Above: Oriental magpie-robin: trapped to near-extinction in the wild in Singapore in the 1980s and warranted a conservation reintroduction programme. Seizures of this species in Malaysia during January 2015 to December 2020 took place in only four states, implicating these as key source points for smuggling. Photo: James A. Eaton/Birdtour Asia


A SPIKE LAST year in the smuggling of a common Malaysian songbird demands improved legal protection for the species, warns a new report by TRAFFIC.

Working alongside the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (PERHILITAN), TRAFFIC say the common-in-the-wild Oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) is headed for trouble if it is not protected from a surge of trapping in Malaysia and smuggling to feed international demand.

The report Smuggled for its Song: The Trade in Malaysia’s Oriental Magpie-robins reveals that the majority of seized Oriental magpie-robin from January 2015 to last December were being trafficked from Malaysia to Indonesia. At least 26,950 birds were confiscated in the 44 incidents between that period – 66 per cent were smuggled in 2020 alone.

“This points to Malaysian populations of the Oriental magpie-robin being targeted to feed demand in neighbouring countries, particularly Indonesia. It also indicates an escalation of international trafficking in recent years to feed the persistent demand for the pet trade,” said PERHILITAN director-general, Dato’ Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim.  

TRAFFIC’s trade assessments of online marketplaces discovered that the Oriental magpie-robin is also one of the top species recorded for sale.

Currently, the species is only listed as protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, enforced only in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, argued that history has shown that when sought-after species are not properly regulated, wild populations can be depleted quickly. “Take for instance the once-common straw-headed bulbul, which has now vanished from much of its range because of trade,” she said. “Establishing a strengthened regulation system could prevent this from happening to the Oriental magpie-robin.”

Listing the Oriental magpie-robin as protected would be the first step “to improved monitoring and regulation of the trade through a licensing system,” added Serene Chng, programme officer for TRAFFIC.

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