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The trading of the Orange-spotted Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus and Aceh Bulbul P. snouckaerti in Indonesia

  • Monitor Conservation Research Society
  • Monitor Conservation Research Society

Abstract and Figures

One of the many threatened species in Indonesian bird markets is the Orange-spotted Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus, a relatively widespread upland species endemic to Sumatra, Java and Bali. BirdLife International designated the species as Near Threatened in 2016 due to ‘a slow to moderately rapid rate’ of population decline as a result of the trade. Historical and recent market observations confirm ongoing trading of the Orange-spotted Bulbul from the earliest reports from 1991, that it was one of the most frequently traded species in Indonesia’s bird markets, up to the present time, although there have been some dramatic changes. Orange-spotted Bulbul is still available in significant numbers on Java but availability on Sumatra appears to have crashed. Commercial trade has already resulted in the (near) depletion of several songbird species in Indonesia. It is therefore of great importance that effective conservation measures are taken to prevent the Orange-spotted Bulbul from meeting the same fate. The fact that the species is an Indonesian endemic with limited distributions further exacerbates the threat posed to wild populations by commercial trade.
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The trading of the Orange-spotted Bulbul
Pycnonotus bimaculatus and Aceh Bulbul
P. snouckaerti in Indonesia
It is a sad reality of the twenty-first centur y that
the deplorable cage-bird trade in Indonesia is
unmatched in sca le and volume anywhere else
in the world, with huge numbers of songbirds of
numerous species sold openly in markets across
the countr y (Nash 1993, Shepherd 2006, Chng et
al. 2015, 2018a, Chng & Eaton 2016). Continuing
unabated and even g row ing demand for both
domestic and foreign species is largely attributed
to a long-standing cultural tradition of bird-keeping
and songbird competitions in Indonesia (Nash 1993,
Jepson & Ladle 2005, 2009, Shepherd 2006, Jepson
2008). Today, trapping for trade is the leading
threat to wild birds in the country (Shepherd 2006,
Chng et al. 2015, Chng & Eaton 2016,) and has
already resulted in severe population declines of
many species (see e.g. Shepherd et al. 2013, Eaton
et al. 2015, Harris et al. 2015, Chng et al. 2016,
Sykes 2017). Indonesia now has a higher number
(160) of bird species classified as threatened with
extinction than any other country in Asia and is
ranked second globally only to Brazil (IUCN Red
List 2018).
On e of the many thre at en ed sp eci es in
Indonesian bird ma rkets is the Orange-spotted
Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus, a rel at ively
widespread upland species endemic to Sumatra,
Java and Bali (BirdLife International 2019a). There
are two subspeciesP. b. bimaculatus of central/
south Sumatra and west/central Java and P. b.
tenggerensis of east Java and Bali (Fishpool et al.
2019). The Orange-spotted Bulbul is a popular
species in the Indonesian songbird trade and as
early as 1993 it was identified as one of the most
widely traded birds in the country (Nash 1993).
In 2015, the rst Asian Songbird Trade Crisis
Summit recommended that it was made a priority
species for conservation measures (Lee et al.
2016). BirdLife International (2019a) designated
the species as Near Threatened in 2016 due to
‘a slow to moderately rapid rate’ of population
decline as a result of the trade. Here, we report
on recent observations of Orange-spotted Bulbul
in bird markets on Java, Lombok and Sulawesi,
and review previously published market surveys
to evaluate the threat posed by the ongoing trade
in this species.
The range-restricted a nd rare Aceh Bulbu l
P. snouckaerti had previously been considered to be
a subspecies of the Orange-spotted Bulbul but has
recently been awarded full species status (Eaton
& Collar 2015, del Hoyo et al. 2019). It has been
designated as Vulnerable (BirdLife International
2019b); however, information about the trading
of the species is scant and here we report what
little is known.
The Orange-spotted Bulbul is not protected under
Indonesia’s mai n w ild life laws: the Ac t of the
Republic of Indonesia No. 5 (1990) concern ing
co nservat ion of liv ing reso urc es an d t he ir
Plate 1. Orange -spotted Bulbul Pycn onotus bimaculatus for
sale in Pasar Bratang, Surabaya, Indonesia, 9 October 2018.
BirdingASIA 32 (2019): 102–107
BirdingASIA 32 (2019) 103
Plate 2. Orange-spot ted Bulbul, Ijen Plateau, Eas t Java,
July 2005.
ecosystems and Government Regulation No. 7
(1999) on preservation of flora and fauna; the latter
was amended in 2018, but the Orange-spotted
Bulbul was not in the revised list of protected
species. The species is nevertheless theoretically
af forded som e level of protect ion un der the
Regu lation of t he Minister of Forestry Number
447/Kpts-II/2003 concerning the administration
directive on the harvest, capture and distribution
of specimens of wild plant and animal species; this
regulates the collection and trade in all Indonesia’s
unprotected sp ecies throug h a quota system.
Although historical harvest quotas of Orange-
spotted Bulbul are difficult to find, we ascertained
that, although set at 1,300 in 1987, and allowed to
rise as high as 1,755 in 1990, there was then a rapid
reduction to 250 in 1993 (Nash 1993). No further
data was available until 2008, when the quota was
set at zero, and the subsequent quotas (including
2019) that we have been able to find were also set
at zero-harvest, making any capture or trade of
wild individuals of the species illegal. However,
no punishments for transgressions are laid out
in the Regulation, complicating enforcement and
prosecution and basically rendering the zero-quota
law ineffective.
Market data analysis is frequently used to determine
the effects that trade may have on a species (Harris
et al. 2015). Visits to bird markets on Java, Lombok
and Sulawesi were ca rried out between 4 October
2018 and 4 June 2019 to assess open trading of the
priority species identified by Lee et al. (2016). We
define a ‘visit’ as a single inventory of all markets
in one location. These visits covered nine locations
in East, Central and West Java, one on Lombok and
one on Sulawesi—19 bird markets in all (Table 1).
On Java the locations were selected on the basis of
previously published market surveys (Nash 1993,
Chng et al. 2015, 2016, 2018a, Chng & Eaton 2016).
Only openly displayed birds were recorded and this
data was combined with information from seven
published Indonesian bird trade studies over the
period 1991 to 2018, which included trade records
for the priority species (Nash 1993, Shepherd 2006,
Chng et al. 2015, 2016, Chng & Eaton 2016, Chng
et al. 2018a, b) and which we used in our analysis—
these studies used methods similar to the ones
used during our visits in 2018–2019. Alt houg h
Nash (1993) provided general information on the
markets visited and the number of visits made
(Table 2), it is not possible to directly compare his
Plate 3. Aceh Bulbul Pycnonotus snouckaer ti, Aceh, north
Sumatra, September 2014.
total of about 800 Orange-spotted Bulbul in trade
with later surveys.
Results of market visits
Between 4 October 2018 and 4 June 2019, a total of
1,751 Orange-spotted Bulbul were found in 18 of 19
bird markets visited across 11 locations (Table 2).
The most shocking find was on 4 June 2019 when
1,254 Orange-spotted Bulbul were counted at two
markets in Makassar. The person who carried out
this visit was able to obtain prices from one stall—
about US$ 10 per bird—three times what he was
quoted in Subaraya three months earlier in March
2019, the only other price data obtained for the
species during our visits. Of the 497 Orange-spotted
Bulbul counted in other locations, 252 were found
in the east Java cities of Surabaya and Sidoarjo,
and 145 in Jakarta. None of the birds seen had leg
rings which would have indicated that they were
captive bred.
In the seven earlier published market surveys
that we reviewed, 2,467 Orange-spotted Bulbul
were counted during 106 market visits, including
the report by Nash (1993) (Table 2). As noted
above, the data provided by Nash is unfortunately
incomplete: he listed 12 markets on Sumatra (3),
Java (7), Bali (1) and Sulawesi (1) that were visited
38 times in total—three visits to Sumatra markets,
27 visits to Jakarta and five visits to four other
Javan cities, two visits to Bali and one to Sulawesi.
Nash reported an estimated 800 Orange-spotted
Bulbul during 36 of these 38 visits, but the number
found at specific locations was not reported.
Putting Nash to one side, all the market visits
in the other six published surveys were in Sumatra
(63), Java (5) and Bali (2), accounting for 1,327,
245 and 95 counted individuals respectively. The
bulk of the data from Sumatra is drawn from the
comprehensive month ly su rveys by Shepherd
(2006) between 1997 and 2001, when he made 59
market visits in Medan (Table 2).
Status of Aceh Bulbul
The Aceh Bulbul, until recently considered to be
a subspecies of the Orange-spotted Bulbul, has
probably also been seriously impacted by trade
(Eaton & Collar 2015). Its range is restricted to
the north of Aceh province, Sumatra, where it
is known only from a handful of sites (Eaton &
Collar 2015, BirdLife Internationa l 2019b). It is
probably genuinely rare and it is anticipated to be
very sensitive to exploitation for trade, although
trade records are extremely scarce. It is possible
that earlier observers, e.g. Nash (1993), did not
always take care to identify Orange-spotted Bulbul
to subspecies level despite the clear differences,
leading to Aceh Bulbul being recorded as Orange-
spotted Bulbul. The other relevant surveyors in our
analysis (Shepherd 2006, Chng et al. 2018a) also
found no Aceh Bulbul in trade, even though ca re
was taken to identify birds to (sub) species level in
markets. The observation of four Aceh Bulbul in a
market in Takengon, Aceh, in Februar y 2018 is the
only known trade record; there were both females
and males, which sold for IDR 250,000 (US$ 18)
and IDR 300,000 (US$ 21) respectively (A. Nurza
Table 1. Indonesian bird markets visited between 4 October
2018 and 4 June 2019.
Date Location Market
4 October
Bogor, West
Tanjakan Empang
5 October
Bandung, West
7 October
Yogyakarta Satwa dan Tanaman Hias
9 October
Malang, East
Burung Malang
9–10 October
Surabaya, East
Burung Kupang
Burung Bratang
Burung Turi
11 October
Ngawi, East
11 October
Central Java
12 October
Jakarta Pramuka
Hewan Barito
3 March 2019 Surabaya, East
Burung Kupang
Burung Bratang
Burung Turi
Burung Petekan
10 April 2019 Sidoarjo, East
Burung Sidoarjo
Burung Porong
11 April 2019 Surabaya, East
Burung Kupang
Burung Bratang
Burung Turi
19 May 2019 Surabaya, East
Burung Kupang
Burung Bratang
Burung Turi
Burung Petekan
20 May 2019 Sidoarjo, East
Burung Sidoarjo
Burung Porong
3 June 2019 Mataram,
Lombok, West
Nusa Tenggara
Sindu Cakranegara
4 June 2019 Makassar,
South Sulawesi
Jln W. R. Supratman
The trading of the Orange-spotted Bulbul Pycnonotus bimaculatus and Aceh Bulbul P. snouckaerti in Indonesia
BirdingASIA 32 (2019) 105
pers. comm. 2019). However, our correspondent
learnt that males in better condition fetched up to
IDR 500,000 (US$ 35), suggesting that Aceh Bulbul
trade is more than incidental in this particular
The lack of Aceh Bulbul trade records may be
explained by the genuine ra rity of the species,
which causes individuals to be m issed when
market visits are not carried out on a daily basis
(Eaton & Collar 2015). Also, birds caught in Aceh
are often sold locally (Eaton & Collar 2015) and
Aceh province was not included in any of the
studies. The true impact of trade on the Aceh
Bulbul’s conservation status remains unknown
(Eaton & Collar 2015), but it is likely to be extremely
susceptible to any kind of exploitation; any trade
in the species is of the greatest concern and we
urge readers to report any evidence of trade to the
A sian Songb i r d Trad e S p e c i a l i s t G rou p
Discussion and conclusion
Historical and recent market observations confirm
ongoing trading of the Orange-spotted Bulbul
from the earliest reports from 1991, when Nash
(1993) found that it was one of the most frequently
traded species in Indonesia’s bird markets, up to
the present time, although there have been some
dramatic changes.
Table 2 shows that Orange-spotted Bulbul is
available in significant numbers on Java, but that
availability on Sumatra appears to have crashed;
only five bi rds were found in Sumatran bi rd
markets—none in Medan—during the 2017 survey
(Chng et al. 2018a), whereas Shepherd (2006) found
an average of 22 per visit over his 59 visits between
1997 a nd 20 01. Sim ilarly, no Orange -spotte d
Bulbul were found during a study of consumer
preferences among bird owners in Medan in 2014
and 2015 (Burilova et al. 2017). These findings
sharply contrast with the earlier market surveys
and it is probable that the dramatic fall in Sumatran
trade levels recorded in February 2017 confirms
the serious population decli nes reported f rom
the island, especially in areas where populations
are subject to intense trapping pressure (BirdLife
Inter na tiona l 2019a). Nonethe less, it may be
noteworthy that Chng et al. (2018a) reported
that one trader in Jambi apologised for the small
numbers of native Sumatran birds he had available,
explaining that 600 birds had been shipped to Java
the previous day; it is not known whether Orange-
spotted Bulbul were part of the shipment.
On Java, the average number of Orange-spotted
Bulbul counted per visit (49) between July 2014
and September 2016 was found to have changed
much less dramatically when compared with our
October 2018 to May 2019 average per visit (35)
and, a lthough the number seen in Jakarta was
somewhat smaller in October 2018 than July 2014,
the numbers in Surabaya were ver y similar.
BirdLife Internationa l (2019a) note that the
population of Orange-spotted Bulbul has not been
quanti fied and an expert review of the status
Table 2. Orange-spotted Bulbul trade records in Indonesian
bird markets between 1991 and 2019.
Location / survey date /
source City
No. of
No. of
Information obtained from published surveys
Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi
(Nash 1993)
(see text) 36 800
1997–2001 (monthly)
(Shepherd 2006) Medan 59 1,322
9–12 February 2017
(Chng et al. 2018a)
Jambi 1 3
Medan 1 0
Palembang 1 2
Pekanbaru 1 0
21–23 July 2014
(Chng et al. 2015) Jakarta 1 159
22–24 June 2015
(Chng & Eaton 2016) Surabaya 127
Malang 132
Yogyakarta 1 9
4 September 2016
(Chng et al. 2016) Bandung 1 18
16 October 2017
8 October 2018
(Chng et al. 2018b) Denpasar 2 95
106 2,467
Monitor visits 2018–2019
4 October 2018 Bogor 1 0
5 October 2018 Bandung 1 30
7 October 2018 Yogyakarta 1 2
9 October 2018 Malang 1 2
11 October 2018 Ngawi 113
11 October 2018 Semarang 110
12 October 2018 Jakarta 1145
Between 9 October 2018
& 19 May 2019 Surabaya 4119
10 April & 20 May 2019 Sidoarjo 2133
Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara
3 June 2019 Mataram 143
4 June 2019 Makassar 1 1,254
15 1,751
of the species on Sumatra concluded that it was
‘declining’, but not ‘severely declining’. Overall,
the population is inferred to be declining at a
slow to moderately rapid rate due to trapping
for the cage-bird trade throughout the species’s
range (BirdLife International 2019a). The lack of
population estimates makes it difficult to assess
threat categories and this is a frequent problem
for many Indonesian species. It would be helpful
if the possibility of undertaking even ‘qualified’
population assessments could be investigated.
We have no good explanation for why such a
large number of Orange-spotted Bulbul was found
in trade in Makassar; sometimes large numbers
of a species suddenly appear in markets as a part
of fresh shipments and it is possible that some of
them were later sent onwards. It is indicative of
a large-scale internal bird trade in Indonesia and
this was supported by the full inventory of the
species found in the Makassar markets, more than
half of them—36 out of 63—and more than half of
the birds counted—3,675 out of 6,352—were non-
native to Sulawesi and most of them originated
from Java, Bali and Sumatra, and only 627 from
Papua and Maluku to the east. Although the source
of the Orange-spotted Bulbul, the most numerous
species found in Makassar, remains unknown, it
is likely that most were shipped from Java (and
possibly Bali), considering the species’s decline
on Sumatra. The Makassar visit was a one-off
snapshot intended to shed some light on trade
activity in less studied parts of Indonesia—we are
aware of only one previous survey (by Nash 1993),
which mentioned only one market with eight stalls,
probably Jln W. R. Supratman; Pasar Hobi appears
to be larger (Table 1).
As noted, at the present time all sourcing of wild
Orange-spotted Bulbul is prohibited by Indonesian
law, as no harvest quota has been set for the species
for several years. The fact that trade nevertheless
continues is illustrative of the lack of enforcement
and a lack of political will to combat the illegal bird
trade. Although it is often very hard to establish
the origin of birds in markets, it may be assumed
that the majority, if not all, of the recorded Orange-
spotted Bulbul were wild-caught. Wild-caught birds
are generally preferred to captive-bred individuals,
due to their supposed superior singing abil ity.
Although captive breeding of several species in
the Indonesian songbird trade has been reported
(Jepson et al. 2011), the present scale of such
breeding operations remains unclear. Today we
are not aware of any commercial Orange-spotted
Bulbul breeding programmes and the absence of leg
rings on any of the birds in trade is further evidence
of the birds’ wild origin. Captive breeding would
only take pressure off wild populations if consumer
preferences were to shift to captive-bred birds and
if captive breeding operations were well-regulated
to prevent laundering of wild-caught birds.
Commercial trade has already resulted in the
(near) depletion of several songbird species in
Indonesia (Eaton et al. 2015). It is therefore of great
importance that effective conservation measures
are taken to prevent the Orange-spotted Bulbul and
the Aceh Bulbul from meeting the same fate. The
fact that both species are Indonesian endemics with
limited distributions further exacerbates the threat
posed to wild populations by commercial trade.
More extensive research into Orange-spotted
Bulbul population s, combined with continued
monitoring of the trade, is needed to acquire an
improved understanding of its conservation status.
Considering the fact that a zero-harvest quota has
been ineffective in preventing illegal trade in the
species, listing it as Protected under GR 7/1999
should be implemented to improve regulation of
the t rade. Given its limited population and likely
vulnerability to any form of exploitation, a similar
listing should also be implemented for the Aceh
Bulbul. These listings would have to be paired
with consistent and effective enforcement efforts.
The authors would like to thank Fondation Seg
for s upport ing Mon itor’s work on the Asian
songbird trade. Thanks also go to Agus Nurza and
James Eaton for providing important information
concerning the Aceh Bulbul. Chris R. Shepherd
is thanked for his useful comments on an earlier
draft and Brian Sykes is thanked for his work on
the final draft of this paper.
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Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor)
Box 200, Big Lake Ranch, B.C., V0L 1G0, Canada
Email (corresponding author):
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Full-text available
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