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To Catch a Songbird: Why Finance Is Fuelling a Destructive Indonesian Trend

Throughout the jungles of Indonesia, illicit acquisitions of wildlife are taking place. Songbirds of all shades and sizes are being taken from their habitats and forced to become pets who participate in rowdy competitions.

It is an act that can damage their quality of life and affect the wider environment; yet, those who encourage the exodus of songbirds insist they are not operating from a place of malevolence.

Known for their melodies and varicoloured plumage, songbirds are found all over the Indonesian archipelago. They help preserve a strong ecosystem by eating insects, pollinating plants and distributing seeds.

Upon hearing the melodies of other songbirds, they fly over to the source of such a sound to investigate – so recorded birdsong serves as the perfect trap for luring these animals into human hands.

Around 20,000,000 songbirds are snatched from their natural environments each year

On the island of Sumatra, a poacher by the name of Afrizal commonly uses this method. A patch of glue on a branch attached to a mobile phone and the birds are easily captured.

Around 20,000,000 songbirds are snatched from their natural environments each year.

Afrizal alone claims to have caught no less than 200,000 during the total timespan of his poaching. He claims he does this kind of work to get by financially and feels terrible for doing it: “Of course, I feel guilty. If they die, I feel even sadder”.

Illegally capturing and using songbirds for monetary gain may not be soulfully expedient. But 25 million people in Indonesia live below the poverty line. People like Afrizal turn to the songbird trade to escape the jaws of destitution that might otherwise encompass them.

There are a multitude of other routes out there but, for many, they stand intangible and aloof. Like any society, hierarchical systems are at play and different people are offered different qualities of opportunity.

In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, there are a slew of cash-oriented competitions in which songbirds are forced to sing

Bird markets are scattered all around the country and, with so many winged wonders on offer, it is inevitable that some of them become more than just pets.

In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, there are a slew of cash-oriented competitions in which songbirds are forced to sing.

The framework of these contests consists mainly of judges observing the quality of the birds’ vocals, with their onlooking owners screaming and shouting in aggressive paroxysms. They believe noisy reinforcement encourages them to perform better.

Roughly 1,000 of these competitions go ahead annually, mainly on the island of Java. The top prize, in some instances, can be over $50,000. As such, the chance of cultivating such a huge sum of wealth seductively pulls many into the illicit trade.

Moreover, the sales of birds and their cages, along with food and medicine, creates $120 million for the country’s economy on a yearly basis.

Rumours circulated that government officials had participated in the illegal extraction of songbirds from the wild themselves. The government later confirmed this was true

The financial incentive to steal these decadent creatures is too mellifluous a siren to ignore. Even those who made a pledge to righteously police Indonesia are being coaxed into misdemeanour by the green god.

Rumours circulated that government officials had participated in the illegal extraction of songbirds from the wild themselves. The government later confirmed this was true.

Despite many Indonesian conservationist groups routinely releasing captured songbirds back into the wild, there’s every chance the same ones will be captured again.

There seems to be a cycle of migration for the songbirds of Indonesia. They are nomads, for whom no viable future can be guaranteed while their commodification lives on. As such, the wounds acquired by the Indonesian forests can never heal.

In a nation where poverty is rife and people will take desperate measures to survive, birds who want to sing in peace and solitude are nothing more than conduits to a fruitful way of life.

Their extraction from the wild is a pathway to making ends meet. It’s a ticket to a life full of music for many of the people in Indonesia – even if it means robbing the forests of their own melodies.

Ryan James Keane

Sources Used:

https://www.chesterzoo.org/news/asian-songbird-crisis-more-birds-could-be-in-indonesian-households-than-in-the-wild/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/world/asia/indonesia-songbirds-competition.html

https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/08/20/its-okay-to-be-poor-why-fighting-poverty-remains-challenging-in-indonesia.html

http://nativesongbirdcare.org/Help_Songbirds.html

Featured image courtesy of  Dave Curtis via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here

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