Known in Chinese as the ‘rice bird’, the Bunting is considered a delicacy in China and Cambodia
A new study shows that one of Eurasia’s most abundant bird species, the yellow-breasted Bunting, has seen its numbers decline by 90 per cent since 1980. Its range has also retracted by 5,000 km in the past three and a half decades.
The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, states that unsustainable hunting and consumption of the Bunting would make the bird meet the same fate as that of the Passenger Pigeon. The Passenger Pigeon became extinct in 1914 due to large-scale hunting.
In a press release, UK-based conservation organisation BirdLife International says, “The yellow-breasted Bunting was once distributed over vast areas of Europe and Asia, its range stretching from Finland to Japan.”
The research suggests that unsustainable rates of hunting, principally in China, have contributed to a “catastrophic” loss of numbers.
“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area, with the exception of the Passenger Pigeon, which went extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting,” says Johannes Kamp from the University of Münster and the lead author of the paper.
During migration and on the wintering grounds, the Buntings gather in huge flocks for night-time roosting, making it easy to trap them in large numbers for food.
Following initial declines, hunting of the species—known in Chinese as “the rice bird”—was banned in China in 1997. However, millions of yellow-breasted Buntings and other songbirds were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013. Consumption of these birds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in East Asia, with one estimate from 2001 showing that one million Buntings are consumed in China’s Guangdong province alone.
“To reverse these declines we need to better educate people of the consequences of eating wildlife. We also need a better and more efficient reporting system for law enforcement,” says Simba Chan, senior conservation officer at BirdLife International.
With the danger of its extinction, the Convention on Migratory Species, a global platform for conservation of migratory species, has agreed to come up with a recovery plan by 2017. A new agreement for a coordinated monitoring system between China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Russia is also being developed. Coordinated monitoring activities are urgently needed in East Asia.
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