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Trade and conservation efforts involving the Sumatran Laughingthrush in Indonesia

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  • Monitor Conservation Research Society

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In 2018, the Indonesian Government provided legal protection for the Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor. This species, endemic to the island of Sumatra, is now restricted to a few submontane and montane forests on the north and south of the island. Heavily trapped for the Indonesian songbird trade, populations are in serious decline. Calls to provide full protection for this species were made close to 15 years ago, and since that time, the Sumatran Laughingthrush has become very rare and categorised as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While ex-situ conservation breeding programmes may help ensure this species does not go extinct, its continued survival in the wild will depend very much on effective law enforcement in Indonesia.
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24 © University of Andalas / Copenhagen Zoo

The Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor
is endemic to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.
It is only known from a small number of sites
scattered on the north and south of the island
in submontane and montane forests, including
secondary forests, from 750-2000m (van Marle
and Voous, 1988; Collar, 2006; Eaton et al., 2016;
Collar et al., 2019). Existing populations are now
considered small and severely declining (Harris et
al., 2015). This decline is primarily attributed to
the songbird trade in Indonesia, which is fuelling
the indiscriminate and persistent poaching of this
species and driving it ever closer to extinction. Just
as persistent however, have been eorts to raise
awareness on this threat and its drastic impacts
on remaining wild populations. This paper seeks
to provide a documentation and time-line of
events surrounding conservation eorts and trade

Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor in Indonesia
and Lalita Gomez
Monitor Conservaon Research Society (Monitor), Box 200, Big Lake Ranch, B.C., Canada, V0L 1G0
Corresponding author: Chris R. Shepherd, Email: chris.shepherd@mcrsociety.org

In 2018, the Indonesian Government provided legal protecon for the Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor. This
species, endemic to the island of Sumatra, is now restricted to a few submontane and montane forests on the north and
south of the island. Heavily trapped for the Indonesian songbird trade, populaons are in serious decline. Calls to provide
full protecon for this species were made close to 15 years ago, and since that me, the Sumatran Laughingthrush has
become very rare and categorised as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While ex-situ conservaon
breeding programmes may help ensure this species does not go exnct, its connued survival in the wild will depend very
much on eecve law enforcement in Indonesia.

Pada 2018, Pemerintah Indonesia memberikan perlindungan resmi untuk burung poksay Sumatra, Garrulax bicolor. Burung
yang merupakan spesies endemik dari Pulau Sumatra ini sekarang persebarannya terbatas pada sejumlah hutan submontana
dan montana di bagian utara dan selatan Pulau. Mereka ditangkap secara besar-besaran untuk kepenngan perdagangan
burung berkicau sehingga populasinya menurun tajam. Permintaan untuk memberikan perlindungan secara penuh bagi
spesies ini diajukan sekitar 15 tahun yang lalu. Sejak saat itu, poksay Sumatra telah menjadi sangat jarang di alam dan
dikategorikan sebagai genng pada Daar merah IUCN bagi spesies yang terancam. Meskipun program-program konservasi
untuk mengembangbiakkan spesies ini secara ex situ bisa membantu memaskan agar mereka dak punah, kelangsungan
hidup poksay Sumatra di alam liar secara berkelanjutan akan sangat bergantung pada penegakan hukum yang efekf di
Indonesia.
Keywords: Laughingtrush, trade, Sumatra, Indonesia
Submied 15th December, 2018. Accepted 25th December,
2018
25
2018 Journal of Indonesian Natural History Vol 6 No 2
monitoring activities involving the Sumatran
Laughingthrush in Indonesia from 1993-2018
and further insight on what may be required to
help ensure wild populations recover from over-
exploitation.
Trade and Demand
The demand for songbirds in Indonesia is massive
and is pushing an increasing number of species
towards extinction (Nash, 1993; Shepherd, 2004;
Owen et al., 2014; Chng et al., 2015; Eaton et al.,
2015; Lee et al., 2016). Among these species is
the Sumatran Laughingthrush. This species is
particularly vulnerable to trade as it is an island
endemic, occurring in very few locations. It was
formerly considered a subspecies of the White-
crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
(G. l. bicolor endemic to Sumatra); a more
common and widespread species but was elevated
to a full species in 2006 (Collar, 2006). While the
change in status is a relatively recent development,
bird dealers in Sumatra have always regarded the
Sumatran Laughingthrush as a distinct species,
calling it Poksai Lokal, while referring to the
White-crested Laughingthrush as Poksai Hong
Kong (Shepherd, 2007). In Jakarta, the Sumatran
Laughingthrush is known as Poksai Medan or
Poksai Jambul Medan (Basuni and Setiyani, 1989;
Shepherd pers. obs).
Once described as common (van Marle and Voous,
1988), the Sumatran Laughingthrush has suered a
very rapid and ongoing population decline largely
due to trapping for the songbird trade (Eaton et
al., 2015; BirdLife International, 2016). There are
no records of commercial breeding of the species,
and all individuals in trade are considered to be
wild-caught. This species is now considered rare,
localised and locally extinct throughout its range
(Shepherd, 2007; Shepherd, 2010; Shepherd, 2013;
Eaton et al., 2015; BirdLife International, 2016;
Eaton et al., 2016; Harris et al., 2017; Bušina et al.,
2018). This is further corroborated by bird dealers
who claim the species is becoming more dicult to
obtain and as such market prices have soared over
the years, ranging from US$ 8-15 in 2007 to US$
90 in 2014 (Chng et al., 2014; Harris et al., 2015;
Shepherd et al., 2016).
The Sumatran Laughingthrush has frequently been
encountered in trade during market surveys in Java
and Sumatra (Basuni and Setiyani, 1989; Nash,
1993; Shepherd, 2007; Shepherd, 2010; Shepherd,
2013; Eaton et al., 2015; Eaton et al., 2016; Bušina
et al., 2018) and in online trade surveys (Iqbal,
2015). However, earlier records are incomplete,
as the species was previously considered a
subspecies of the White-crested Laughingthrush
and no structural distinction was made between the
two during survey eorts (Shepherd et al., 2004;
Shepherd, 2007). White-crested Laughingthrushes
were frequently observed in trade; Nash reported
the species to be in the top 20 most widely traded
non-CITES bird species in his studies in Indonesia
between 1991 and 1993. During that study, White-
crested Laughingthrushes were observed in more
than 75% of the 37 surveyed shops, totalling
approximately 5,400 individuals (Nash, 1993). Nash
also reported observing approximately 700 birds of
the race “bicolor” in seven shops during the same
period (Nash, 1993). During 61 surveys carried
out between 1997 and 2001 in the bird markets
of Medan, 3,392 White-crested Laughingthrushes
were counted and included a large but unquantied
number of Sumatran Laughingthrushes (Shepherd
et al, 2004; Shepherd 2006).
In addition to evidence of trade in Sumatran
Laughingthrushes from market surveys carried out
in the 1990s, Nash also reported on Government-set
quotas for the local capture and trade of supposedly
White-crested Laughingthrush (Table 1). These
birds were, of course, Sumatran Laughingthrushes.
Year Quota
1987 100
1988 100
1989 200
1990 100
1991 600
1992 0
1993 0
Table 1. According to Nash, the
Indonesian Government extended
quotas for harvesng wild White-
crested Laughingtrushes. This
contributed signicantly to the
populaon decline (Nash, 1993).
Trade and conservaon of Sumatran laughingtrush
26 © University of Andalas / Copenhagen Zoo
Some authors have stated that, when the imports of
the White-crested Laughingthrush to Indonesia was
banned in 2005, due to the risk of avian inuenza,
the Sumatran Laughingthrush was targeted as its
substitute (Bušina et al., 2018). However, since
both species have concurrently been traded since
at least the 1980s, there is little to suggest that the
Sumatran Laughingthrush is merely a replacement
for the White-crested Laughingthrush. To the
contrary, Sumatran Laughingthrushes have likely
become more common in trade following the import
restrictions placed on White-crested Laughingthrush.
While most of the trade in the Sumatran
Laughingthrush supplies local demand, there
are anecdotal reports of the species being kept
outside of Indonesia. According to Owen (2008),
there was at least one importation of Sumatran
Laughingthrushes into Europe around the year 2000,
and by 2006, the species was known to have been
in two zoological collections and in the possession
of at least one private aviculturist (Owen, 2008). In
March 2013, two Sumatran Laughingthrushes were
observed in a zoo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and
although there appear to be no export records of
the species to Malaysia, this observation represents
the rst documented evidence of it being displayed
in a South-east Asian country outside of Indonesia
(Shepherd, 2013). Anecdotal information also
suggests the species is currently, and increasingly,
oered for sale online in Europe via private dealers.
Ex-situ conservation
The rst Sumatran Laughingthrush ever reared in
captivity was hatched in Waddesdon Manor Aviary,
Figure 1. Time-line on conservaon eorts and legal status involving the Sumatran Laughingthrush (SL) in Indonesia (ID) and
resulng publicaons
Shepherd and Gomez
27
2018 Journal of Indonesian Natural History Vol 6 No 2
Buckinghamshire, UK, July 2005 (Owen, 2008).
Since then, conservation breeding programmes of
Sumatran Laughingthrush, sometimes referred to
as assurance colonies, have been in development in
Indonesia at the Cikananga Integrated Conservation
Society Centre, in European Association of Zoos
and Aquaria (EAZA) institutions and in the hands
of a few private breeders, with successful breeding
taking place (Owen, 2008; Collar et al., 2012). Best
practice guidelines for the breeding of this species
were developed and published by the Chester Zoo,
North of England Zoological Society, in 2017 (Owen,
2017).
In 2016, the Asian Songbird Trade Working Group
launched the “Conservation strategy for Southeast
Asian songbirds in trade (Recommendations from the
rst Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit 2015
held in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore, 27–29 September
2015)” (Lee et al., 2016). This strategy, which lists
species of high priority in urgent need of conservation
action, includes the Sumatran Laughingthrush.
Among the actions outlined for the species is the
establishment of total legal protection in Indonesia.
Subsequently, in 2017, the IUCN Asian Songbird
Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) was established
to prevent the imminent extinction of songbirds
threatened by unsustainable trapping and trade. The
ASTSG seeks to address the impact of the songbird
trade and to identify solutions, reverse songbird
population declines and improve the conservation
status of all species involved. The Sumatran
Laughingthrush is one of the priority species for
conservation attention under the auspices of the
ASTSG.
In response to the crisis facing Southeast Asian
songbirds, EAZA launched the “Silent Forest”
campaign in 2017, which not only supports
conservation breeding programmes but also
campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of
Asian songbird species, including the Sumatran
Laughingthrush.
Call for help
Considering the impact of trade on the species,
conservationists have for years persistently
recommended the Indonesian Government to
provide full legal protection for the Sumatran
Laughingthrush under the Act of the Republic of
Indonesia No. 5 of 1990 concerning Conservation
of Living Resources and their Ecosystems (Undang-
undang Republik Indonesia No. 5 Tahun 1990
tentang Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Hayati dan
Ekosistemnya) (Shepherd, 2007; Shepherd, 2013;
Harris et al 2015; Lee et al., 2016; Shepherd et al.,
2016; Busina et al., 2018), which would prohibit
capture and trade of wild-caught individuals. The
Sumatran Laughingthrush was aorded some level
of legal protection under the Regulation of the
Minister of Forestry Number 447/Kpts-II/2003,
which regulates the collection and trade of all of
Indonesia’s unprotected species through a quota
system. And since there has been no established
harvest quota for the Sumatran Laughingthrush,
at least not since its elevation to species level,
capture or trade of wild individuals of the species is
eectively illegal. Its continued presence in markets
may be explained by the fact that no punishments
for transgressions are stated under the law regarding
trade of non-protected species, which complicates
enforcement and prosecution eorts.
In July 2018, the Indonesian government launched
a revised list of protected species under Government
Regulation No. 7, 1999 Concerning the preservation
of ora and fauna; a list which until 2018 had
not been updated since it was rst gazetted. On a
positive note, this new list includes the Sumatran
Laughingthrush as a protected species. This means
that the trade and harvest of wild-caught individuals
is strictly prohibited unless it involves permitted
second generation captive-bred individuals.
Violation of the law stipulates a ve-year prison
sentence and a ne of IDR100million (US$7000).

The government of Indonesia is applauded for its
inclusion of the Sumatran Laughingthrush in the list
of protected species, which is a critical step towards
conservation of the species. In line with this, law
enforcement capacity should be enhanced to raise
awareness of the protected status of the species
Trade and conservaon of Sumatran laughingtrush
28 © University of Andalas / Copenhagen Zoo
and to ensure its implementation so that the illegal
capture and trade of the Sumatran Laughingthrush
ceases. While the new law came into force in
July 2018, Sumatran Laughingthrushes were still
observed in bird markets across Java in October
2018. Similarly, behaviour change among consumers,
local communities and hunters/trappers involved
in the poaching of songbirds - like the Sumatran
Laughingthrush - should be considered and should be
implemented through awareness raising campaigns
and consumer education. Conservation organisations
and research institutions should continue monitoring
and reporting trade in the species to aid eorts to
assess levels of illegal trade as well as evaluate
enforcement eort and eectiveness of conservation
actions in protecting the species.
Unfortunately, anecdotal information suggests
there is an increasing international trade in Sumatran
Laughingthrushes, but to date little solid evidence
exists. Consequently, further investigation into
the international trade in this species should be
undertaken as a matter of priority. As the Sumatran
Laughingthrush is endemic to Indonesia and is not
permitted for export, listing the species in Appendix
III of CITES should be considered as this would
assist the Indonesian authorities in preventing illegal
international trade.
While ex-situ conservation breeding programmes
may help prevent the species from going extinct, its
continued survival in the wild will depend critically
on Indonesia’s law enforcement. Inevitably, two
important steps must be taken to keep the species
from going extinct in the wild. Enforcing the law that
protects the species, combined with sti penalties
that will eectively deter illegal capture and trade.
Furthermore, increased awareness of the species’ dire
conservation status and the laws prohibiting capture
and trade will reduce the demand in Indonesia.

We thank Boyd T. C. Leupen for helpful comments
on an earlier draft of this paper. We also thank
Fondation Segré for their generous support of
Monitor’s work on the Asian songbird trade.

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Trade and conservaon of Sumatran laughingtrush
... Much of the research into the Indonesian bird trade has focused on specific taxa, e.g. straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) (Bergin et al, 2017), black-winged myna (Acridotheres melanopterus) (Nijman et al, 2018), Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi) (Jepson, 2016) and Sumatran laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor) (Bušina, Pasaribu, & Kouba, 2018;Shepherd, 2007;Shepherd & Gomez, 2018). Those studies focusing on a wide range, or all, of species in trade, have often been often restricted to major cities such as Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, situated on the island of Java, or Medan, the capital of the province of North Sumatra (Bušina et al, 2018;Chng et al, 2015;Harris et al, 2015;Nash, 1992;Shepherd, 2006). ...
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... However, once a wild-caught bird has illegally entered the EU, it can freely and legally be traded within the Union. Further, international trade in Sumatran Laughingthrushes of likely illegal origin occurs beyond the EU, with documented destinations including Malaysia (Shepherd and Gomez 2018), the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and the Russian Federation (ZIMS database, August 2020). It is currently unclear which other destination countries may exist. ...
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The Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor) is an island endemic bird species from Indonesia. Its populations have rapidly decreased over the last decades and where the species was once widespread, only fragmented populations now remain. The species is protected on a national level and any capture or trade of wild individuals is strictly prohibited. Yet, illegal domestic trade continues to threaten the survival of this species. Less is known about the international trade in this species. Here, we investigate Sumatran Laughingthrush trade in the European Union (EU). We opportunistically observed 19 different websites from 2018 to 2020 and visited the Zwolle Bird Market in the Netherlands on four occasions in the same period. We found a minimum of 45 Sumatran Laughingthrushes for sale or in the possession of at least 20 dealers and/or hobbyists in Europe. At least some of these birds in private collections are likely to be, or have originated from, illegally imported wild individuals. In addition to the conservation implications of the trade in wild individuals, a potential increase in captive bred individuals on the international market in the future could hinder effective law enforcement, due to the difficulties of distinguishing between wild-caught and captive bred individuals. It is therefore essential to counter commercial captive breeding and trade while it is still in its infancy. We recommend that the EU lists this species in Annex A of the EU wildlife trade regulations and urge the Government of Indonesia to list the Sumatran Laughingthrush in CITES Appendix III, to assist in preventing international trade in illegally-sourced Sumatran Laughingthrushes globally.
... However, once a wild-caught bird has illegally entered the EU, it can freely and legally be traded within the Union. Further, international trade in Sumatran Laughingthrushes of likely illegal origin occurs beyond the EU, with documented destinations including Malaysia (Shepherd and Gomez 2018), the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and the Russian Federation (ZIMS database, August 2020). It is currently unclear which other destination countries may exist. ...
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The Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor) is an island endemic bird species from Indonesia. Its populations have rapidly decreased over the last decades and where the species was once widespread, only fragmented populations now remain. The species is protected on a national level and any capture or trade of wild individuals is strictly prohibited. Yet, illegal domestic trade continues to threaten the survival of this species. Less is known about the international trade in this species. Here, we investigate Sumatran Laughingthrush trade in the European Union (EU). We opportunistically observed 19 different websites from 2018 to 2020 and visited the Zwolle Bird Market in the Netherlands on four occasions in the same period. We found a minimum of 45 Sumatran Laughingthrushes for sale or in the possession of at least 20 dealers and/or hobbyists in Europe. At least some of these birds in private collections are likely to be, or have originated from, illegally imported wild individuals. In addition to the conservation implications of the trade in wild individuals, a potential increase in captive bred individuals on the international market in the future could hinder effective law enforcement, due to the difficulties of distinguishing between wild-caught and captive bred individuals. It is therefore essential to counter commercial captive breeding and trade while it is still in its infancy. We recommend that the EU lists this species in Annex A of the EU wildlife trade regulations and urge the Government of Indonesia to list the Sumatran Laughingthrush in CITES Appendix III, to assist in preventing international trade in illegally-sourced Sumatran Laughingthrushes globally.
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Many Indonesian birds are severely threatened or already at the brink of extinction due to the flourishing illicit bird trade. One such species is the Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor, endemic to Sumatra. From March 2015 to February 2016 we assessed the extent of trade of Sumatran Laughingthrushes by recording monthly turnovers from the six most prominent bird vendors in Medan’s Jalan Bintang market. In total, 2610 wild-caught individuals were traded, despite a considerable decline in market supply over the year. Total market mortality reached 16%. Mortality varied significantly during the year but was not dependent on the number of traded individuals each month. Monitoring revealed that the most frequently harvested localities were located in Aceh, North and West Sumatra and Riau province. Since the current estimate of the maximum population size of the species in the wild is 10,000 mature individuals, the level of trade is clearly unsustainable, and if not stopped, could lead to its extinction in near future.
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In ad hoc survey inventories of eight major bird markets in Java in 2014 and 2015, 615 individuals from nine species of the Garrulax genus were found for sale. The most numerous species was Sunda Laughingthrush Garrulax palliatus (215 individuals), followed by Chinese Hwamei G. canorus and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush G. mitratus . Prices collected in Jakarta revealed that non-native species were the most expensive. Information from these and previous surveys indicate that prices for Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor appeared to have soared since 2007, suggesting increasing rarity of the species. We urge the Indonesian Government to take action against the illegal trade in laughingthrushes under existing laws, especially for the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons which is listed on the national protected species list. We also recommend that the Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor be listed as a protected species under Indonesian law. As wild populations of Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush and Sumatran Laughingthrush are threatened by trade, we recommend an urgent review of the conservation status of both species on the IUCN Red List.
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Commercial trade, almost always for pets, represents a major threat to bird species and subspecies in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java and Bali, Indonesia. Thirteen species—Silvery Woodpigeon Columba argentina, Javan Hawk-eagle Nisaetus bartelsi, Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil, Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea, Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet Trichoglossus forsteni, Javan Green Magpie Cissa thalassina, Black-winged Myna Acridotheres melanopterus, Bali Myna Leucopsar rothschildi, Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus, Javan White-eye Zosterops flavus, Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons, Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor and Java Sparrow Lonchura oryzivora—are identified as at greatly elevated risk of global extinction from trade pressures, plus the nominate Javan race of Crested Jay Platylophus galericulatus, the races tricolor, hypolizus, opisthochrus, melanurus, omissus and barbouri of White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus, race jalla of Asian Pied Starling Gracupica contra, races miotera, robusta and (extralimital) venerata of Hill Myna Gracula religiosa, and races rookmakeri and laurinae of Silver-eared Mesia Leiothrix argentauris. Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet Trichoglossus forsteni race djampeanus, White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus races opisthochrus, omissus and nigricauda and Hill Myna Gracula religiosa race miotera may already be extinct. However, this is a conservative list because (a) some candidates simply lack information to indicate trade as a threat, (b) taxonomic revision will probably increase the number of full species at risk from trade, and (c) taxonomically undifferentiated populations were not included in this review. As certain favoured species disappear, others are targeted as next-best substitutes (e.g. Grey-cheeked Bulbul Alophoixus bres for Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus), and commercial breeders may hybridise taxa for better effects (e.g. non-Indonesian subspecies of Asian Pied Starling Gracupica contra with Indonesian race jalla). Law enforcement, public awareness campaigns, in situ management, conservation breeding, conversion of trappers to wardens and field, market and genetic surveys are all needed, but commercial breeding, while attractive in theory, presents difficulties that are probably insurmountable in practice.
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