News Wire

An­thro­pogenic threats mean birds of par­adise are in­creas­ingly at risk of as­cend­ing the stair­way to heaven – and there is no turn­ing back

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: EVE AYCOCK

Birds of par­adise are in trou­ble and there are calls for new laws to be in­tro­duced to help save them

BIRDS OF PAR­ADISE are fac­ing a twopronged hu­man at­tack: the ero­sion of habi­tat caused by un­sus­tain­able log­ging and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, cou­pled with con­tin­ued tribal hunt­ing for their prized plumes. Now there are calls for more pre­cise do­mes­tic laws to save these ce­les­tial birds. Birds of par­adise, the Par­adis­aei­dae, are a group of more than 40 species found in the tropical rain­forests of Pa­pua New Guinea, In­done­sia, and Aus­tralia. Their no­table va­ri­ety was in­duced by a com­bi­na­tion of ge­o­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion and vig­or­ous sex­ual se­lec­tion, and they play a valu­able role in their ecosys­tems by dis­pers­ing fruit seeds, aid­ing re­gen­er­a­tion of the ever-di­min­ish­ing rain­for­est. But the pop­u­la­tions of many species are shrink­ing. They’re hunted in New Guinea, as their plumes are in­te­gral to tra­di­tional tribal cel­e­bra­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, their pris­tine habi­tat is van­ish­ing be­cause of un­sus­tain­able log­ging and road con­struc­tion. Glob­ally, the ‘plume boom’ of the 1900s brought a wide­spread in­ter­na­tional trade in bird of par­adise feath­ers for women’s hats, with over 80,000 birds shipped an­nu­ally, mainly to Europe. On the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) Red List of Threat­ened Species, most birds of par­adise are in the ‘Least Con­cern’ cat­e­gory, a small amount ‘Near Threat­ened’, and the Black Sick­lebill, Blue Bird of Par­adise, and Goldie’s Bird of Par­adise listed as ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’ – the penul­ti­mate cat­e­gory be­fore ‘En­dan­gered’. Ram­pant slaugh­ter of birds of par­adise in the 19th and 20th Cen­turies in­spired en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion. For in­stance, the RSPB was es­tab­lished in 1889 by women who re­fused to en­gage in the vogue of wear­ing ex­otic feath­ers. In Amer­ica, the Na­tional Audubon So­ci­ety was set up in 1905 to fo­cus on bird con­ser­va­tion. In 1908, the UK out­lawed hunt­ing in ar­eas of New Guinea un­der its con­trol, and the Dutch did the same in 1931. In Amer­ica, the Lacey Act gained force of law in 1913, pro­hibit­ing feather im­ports. The Mi­gra­tory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was im­ple­mented as a re­sult of an ear­lier Con­ven­tion be­tween the US and the UK,

ban­ning im­por­ta­tion of birds of par­adise. In 1963, the IUCN Res­o­lu­tion on Birds of Par­adise high­lighted the need to en­act na­tional laws pro­tect­ing birds of par­adise in their na­tive coun­tries. Fi­nally, ten years later, the US En­dan­gered Species Act signed by US Pres­i­dent Nixon sup­ple­mented the snow­balling en­vi­ron­men­tal rev­o­lu­tion. Thus, nowa­days, no bird of par­adise leaves its na­tive coun­try legally.

Flaws in do­mes­tic laws

Although Pa­pua New Guinea pro­hib­ited the hunt­ing of birds of par­adise in 1922 and in 1990 the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment fi­nally en­acted a law for­bid­ding trade of birds of par­adise skins, these are still ex­ported from Irian Jaya through In­done­sia, and any­way such laws are of­ten not en­forced. Fur­ther, while the Fourth Goal of PNG’S Con­sti­tu­tion ex­pressly pro­vides for “all nec­es­sary steps to be taken to give ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion to our val­ued birds…”, this is en­tirely lack­ing in sub­stance. To save birds of par­adise, then, a dif­fer­ent ap­proach is re­quired. Since each species faces vary­ing threats, it is para­mount that pre­cise na­tional laws are en­acted and rou­tinely en­forced to pro­tect spe­cific species. First, though, it’s nec­es­sary to ex­plore the root of the prob­lem by eval­u­at­ing the flaws present in the laws pur­port­edly pro­tect­ing the species des­ig­nated as ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’. The main threat to one of the species des­ig­nated ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’, the Black Sick­lebill, is hunt­ing for its long plumes. These are used in tribal head­dresses, and oc­ca­sion­ally sold to tourists – de­spite it be­ing il­le­gal to trans­port them out­side New Guinea with­out a per­mit. But this is not the Black Sick­lebill’s only con­cern: its habi­tat of mid-mon­tane for­est is at risk of de­struc­tion by log­ging. For­tu­nately, there has been a de­crease in the hunt­ing of them thanks to a spe­cific law in PNG that pro­hibits the slaugh­ter of birds of par­adise in mod­ern ways, ie us­ing a shot­gun. Na­tional hunt­ing pro­hi­bi­tions en­forced at Crater Moun­tain, PNG, have led to in­creases in lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. How­ever, de­spite there be­ing am­ple laws in PNG, hunt­ing still oc­curs, and 93% of land is tra­di­tion­ally owned, mak­ing it chal­leng­ing to ac­tively en­force such laws. Goldie’s Bird of Par­adise is ex­clu­sive to for­est in the Fer­gus­son and Nor­manby islands near the east­ern tip of PNG. It was re­cently up­listed to ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’ on the IUCN Red List be­cause its pop­u­la­tion is pre­sumed to be dan­ger­ously small – re­search es­ti­mates that there are as few as 650 in­di­vid­u­als. The big­gest threats are habi­tat loss and degra­da­tion from log­ging and min­ing. Although Goldie’s Bird of Par­adise is, to­gether with the other birds of par­adise, safe­guarded un­der PNG’S Fauna Act of 1968, a lack of fund­ing for do­mes­tic laws hin­ders the ca­pac­ity of en­force­ment of­fi­cers to mon­i­tor threats. More­over, sci­en­tists in PNG have branded the coun­try’s Fauna Act as “a mean­ing­less piece of pa­per”, fur­ther stat­ing that “a real prob­lem is that the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment & Con­ser­va­tion does very lit­tle to en­force the Fauna Act… There is no ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion of any species in PNG, full stop”. The third ‘Vul­ner­a­ble’ species is the Blue Bird of Par­adise, chiefly threat­ened by hunt­ing for its prized opal pec­toral plumes and tail feath­ers, used for tribal cus­toms and as sou­venirs. Es­ca­lat­ing agri­cul­tural needs mean its habi­tat is also un­der pres­sure. Sim­i­lar to the Black Sick­lebill, it is sup­pos­edly pre­served by a na­tional law pro­hibit­ing killing birds in non-tra­di­tional forms. De­spite this, it is thought to be a com­mon un­reg­u­lated prac­tice for lo­cal youths to tar­get large amounts of nest­ing birds us­ing sling­shots. Pro­tec­tion is ha­bit­u­ally not en­forced.

Rec­om­men­da­tions for le­gal ac­tion

Cer­tain rec­om­men­da­tions for ac­tion are be­ing pro­posed. Re­gard­ing Black Sick­lebills, laws pro­hibit­ing hunt­ing ex­ist but are chal­leng­ing to en­force be­cause hunt­ing oc­curs on pri­vate land. To re­solve this, ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes and in­cen­tives for pri­vate landown­ers would likely lead to in­creased le­gal com­pli­ance and the es­tab­lish­ment of lo­cally gov­erned for­est na­ture re­serves with a hunt­ing pro­hi­bi­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, ad­vo­cat­ing the use of al­ter­na­tive ma­te­ri­als for lo­cal tribal head­gear could help re­duce de­mand for the Black Sick­lebill’s feath­ers. The bot­tom line is that lo­cal gov­ern­ments must fo­cus their ef­forts on en­sur­ing ef­fec­tive en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion by work­ing at grass­roots level. The role of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOS), such as PNG’S na­tional Green­peace branch, is cru­cial in stim­u­lat­ing such ac­tion and har­mon­is­ing re­la­tions be­tween the gov­ern­ment and lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. Ed­u­ca­tion aimed at clar­i­fy­ing hunt­ing pro­hi­bi­tions to lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and the cre­ation of sec­tioned-off re­serves with en­forced hunt­ing bans would aid the Blue Bird of Par­adise. A trait that ren­ders it unique, how­ever, is that it is ar­guably the flag­ship species of the Par­adis­aei­dae, and in­ter­na­tion­ally pro­mot­ing this species could help boost an al­ready boom­ing eco­tourism in­dus­try. Tourism gen­er­ated rev­enue would help plug de­fi­cien­cies in fund­ing en­force­ment of PNG’S Fauna Act 1968, and the promise of a sus­tained in­come to lo­cal pop­u­la­tions from birdwatching tourism would likely pro­vide an in­cen­tive to con­serve birds of par­adise.

FLAG­SHIP BIRD The Vul­ner­a­ble Blue Bird of Par­adise is threat­ened by hunt­ing for breast and tail feath­ers

HEAD DRESS A mag­nif­i­cent head dress of bird of par­adise feath­ers worn by a mem­ber of the Ji­waka tribe of the Western High­lands of Pa­pua New Guinea

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.