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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

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:

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

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