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Illegal Pet Trade Wiping Out Yellow-Crested Cockatoos


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yellow-crested cockatooThe population of critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) in the Indonesian province of West Nusa Tenggara has reached an all-time low of 107 individual birds, according to a recent report from The Jakarta Post. The cockatoos are protected by international and Indonesian law, but they are also highly valued in the illegal pet trade, where they can fetch more than $500 each. The average annual income in Indonesia is just over $1,400, making the birds worth as much as most workers can earn in four months.

The West Nusa Tenggara chapter of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam or BKSDA) conducted surveys of yellow-crested cockatoo populations in several conservation areas and counted just 87 birds. Another survey by mining company PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara—which operates the Batu Hijau copper and gold mine near a key cockatoo habitat—found just 20 more.

Yellow-crested cockatoos also live on several other Indonesian islands but are in decline throughout their range, mostly because of unsustainable trapping for the pet trade and deforestation, according to BirdLife International, which estimated the total wild population for the species at fewer than 7,000 individuals in 2007. The BKSDA says that cockatoos are hunted in West Nusa Tenggara to order, meaning they are only taken from the wild when a buyer has already been lined up.

The birds are very slow breeders, laying just two or three eggs at a time once a year. That leaves them poorly equipped to adapt to the threats they currently face. The birds can probably recover if given the chance, though. A 2006 study published in Oryx found that one population of a related subspecies, the citron-crested cockatoo (C. s. citrinocristata), more than doubled in the decade after legal trade was outlawed in 1993. Unfortunately, illegal trade appears to have picked up again over the past 10 years, leaving the future of the species in question.

Photo by Charles Lam via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

Previously in Extinction Countdown:

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. PGHarrison 7:35 pm 03/21/2013

    while the data may be correct for Indonesia, bird, fish and animal declines are common throughout the country due to over expoitation. When desperate, desperate measures for a few rupiah are common. But is the cockatoo in decline generally? In north Australia, there are squillions of them, certainly in the many thousands, and in Darwin specifically, they are approaching pest proportions, and we have several resident on a five corner tree. Some perspective regionally is needed. Are the two groups [ eastern Indonesia / NW Australia]actually biologically different?

    Link to this
  2. 2. JessieMZ 8:19 pm 03/21/2013

    The Yellow-crested Cockatoos referred to in the article are of a different species than the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in Australia. The yellow crests (also called Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos) are Cacatua sulphurea and the Australian sulphur crests (as well as the sulphurs on New Guinea) are Cacatua galerita.

    The species are quite different in size. The C. galerita from Australia can be up to 55 cm long while C. sulphurea are only around 34 cm long. The lessers also seem to have bigger beaks relative to their body size. The male lesser I have has a bigger, rounder beak than the greaters I saw in Australia.

    There’s also a subspecies of lesser (C. s. citrinocristata) with an orange crest.

    Link to this
  3. 3. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 8:50 pm 03/21/2013

    Thanks for answering PGh’s questions, Jessie. It’s also interesting that he says cockatoos are considered pests in Australia since that same perception is one of the other reasons for the Indonesian species’ decline.

    Link to this

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