Zoo Berlin is helping to protect the songbirds of Southeast Asia.
The bird kingdom contains some 4,000 species of songbird, including the Java sparrow, the hill myna, and the Bali myna. Scientists believe that songbirds originated in Australia and slowly spread to Southeast Asia. Today, they are at home all over the world. An extremely rich variety of songbirds can be found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia. The archipelago is home to more than 1,500 bird species – roughly a third of which are found nowhere else in the world. However, for a number of years, Indonesia’s songbird population has been in sharp decline.
The rapid disappearance of these songbirds is tied to a cultural tradition in the region. Aviaries have always been popular in Indonesia, and roughly one in five households has a bird as a pet. Fierce competition also exists among songbird keepers, as owning the most talented bird with the most beautiful song not only confers higher social status, it also has a financial incentive. The tradition of songbird competitions still enjoys widespread popularity, and has now grown into a genuine sporting event with a following comparable to that of football in Europe. That means there is real money to be made from the sale of songbirds.
Songbirds hatched in the wild are believed to possess more beautiful songs than their relatives bred in captivity. What’s more, it is often easier to catch birds in the wild than it is to breed them, as many captured birds die shortly after being shut in a cage. Indonesian songbirds are also hunted for export, consumption, and medicinal use. Demand for the birds is therefore high, negatively affecting hundreds of species and millions of individual birds every year.
Bringing life back to the forests
Zoo Berlin and other German zoos are working with animal park Taman Safari Indonesia to build a local breeding and conservation station in East Java. The aim of the facility is to actively breed threatened songbird species and eventually release them into their original habitat. The Zoo is also participating in EAZA’s Silent Forest campaign, which works to build global awareness of the serious threat facing the world’s songbirds. Zoo Berlin will continue to work with many other zoos to provide these projects with the financial support, human resources, and additional expertise they require for their important efforts to save the songbirds of Southeast Asia from extinction.