities to develop alternative sustainable livelihoods. We are also helping local people to reforest degraded river banks and improve watershed management to secure the community's water supply.



Javan Pied Starlings at a local bird market © Yogyakarta Ferry Hasudungan / Burung Indonesia

In the past months, we have started working with Burung Indonesia to map out the communities and stakeholders most dependent on songbird trade across key Javanese cities. This is vital to advancing the conservation of songbirds in Indonesia.

In a new paper, published in the journal Ardea by BirdLife and our collaborators in March 2021, we show how the Javan Pied Starling Gracupica jalla – a species that used to be one of the commonest birds in Java's grasslands and agricultural fields – has completely disappeared. It is Critically Endangered, and may well prove to be Extinct in the Wild, while more than a million of them live in captivity in peoples' homes as pet caged birds.   


Global research

Surveys were carried out on foot within the thick Malaysian forest © MNS Kuching Branch

While we know about the critical status of some Asian species threatened by trade, and are taking action on this as detailed above, we are also well aware that trade in wild birds is growing rapidly in many other countries, affecting groups of species with multiple uses and drivers. However, trends and impacts of bird trade in many parts of the world remain unknown.

Our project, supported by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, therefore aims to undertake, publish and promote the conclusions of a global wild bird trade overview. The publication will cover all kinds of bird trade, be it international or domestic, legal or illegal, and use the results to guide conservation policy and practice. The project is led by BirdLife, working in partnership with TRAFFIC, the IUCN, UNEP-WCMC, and the University of Cambridge. In addition, the Cambridge Infectious Diseases interdisciplinary research centre will provide expertise on the subject of transmission risks of zoonotic diseases (those that have jumped from a non-human animal to humans) through trade.

The first phase of the data collection and analysis is focusing on reviewing a large number of published papers and reports on bird trade, compiling data in preparation for analysis. Sources of additional information, such as databases, have also been identified and either obtained or requested in the case of potentially sensitive information, such as data on illegal activity. We are also in contact with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to discuss engagement of national authorities in the study. We expect to have some initial findings in mid-2021, and the study will continue until March 2022.


A huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported our appeal to stop the illegal bird trade. We have made really positive progress, but there is a huge amount of work to still be done, and we couldn't do it without you.


If you would like to help us continue this important work, you can donate to our appeal here.