Published 6 February 2009

“National Rare Animal” targeted by illegal traders

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 6th February 2009—One of the world’s rarest birds has become the target of illegal traders after it was declared a nationally rare species in Indonesia, finds a new report published in the latest issue of Oryx – the International Journal of Conservation.

National icon, but target of illegal trade: the Javan Hawk-eagle © Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC Southeast Asia 

In 1993, the Javan Hawk-eagle, an Endangered species, was declared Indonesia’s National Rare / Precious Animal by former President Soeharto. Prior to this, traders did not recognise the Javan Hawk-eagle as different from other large eagles and few were traded. However, following the declaration—a measure intended to protect the Javan Hawk-eagle as a national emblem—demand for the eagles soared.

"Our study suggests that highlighting the Javan Hawk-eagle's plight and making it an icon for Indonesia's wildlife may actually have been the main reason behind an increase in its illegal trade," explained Chris R Shepherd, a Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, and a co-author of the report.

In Indonesia, the insatiable demand for birds as pets leads to tens of thousands of wild birds being traded daily at the bird markets that can be found in almost every major town, and although all birds of prey are protected by Indonesian law, it not uncommon to see eagles offered for sale. In the last 20 years, some 70 Javan Hawk-eagles have been recorded in trade, the majority of them in recent years. 

Interest in the Javan Hawk-eagle led to a demand for birds in zoo and private collections, with evidence of eagles being smuggled abroad. The species has never bred in captivity. According to BirdLife International, the estimated world population is just 600—900 individuals. 

“Through monitoring Indonesian newspapers, websites and internet forums, we found evidence of at least four Javan Hawk-eagles being kept as pets or being offered for sale in 2008, all of them must have originated from the wild,” said report co-author Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes University. 

Two of the birds were subsequently confiscated and released into the forests of West Java, but it is unknown how many more hawk-eagles are still being illegally kept as pets. 

The authors’ findings reinforce those of a study published last month by Courchamp in Proceedings of the Royal Society, who found the increased value people associate with rare species increases the economic incentive to exploit the last remaining individuals. 

“Highlighting the plight of a threatened species in order to help conserve it carries with it the danger of having the opposite effect,” said Shepherd.

“Raising the profile and awareness of threatened wildlife needs to go hand-in-hand with effective implementation and enforcement of laws to protect the species concerned".

"The Indonesian government, in collaboration with NGOs, have the opportunity to ensure the population of Javan Hawk-eagles is not threatened further."


The fully study: Declaration of the Javan hawk eagle Spizaetus bartelsi as Indonesia’s National Rare Animal impedes conservation of the species by Vincent Nijman, Chris R. Shepherd and S van Balen (Oryx 43(1): 122–128) is available for free download at: (

All diurnal birds of prey are protected by Indonesian law (No 421/Kpts/Um/8/8/1970), and rare and endangered species, such as the Javan hawk-eagle, receive extra protection under article 21(2) of the Act R.I. No. 5 of 1990; fines and subsequent imprisonment can be imposed on law breakers.

The Javan hawk-eagle is listed in Appendix II of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), regulating international commercial trade in the species. It is furthermore one of only twelve species that receive special protection following a Presidential decree: besides authentic CITES permits, these species require the specific authority of the President of the Republic of Indonesia before any specimen may be exported from the country.

Fatal attraction: rare species in the spotlight by Elena Angulo, Anne-Laure Deves, Michel Saint Jalmes and Franck Courchamp. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, (2009) 10.1098/rspb.2008.1475)