Sumatra’s forests often find themselves at the focus of a conservation nightmare as their lush biodiversity is swept aside by palm oil plantations. Virtually everyone is aware of the plight of orangutans at the hand of this destructive practice but we often forget but this regions biodiversity is under attack from numerous threats including the illegal pet trade.
Conservationists have long made the assumption that the illegal trade in exotic birds is causing a decline in the wild bird populations which inhabit Sumatra’s forests. There has however been little study into the actual impact of the trade. A new study published in Conservation Biology has aimed to prove these assumptions.
A team led by Dr. Bert Harris, the Rainforest Trust’s director of biodiversity conservation, interviewed 49 trappers in the Tanah Karo region of North Sumatra. They found that the average trapper doesn’t have to travel more than 5 kilometres from a road. A distance within which 49.7% of the tropical island’s remaining forests were said to lie.
The interviews also revealed that the trappers also frequent national parks and rarely encounter rangers, revealing a lack of protection for wildlife.
Perhaps however the most worrying finding was that the trappers were putting in more effort than previously but reaping less reward; something indicative of falling populations. Populations of the white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus) and the Sumatran laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor) appear to have fallen dramatically as trappers struggle to catch them.
This is further evidenced by studying the Way Canguk area of South Sumatra and Medan, the provincial capital of North Sumatra and a major wildlife trafficking hub. Researchers found that as market prices for some species have risen, the populations have dropped. This relationship suggests the demand for particular species is driving down their populations.
Unfortunately impacts of the pet trade are not as visible and obvious as habitat loss with which Sumatra is so familiar. Studies like this will go further in helping scientists to associate the negative impacts of the pet trade and prepare suitable protections.
Featured Image of a Sumatran Laughing Thrush by Pirmin Nietlisbach
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