I recently wrote about a wonderful presentation to the biennial Australasian Ornithological Conference by Surya Purnama of the State University of Yogyakarta, Indonesia entitled Bird Hunting in Ujung Karawang Natural Preserve, Bekasi, West Java in which he looked at issues associated with the subsistence commercial hunting of a variety of endemic and migratory bird species in that part of Indonesia.

West Java, Indonesia

As I noted in that post:

Surya’s presentation was loaded with dramatic pictures of the bird trade in West Java and riveting details of the scope, economic and ecological impact that this very commercial trade has on the birds in this part of the world.

Surya notes in his conference abstract that the issues related to the mass taking of birds is complex and not just about conservation biology and has complex cultural and economic dimensions as well:

Bird Hunting in Ujung Karawang Natural Preserve, Bekasi, West Java: Bird hunting is one potential cause of the decline of bird populations in Indonesia. However besides providing a source of income for some people, it has also cultural importance for a long time. The numbers of water birds being caught have been staggering. In 1979, an estimated one million birds were caught in the Indramayu area of Java alone, but this had declined to about 300,000 in 1984-5, 200,000 in 1987, and 150,000 in 1992.

Bird hunting in this area is dominated by economical need, with both the hunter and middle-man being poor people living in outlying areas. Birds are mostly captured and consumed by people in and around the [UIjung Karawang] Natural Preserve.

I’ve done a bit of further research on the issue of bird-hunting in West Java and Indonesia generally and it seems that there are two areas of greatest concern and attention, firstly the live bird trade conducted in markets that are scattered all over Indonesia – and across south-east Asia – and secondly the trade in wild bird carcasses for human consumption.

I thought I might be able to address both of these issues in the one post. But as I looked at them more closely it became clear that I should do separate posts on each of these issues.

Here I will focus on the trade in wild and captive-bred birds conducted in the many markets scattered across the 1,500 islands that make up Indonesia.

Before we go any further I note that, apart from a stop-over or two in airports, I’ve not been to Indonesia or many parts of south-east Asia.

Accordingly I would welcome any personal accounts from those more familiar with this part of the world than I am – or corrections about any comments or observations that I make in this article.

Kebayoran Lama bird market, Jakarta. Photo:
Kebayoran Lama bird market, Jakarta. Photo:Batara

Indonesian bird markets appear to draw two distinct responses – the first is the fascination that tourists have with the diversity and action in these places. The second is one of horror at the sheer scale of the trade and the effects that it may have on bird diversity in a region with extraordinary endemic diversity.

For an example of the first response see this video from Robin Meurer of the Yogyakarta Bird Market and this contribution on the Pasar Burung Satria (Bird Market) in Bali, which without a hint of irony says that:

This colorful and often noisy market is not for the weak-hearted. Come here only if seeing birds and other animals in small, and sometimes cruel cages, do not bother you. Always more than happy to show you their best birds, the various shop owners will of course want you to buy one! Often, you will come across other small animals such as monkeys, squirrels, small wild cats and other unidentifiable animals from the heart of the dark jungles of Indonesia. This interesting place enables one to see some of the quickly disappearing animals of Indonesia.

Denpasar Bird Market. Photo: Irena Harrison
Denpasar Bird Market. Photo: Irena Harrison

And this from the Things to do in Bali page at AsiaRooms.com:

The Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali is an awesome place for shopping in Bali in Indonesia. With an amazing collection of exotic, colorful and noisy birds and animals, the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali is a place that promises to get to you many of the animals and birds that are endangered and slowly moving towards extinction. In Fact, the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali, is a place that bird and animal lovers, and collectors will love, especially as it boasts of such exotic things.

Colorful tropical birds, which include the unique “perkutut” song bird, and other small and large animals, such as monkeys, squirrels, small wild cats, as well as other unknown and unrecognizable creatures can be found for sale at the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali. The shop owners at the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali display the best of their wares to you, and entice you into buying these exotic birds and animals. Many of these birds and animals that are on sale at the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali, have been captured from the wilds of Indonesia Interesting to those who love such exotic items, as well as those who are interested in such endangered birds and animals, the Pasar Burung (Bird Market) in Bali is one of those traditional markets that has a great renown among the tourist community.

While it is difficult to grasp the full scale of the wild and captive-bred bird trade across Indonesia, recent research indicates that the trade is immensely complex and varied.

Earlier this year Profauna, an Indonesian NGO working to protect wild animals and their habitat, conducted a research project into the wildlife markets on Java Island and in October this year reported that:

ProFauna recorded that there were 183 animals of 25 species traded openly in the markets. Some of them were Lorius Lory (Nycticebus coucang), Javan langur (Trachypithecus auratus), Tarsius (Tarsius bancanus), Black-capped Lory (Lorius lory), Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis), Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis), and Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros). From the 70 visited bird markets or locations, 14 markets sold parrots, 21 markets sold primates, 11 markets sold mammals, 13 markets sold raptors, and 11 markets sold protected song birds (non parrot). The protected songbirds included Black-winged Starling (Sturnus melanopterus) and Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis). The province which bird markets sold protected wildlife the most was East Java, while the city that sold and displayed protected species the most was Depok bird market in Solo, Central Java; and Ambarawa was on the second place. In discreet manners, the bird markets that sold many protected species were ones in Surabaya, Semarang, and Jakarta. The traders in those markets sold the animals secretly. They kept the illegal wildlife in their warehouses and private houses.

The location that traded parrot the most was in Semarang…For the protected birds (non parrot), Surabaya was the city that sold the birds the most. The price of the animals being traded in bird markets in Java varies depending on the animal ages, species, protection status, stock, and potential buyer. For mammal, primate, and song bird species, the younger the birds are, the more expensive the price…A Lorius Lory could fetch from 75,000 IDR (7,5 USD) to 250,000 IDR (25 USD). Parrots were relatively more expensive, around 750,000 IDR (75 USD) to 1 million IDR (100 USD).

Reporting on an earlier investigation by Profauna, in 2004 The Jakarta Post noted the immense scale and the inter-island and international nature of the Indonesian wildlife trade that was highly sophisticated and rife with police and official corruption:

An investigation by non-governmental organization ProFauna Indonesia reveals that inter-island trade of endangered species continues openly in Lampung, Bengkulu, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Papua, South Sulawesi, Bali, East Java, Yogyakarta, Central Java, West Java and Jakarta, with relevant authorities making no visible attempt to stop the transactions. Topping the list of rare animals traded are reptiles, birds and primates, with Jakarta’s Pramuka bird market remaining the main destination, followed by Surabaya’s Bratang and Semarang’s Karimata bird markets. Virtually all animals sold in these markets, protected or otherwise, come from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Ambon, Maluku and Papua.

Pramuka is the world’s largest illegal animal market. Hardi Baktiantoro of ProFauna Indonesia said animal traders in Lampung, Sumatra, often hired elderly women to take thousands of animals, including rare species, to Jakarta’s Pramuka bird market weekly. These elderly women, Hardi said, traveled by public transportation from Bandar Lampung to Pramuka bird market, from where the animals were distributed to other cities across Java, including Surabaya and Semarang. “Thousands of gibbons, owls and eagles are exported from Lampung to Java through the Bakauheni and Merak ports every week,” he said. Most of the protected species are usually collected from Kotabumi, Liwa, Prabumilih and Martapura in Sumatra.

According to ProFauna, the trade in protected animals in Surabaya, East Java, is concentrated at Bratang bird market, where at least 100 endangered species of various classes are sold freely every month, including the long-tailed Javanese monkey (Trachypithecus auratus), eagles, Yellow-crested Cockatoos and Gibbons.

buyers of illegally traded protected animals usually hail from the upper classes, and are thus educated and understand law. In some cases, protected animals end up in the hands of high-ranking military and police officers, who receive protected animals as gifts when they are transferred to a new posting. “These educated, richer and well-off people are giving horrible examples to the rest of society, that it is okay to own protected animals illegally. In so doing, they indirectly promote this huge wildlife trade in Indonesia,” Smits said. “We need a mass campaign to shame these people for breaking the law.”

Aside from domestic trade, some of Indonesia’s rare animals have also been smuggled overseas.

Iwan, however, said Indonesia’s trade in rare and protected animals also involved international networks that facilitate the smuggling of endangered, indigenous animals to countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. “They (traders) are extremely well organized and have connections with a lot of different institutions in Indonesia. They have a lot of contacts they can use to help them smuggle,” asserted Smits. Officials estimate the value of the Indonesian animal trade at US$1 billion (Rp 8.45 trillion) annually, with the bulk of profits enjoyed by international smugglers. An orangutan, for example, is sold for up to $50,000 in Europe.

While it is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that thousands of birds are kept in appalling conditions purely for human exploitation, profit  and enjoyment, it is important to note that, as with most of the relationships between people and birds, things are a bit more complex than that.


In their paper “Bird-keeping in Indonesia: conservation impacts and the potential for substitution-based conservation responses” published in Oryx (2005), 39:4:442-448 by the Cambridge University Press, Paul Jepson and Richard J. Ladle note that (here from the abstract):

Bird-keeping is an extremely popular pastime in Indonesia, where there is a thriving internal market in both wild-caught and captive-bred birds. However, little is known about whether the scale of bird-keeping represents a genuine conservation threat to native populations. Here we present the results of the largest ever survey of bird-keeping among households in Indonesia’s five major cities. Birds were found to be urban Indonesia’s most popular pet (kept by 21.8% of survey households) and we conservatively estimate that as many as 2.6 million birds are kept in the five cities sampled. Of bird-keeping households, 78.5% kept domestic species and/or commercially bred species and 60.2% kept wild-caught birds that we classified into three conservation categories: native songbirds, native parrots and imported songbirds. Compared to non-bird owners, households keeping wild-caught birds in all three conservation categories were richer and better educated, whereas households owning commercially-bred species were richer but not better educated and households keeping domestic species did not differ in educational or socio-economic status. We conclude that bird-keeping in Indonesia is at a scale that warrants a conservation intervention and that promoting commercially-bred alternatives may be an effective and popular solution.

I’d love to hear some first-hand accounts from readers about these issues – particularly those of you that have spent time in Indonesia and south-east Asia and may be able to contribute to this discussion.

I’ll next have a further look at the work done by Surya and others in relation to the hunting and sale of birds for commercial consumption.

Cheers for the season and I look forward to your comments and contributions.