Thursday, 15 May 2008

Using markets to protect Indonesian songbirds

Darwin Initiative
Using markets to protect Indonesian songbirds

By Dr Paul Jepson and Dr Richard J. Ladle. Oxford University Centre for the Environment.
Darwin project A Market-Led Conservation Response to the Domestic Bird-Trade in Indonesia.

One way to improve the performance of conservation is to identify different policy approaches and to evaluate the likely effectiveness of plausible options in the target socio-political setting. Such evaluation is important because environmental governance is currently transforming to embrace a more complex interplay of actors, mechanisms and instruments. Consequently, as conservationists we should be both questioning the efficacy of normative state-led, 'command and control' regulatory approaches, and evaluating the potential of so-called hybrid governance approaches which are characterised by a greater involvement of non-state actors and the use of market-based, voluntary, eco-labelling and other 'new' policy instruments. This is the goal of our Darwin project titled "A market led conservation response to the domestic bird trade in Indonesia" which is focusing on the massive demand for wild-caught birds generated by the hugely popular Indonesian pastime of songbird-keeping. Here we present a summary of some preliminary findings which we are preparing for submission to various conservation journals.

We adopted a mixed methodology approach involving a major questionnaire survey in the six largest cities of Java and Bali, an in-depth interview survey, and a social network analysis of the bird keeper fraternity. The questionnaire survey of over 2000 households, conducted with the help of our partners AC Nielsen and Burung (formerly) BirdLife Indonesia, found that 1-in-3 households surveyed keep a bird and nearly 2-in-3 urban households have kept a bird some time in the last 10 years. Our projections suggest that just over 1 million wild-caught song birds are currently kept in the six cities, and this figure includes (median) projections over 150,000 Orange-headed Ground Thrushes and 100,000 White-rumped Shama. The former species was rare in our 1999 survey (Jepson & Ladle 2005) and in-depth interviews confirmed a rise in popularity of keeping native songbirds such as thrushes with exceptional vocal repertoires (mostly forest species), and that this trade may be driving rolling local extinctions of these species in forest blocks across Indonesia.

Fig. 1. Birds are the most popular pet in Indonesian cities. They are kept as a reminder of the village, a talking point, and to create a pleasant atmosphere in the home. Keen hobbyists train their birds to compete in song-contests (photo Nick Hall).

Our projections from this survey suggest that songbird-keepers contribute approximately £41.2 to the economy of these six cities. Of this, £14.2 million is produced by sale and trading of birds, £10 million from manufacture and selling of bird cages and ca. £7 million from collection, breeding and sale of live food (ants eggs, worms, crickets). These economic activities create entrepreneurial and livelihood opportunities for some of the poorer sections of urban society.

Fig. 2. Cottage industries making cages and other bird-keeping paraphernalia provide employment opportunities for young craftsmen(photo Nick Hall).

At the heart of the bird-keeping hobby is the songbird contest. These events are something of a bizarre hybrid between a horse race, dog show and cockfight. They are held every weekend in the cities and local song contests feed into regional contests which in turn feed into three annual national song contest. The most recent of these, which had ex-president Gus Dur as its patron, attracted over 4000 participants and spectators and 800 competing birds. The vast majority of the competing birds were wild caught and from five local (Javan) species. The 10 separate orange-headed thrush 'classes' each attracted 30 to 40 bird entrants with the top 'mega star' class carrying an entry fee of £12 and winning prize of £1000. More significantly, champion birds exchange hands for up to $18,000 creating an enormous enthusiasm for scouting, training, buying and selling birds within the hobby.

Fig. 3. Songbird contests are noisy and riotous affairs as bird clubs shout their advice to judges that it is their birds that deserve a scoring flag (photo Nick Hall).

Our research suggests that simple regulatory 'law and fine' approaches are unlikely to have any meaningful conservation impact on a hobby that is so deeply embedded in urban culture, society and politics. Instead, we are exploring other options with leaders of the hobbyist fraternity, bird-breeders and a major bird-food company. We are looking at a strategy that involves expanding captive breeding and supporting this with a certification and verifications scheme and initiatives to change the perceived prestige rankings of non-ring versus ringed-bird classes at song-contests. An exciting dimension of this approach is our realisation that bird-keeping community includes some of the most successful and innovative entrepreneurs in Indonesia and that several of leading hobbyists are seriously conservation minded. Engaging this new constituency could bring a new 'edge' and dynamism to the conservation effort in Indonesia.

Fig. 4. Social entrepreneurship is particularly notable amongst bird-breeders with many adopting business models that generate employment for housewives and retired or under-employed people in their community, or as in this example, young men from a local orphanage (photo Paul Jepson).

Literature cited

Jepson, P. & Ladle, R. J. (2006) Bird keeping in Indonesia: conservation impacts and the potential for substitution-based conservation responses. Oryx,39, 442-448

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