October 28, 2017

Thieves of Songbirds are now Jailbirds

Thieves of Songbirds are now Jailbirds

Oriental magpie-robins are popular with songbird enthusiasts. Photo Credit: YouTube

For many Indonesians, songbirds aren’t just pretty little things that gladden the heart with their joyful chirps. They are invaluable parts of their culture and very identity. Many of these hobbyists will go to great lengths to acquire prized birds. Those lengths include poaching rare songbirds relentlessly from forests. And not only in Indonesia but Malaysia too.

Now four of those Indonesian bird thieves are in jailbirds in Sarawak after they were sentenced to a year in prison each and a fine of RM1,000 for illegally possessing 755 oriental magpie-robins.

Songbirds are big business. Photo Credit: Pixabay

The four men came a cropper after they were discovered trying to escape through an illegal border crossing between Malaysia and Indonesia on September 15. Malaysian army soldiers found the men had 56 cages with hundreds of wild oriental magpie-robins in their possession. The birds are protected by law in Malaysia under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

The oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis), also known as the Asian magpie-robin and dhyal in India, is a passerine with distinctive black-and-white pattering. They frequently inhabit wetlands throughout their range in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. During their courtship rituals males perch themselves on a branch and burst into flamboyantly elaborate songs. The birds are prized by songbird lovers around the world.

In Indonesia, the country’s songbird hobbyists, many of whom are willing to fork out fortunes for rare birds, have driven several species of songbird nearly extinct in the wild. According to a recent survey by Planet Indonesia, as many as 25,000 songbirds are on sale at markets on any given market day just in the Kalimantan area of Borneo. The anti-poaching watchdog TRAFFIC has found that at least 19 species of Indonesian songbirds have become endangered. Some birds have become so rare that only a few specimens of them are known to survive in the wild.

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