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The fate of the ‘singer’ of the forest is getting bleaker

The singing bird competition with the prize of one car and the Jambi governor’s trophy has just ended. One of the prestigious categories of this competition is the song magpie ( Copsychus malabaricus ). The stone magpie, which also has the name forest kucica, is known as a bird with a melodious voice. The ‘singer’ is also increasingly in demand by bird lovers.

Irvan, deputy chairman of the NZR Jambi branch, the community that organizes the songbird contest, said that for the last 10 years, the magpies that have taken part in the contest have been birds from captivity.

“We require the stone magpie to take part in a captive bird contest. This is evidenced by the identity ring on the bird’s leg,” he said.

Irvan also said that it is very difficult to find magpie in nature. Even if there is a very high price.

If you buy a bird from a breeder, the price is relatively affordable.

Nizar, a magpie breeder in Jambi City, is also a member of the Archipelago Bird Breeders Association (APBN), selling a month-old captive bird for IDR 1.5 million. He started the breeding business since one and a half years ago.

The brood stone magpie from the Bukit Tigapuluh area, Tebo Regency, Jambi. He also has a collection of stone magpies from Nias and Aceh. “Because there are many breeds of stone magpie in the market, the price is already cheap,” he said.

In June 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) issued Ministerial Regulation No. 20/2018 regarding protected animal and plant species. This regulation includes the stone magpie on the list of protected animals. Only a few months later, revisions to the regulations appeared through Ministerial Regulation No. 19/2018.

In this new regulation the stone magpie is removed from the list of protected animals. The reason for repealing this rule is simply because there are many captives, kept for the sake of hobbies and as a form of community economic support.

Paul Jepson, a researcher from the University of Oxford in England, in a research study, said that songbird contests became popular in Indonesia in the 1970s. The first chirping bird competition was held by a group of elite bird enthusiasts in Jakarta in exchange for tempting prizes.

Since the singing bird competition has been rampant, the demand for various types of birds, including the stone magpie, has increased. This condition causes the removal of birds from their habitat to become massive, making it difficult to find these birds living naturally in nature.

In 2021, the Jambi BKSDA will add the stone magpie population to the wild. About 20 stone magpies released into nature were captive bred from 20 breeders assisted by the Jambi BKSDA.

Rahmad Saleh, Head of the Jambi BKSDA at that time claimed that the addition of the stone magpie in the wild was the first captive breeding in Indonesia.

Before releasing the stone magpie, it goes through a habituation period of 14 days, this is the animal’s adjustment period to its new habitat. About 20 of these stone magpies were placed in habituation cages in TNKS.

Now, the Jambi BKSDA has noted that 24 stone magpie breeders have applied for permits, but 14 breeders have not yet received a breeding permit from the Jambi BKSDA.

Lukman, a stone magpie breeder from Tanjung Jabung Timur who has received a breeding permit since 2019, said that captive magpie breeders are sold at a higher price than before obtaining permission from the Jambi BKSDA.

“To my knowledge there are about 300 bird breeders throughout Jambi and most of them do not have a captive permit.” Luqman said.

Teguh, the Jambi BKSDA who is in charge of fostering the breeders, said that forests in conservation areas such as the Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS) and Berbak – Sembilang National Park are the target of songbird hunters. Because only in that area still have stone magpie and other types of songbirds.

Illegal imported birds

The stone magpie and various other songbirds that are circulating in the market are not only domestically bred, some are illegally imported.

“Less than 20% circulating in the market are captive-bred songbirds,” said Marison Guciano, Director of the Indonesian Flying Foundation.

Currently, he said, there are tens of thousands of stone magpies illegally entering from Malaysia.

In one trip they can send 3,000 songbirds from Malaysia to Indonesia. “The first destination for these birds from Malaysia is Batam and the Meranti Islands which are the Riau region.” These birds are then sent to Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Solo.

Cities in Sumatra are also marketing areas for these imported birds. “The price is also below the local rock magpie, ranging from IDR 500,000-IDR 700,000 per head.”

The trade of songbirds from Malaysia has started to flourish in the last 5 years.

“When there was no cooperation between the Quarantine Center and the Director General of KSDAE, these birds could even enter several cities in the Java region via the airport,” said Marison.

This condition is very easy to do because to transport these birds only need a permit from the Quarantine Center and lots of game officials.

Only in 2020, there will be cooperation between the Quarantine Center and the Director General of KSDAE which requires that animals transported by airplane must have a SATS-DN (Domestic Wild Plants and Animals Transport Certificate).

According to Marison, bird shipments by land and sea are still rife.

The Indonesia Flying Foundation estimates that currently 70% of songbirds, including the stone magpie in bird markets in Indonesia, are from Malaysia. During 2022, they recorded 64,714 live wild animals confiscated from illegal trading practices. Approximately 98.5% of these animals were birds and only 2.3% of the confiscated birds were not songbirds.

Lampung is the gateway for distribution of illegal animals from Sumatra to Java via land and sea routes. Currently, surveillance at the port is being stepped up, but the perpetrators of the illegal animal trade are not missing out. They, he said, are moving transportation routes to other areas.

“Kasturi Port in Tembilahan, Riau region which is directly adjacent to Jambi is a new distribution route for illegal animals to Java Island.”

Small chirping birds such as pleci spectacles, colibri and ciblek from various regions in Sumatra are also sent through this port.

The Flying Indonesia Foundation has also identified several illegal songbird trade actors who have a captive permit from the BKSDA. Recently, the port authority in Lampung succeeded in thwarting efforts to ship birds from Sumatra to Java. From the investigation by the Flying Indonesia Foundation, it was found that the owners of these birds were in fact Jambi residents who had permits for breeding from the BKSDA.

“Commitment and supervision from the government is very necessary so that the remaining songbird populations in nature do not experience extinction.”

Teguh Sriyanto, Head of Administrative Sub-Division for the Jambi BKSDA, said that illegal stone magpies from abroad are rife and conveyed by breeders.

“Our fostered breeders complain that there are many stone magpies from abroad which causes the price of captive breeding products to become cheap,” he said.

They continue to monitor these birds from abroad, but so far BKSDA officers have not found them directly in the field.

He stated that the BKSDA had difficulty confirming the stone magpie in Jambi was not a bird from Indonesia because it physically looked the same. “A DNA test is needed to confirm the origin of the stone magpie,” said Teguh.

The Jambi BKSDA found a magpie from abroad during the restocking process in 2021. The magpie, which is a candidate for release, is subject to DNA testing to determine the origin of the bird.

From this DNA test, he said, four birds from Vietnam and the Philippines failed to escape into nature.

Neni Fitriyani, a veterinarian at the Jambi Class I Agricultural Quarantine Center, said that sending magpies must be accompanied by a certificate of animal health from the Animal Husbandry Service as well as tickets for the passenger plane carrying the bird.

SATS-DN, he said, if more than two birds were sent or entered Jambi. “Because the stone magpie is included in the CITES Appendix list, it must be completed with the SATS-DN.” he said.

But so far, he said, the BKSDA had never sent or received birds in large numbers. “The sending of stone magpies who take care of permits for us is a maximum of two, usually hand carry (carrying goods)” said Neni.

At the Summit on Biodiversity (Conference of Parties CITES 19 (CoP 19 CITES) last November in Panama it was agreed that the status of the stone magpie and cucakrawa from Appendix II was upgraded to Appendix I. This means that these two types of songbirds are no longer allowed to be traded across countries. It will take a year for the status upgrade initiated by the proposals by Malaysia and Singapore.

TRAFFIC, a non-profit organization monitoring animal trade, noted that from 2008 to 2018, 15,480 stone magpies were confiscated from the illegal songbird trade. Of that amount, 2/3 of the international illegal bird trade. Indonesia occupied the top spot with 7,373 birds, followed by Malaysia and Thailand.

The rise in the bird trade has led to pressure to raise the CITES status of the stone magpie and cucakrawa to Appendix I.

Achmad Ridha, an Indonesian bird researcher, said that the rock magpie population in nature is already rare. Hunting and forest conversion are the main reasons for the scarcity of this lowland forest bird.

“Most of the remaining forest on the island of Java is in conservation areas such as national parks,” said Achmad.

If the population of rock magpie and other types of songbirds became extinct in nature, he said, of course it would have a negative impact on the environment.

“These songbirds, he said, are generally insect predators. If they become extinct in nature, insect populations can get out of control so they risk becoming pests for agriculture.”

Apart from controlling insect populations, he said, birds also play an important role as plant seed dispersers so they can help regenerate forests.

Until now, the government—KLHK—has not included the stone magpie on the list of protected animals. In his opinion, increasing the conservation status of the stone magpie is not yet urgent because it is not a guarantee that this bird will not become extinct.

“If captive breeding is encouraged so that the number of stone magpie increases, so that it is able to meet demand and can increase the population in nature so that this bird will remain sustainable.”

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