Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor, wild populations have been decimated for the songbird trade © Cuatrok77 / Generic CC 2.0

Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor, wild populations have been decimated for the songbird trade © Cuatrok77 / Generic CC 2.0


Published 24 October 2016


Illegal trade in laughingthrushes in Indonesia no laughing matter

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 24th October 2016—A newly-published paper calls for better legal protection and a change in the threat status of two rare bird species called laughingthrushes that are facing an acute threat from illegal trade. 

Nothing to laugh about—the ongoing illegal trade in laughingthrushes (Garrulax species) in the bird markets of Java, Indonesia, draws attention to problems facing the Sumatran Laughingthrush and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush: both species are found only in Indonesia. 

The paper consolidates information over a two-year study period in 2014 and 2015 when TRAFFIC carried out inventories of eight Javan bird markets and found 615 individuals from nine species of laughingthrushes, a popular group of songbirds, for sale.

The paper says the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons is extremely rare in the wild and has nearly disappeared from local bird markets, suggesting a serious decline in numbers. Only four were found for sale. The Sumatran Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor is also rarely sighted in the wild, and was only found in small numbers in markets where its asking price has soared over the past decade. It faces the additional pressure of not being protected under Indonesia’s laws.  

Both of these endemic species were highlighted by experts as species of high concern at the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit, held in Singapore in 2015. 

Keeping laughingthrushes for their melodious song and singing contests is popular in Indonesia, but figures from the markets and wild population studies tell us that these two species are fading fast. Something must change soon or Indonesia will lose its unique birdlife

Serene Chng, co-author and TRAFFIC Programme Officer

The authors recommended an urgent review of the threatened status of Sumatran and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrushes on the IUCN Red List. Both are currently proposed for uplisting to Endangered and Critically Endangered respectively under the ongoing review of the IUCN Red List status for a number of bird species, which includes priority species identified as threatened by trade during the Asian Songbird Crisis Summit held last September.

The authors also urge the Indonesian Government to pay specific attention to the Sumatran Laughingthrush in its ongoing review of national wildlife legislation and the protected species list. 

“While awaiting legal revisions, Indonesia can and must take stern enforcement action against the illegal trade already covered under existing laws,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, co-author and Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“Trade in many of these species happens openly, in violation of the law and there’s no reason to delay action,” he said.

The paper, published in Bird Conservation International, indicates that the most numerous laughingthrush species recorded during the study period was the Sunda Laughingthrush Garrulax palliatus (215 individuals), followed by Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus (157) and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush Garrulax mitratus (106).

Prices collected in Jakarta revealed that non-native species were the most expensive, possibly due to the fact that they had to be imported—either legally or illegally, although in the case of the Chinese Hwamei, the authors found no records of legal import to Indonesia since the species was first listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2000.


Trade in the Black-and-white Laughingthrush Garrulax bicolor and White-crested Laughingthrush G. leucolophus in Indonesia by Chris Shepherd, published in the Oriental Bird Club's bulletin, BirdingASIA

Observations on trade in laughingthrushes (Garrulax spp.) in North Sumatra, Indonesia by Chris R. Shepherd. (2010). Bird Conservation International 1-6.