The silent forest

The forests of South East Asia used to be full of bright and beautiful songbirds singing from the treetops; today there’s a stark contrast, as songbirds are few and far between. So many species are on the brink of extinction. And the forests are silent.

Why is this?

Well, keeping birds has been part of Indonesian culture for decades; for a man it is considered prestigious if you own a house with a large collection of songbirds. In addition, the birds are often used against each other in singing competitions. Which is why some species are in greater demand than others, as their singing ability is highly valued.

How do they get hold of these birds?

Traps! Local people set up traps in the forest, catch the birds and sell them in markets as part of the illegal bird trade. They are bought to be placed in small cages to be displayed in a household. Or else they are bred and sold on again. The scary thing is, some birds, mainly the colourful nectar or insect eaters, have been nicknamed ‘cut flower birds’ by conservationists because they are something alive and beautiful from nature that you put in your house, accepting that it will soon wither away and die like cut flowers.

Which birds are affected?

To be honest, all songbirds – anything with colourful markings or a beautiful voice is under threat of being trapped and sold. Here at Newquay Zoo we are home to several species of songbird that are under threat in the wild, such as the Javan green magpie, blue crowned laughingthrush and Sumatran laughingthrush. We keep them to do our bit for these rare species. Not only that but we hope we can raise awareness of these amazing species and help the world to take a step towards bringing these beautiful creatures back to the forest.

What can be done?

At the moment, local public awareness is low, few people understand what’s going on and the danger to the forest ecosystem. There is also a lack of law enforcement and some of the species are not even protected under Indonesian law and are therefore exposed to an even greater risk.

What can I do?

Lots of things! You can help by raising awareness of the threat of these species becoming extinct, let your friends and your family know, be aware if you are visiting places in Asia and try to encourage birding. Birding is the hobby of observing birds in their natural habitats. As it stands birding in Asia is practically non-existent as there is only a small fragmented population of these precious birds left in the wild – which are in turn hard to spot. If enough people show that there is a market for birding this may help to stop the entrapment of song birds and we may start to see an improvement in the wild population.

You can also support the Silent Forest campaign by following social media pages and familiarising yourselves with some of the projects they are currently working on. These include:

The Sumatran songbird sanctuary.

The aims are to develop and maintain a captive population of the Sumatran laughingthrush, house and breed other threatened species, establish education programmes to strengthen the engagement of local communities, establish research programs and develop strategies for release and post release monitoring and management

Treasure Island: Saving the hidden avian treasures.

This is one of the last remaining bird paradises in Indonesia, so conservationists are focused on the protection of this island. They are trying to increase the presence of rangers and add regular patrolling to reduce bird poaching; monitor threatened species to assess their abundance, diversity and changes over time with the use of binoculars, camera traps and GPS; finally, trying to generate economic benefits through ecotourism and volunteering.

Searching for the birds: Field surveys to try and locate two of Java’s rarest songbirds.

The over-exploitation of songbirds for the pet trade and singing competitions in Indonesia has led to the near disappearance of both the Javan green magpie and rufous–fronted laughingthrush. The aim of the project is to undertake a biological survey of the two most extensive forests which have not been surveyed in the past half century – firstly, to see whether the two species survive in any of these forests; and secondly, if the species are gone, assess the suitability of these forests for reintroduction

Plus, there are many more projects Silent Forest are working on and looking to raise vital funds for.


Finally, if you have any spare pairs of binoculars, donate them to the cause! These binoculars will go to local school children in Asia to help them develop empathy towards the environment and encourage them to protect and preserve these endangered birds in their forest.

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