Rare Javan Green Magpie at Chester Zoo in extinction prevention attempt

A very rare Javan Green Magpie (Cissa thalassina) has been brought to Chester Zoo to join a number of other birds in an extinction prevention attempt. The Javan Green Magpie is the rarest magpie in the world and is facing certain extinction in the wild without human help.

The Javan Green Magpie is facing two enemies that have severely reduced populations in its native forests of Java, Indonesia – habitat loss and poachers who sell the beautiful birds to the cage bird market.

Bird experts met at Asia’s first Songbird Trade Crisis Summit in October and called on Asian governments to stop the illegal and unsustainable trade that is destroying the region’s wild bird populations.

Javan Green Magpie with two fledglingsJavan Green Magpie with two fledglings. Chester Zoo conservationists want to see lots of these. (Image: cikanangawildlifecenter.com)

WWF Global quoted Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network) in Southeast Asia, who said:

“The volume of trade is so high that once common wild birds are vanishing at an alarming rate, literally trapped out of existence.”

Bird Life International says the Javan Green Magpie has been categorized by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as Critically Endangered. This means it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Conservationists in Europe, including Chester Zoo, and North America say the only way to save this bird is to build up a captive population, and then later find a safe place to release them.

Javan Green Magpie population at Chester Zoo

The latest tropical magpie to arrive at Chester Zoo joins three pairs that arrived a few weeks ago and spent six weeks in quarantine until last week, when they were released into their large outdoor aviaries for the first time.

Conservationists at the zoo watched with pleasure as the birds were released from their quarantine into their spacious aviaries. These birds, that had lived in tiny cages in Indonesia until they were rescued, had never known what it is like to fly around freely.

In the video below, you can see the birds chirping at each other and gobbling up live locusts that the zookeepers had placed throughout the aviary for them.

Birds in cages in IndonesiaAccording to the Asian Species Action Partnership: “(A report released by) TRAFFIC found over 19,000 birds representing 206 species for sale in the Pramuka, Jatinegara and Barito markets over a three-day period. (Image:  speciesonthebrink.org)

Maybe just 100 Javan Green Magpies left in the wild

According to Bird Life International, nobody is completely sure how many Javan Green Magpies there are in the wild. One study suggested there are no more than 250 mature individuals, while another estimated a maximum of one hundred.

Most forests in the Indonesian island of Java up to 1,000 metres altitude have been cleared for agricultural expansion, mining and logging. Several regions up to 1,500 metres altitude have also been cleared.

Magpies trapped and sold to cage bird market

The Javan Green Magpie, along with other critically endangered songbirds, such as the Black-winged Myna and Bali Myna, are commonly trapped by poachers and sold to the cage bird market.

Keeping birds in cages is a centuries-long custom in Indonesia. Unfortunately, over the past few years the custom has exploded, and there are literally tens of millions of birds living in tiny cages across the country.

Birds naturally require lots of space where they can fly. They do not do well in small cages. Apart from being miserable, their health suffers significantly and they don’t live very long.

Chester Zoo consevation team with Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre teamCikananga Conservation Breeding Centre team with members of Chester Zoo staff in Indonesia. (Image: actionforwildlife.org.uk)

Curator of Birds at Chester Zoo, Andrew Owen, explained that the project is a long-term one. Building up the bird population will take time, as will finding a safe natural place to release them into.

Mr. Owen said:

“It’s a long-term project, it’s going to take many years. We’re in it for the long haul. We’re going to do everything to stop these birds becoming extinct.”

According to a TRAFFIC Report:

“Illegal harvest and trade in birds is widespread in Indonesia, with lax enforcement enabling markets to persist, some of them huge in size and scale, whose traders openly sell protected and illegally-sourced birds, with little or no fear of legal actions being taken against them.”

“This paper illustrates the large scale of the trade, with 19,036 birds of 206 species being counted during the survey carried out over a three day period in the three largest bird markets in Jakarta.”

As long as these bird markets exist in their present form, illegal trade will persist, threatening the survival of Indonesian birds and undermining conservation efforts.

Video – Chester Zoo offers hope to Javan Green Magpie

Chester Zoo conservationists have begun the first breeding programme for Europe for the Javan Green Magpie, which is facing a serious threat of extinction in the wild. In this video, BBC science reporter Victoria Gill talks to Andrew Owen about these beatiful birds. They watch them as they fly into the large aviary for the first time.