Indonesian birds were found for sale online in the Philippines despite efforts to combat illegal trade, according to the latest study conducted by TRAFFIC.

Feral Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (left) and White Cockatoo (right) in Mandaluyong City, NCR, Luzon Island © Raymond Dan

The study showed that over 800 Indonesian birds were up for sale online in the country between January 18 and December 2019.

“Indonesia’s wild birds are already at risk from poaching and the international bird trade. This triple threat of easy availability online, smuggling, and doubtful legal trade in the Philippines adds even more pressure,” said TRAFFIC program officer Serene Chng.

At least 20 of the original groups surveyed have been deactivated by Facebook since the study.

However, 144 new active groups offering various Indonesian species for sale have been found by the authors in January 2022, according to the report Farmed or Poached? The trade of live Indonesian Bird Species in the Philippines.

Almost 1,300 Indonesian birds of at least 28 species were also confiscated from illegal trade in the Philippines between 2010 and 2020, according to the report.

It was found out that the majority of the Indonesian bird species listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) exported from the Philippines “had questionable or no records of legal import into the Philippines. “

Smuggled Moluccan Cockatoos in a trafficker’s facility in the Philippines © Emerson Y. Sy

The study also showed that the Philippines had “severely underreported its imports of Indonesian bird species compared to the numbers reported by exporters. In some cases, export of Indonesian birds from the Philippines took place before the first reported legal importation.”

Chng, meanwhile, suggested that strong enforcement in the Philippines and joint efforts with the Indonesian counterparts can help in preventing the problem of illegal trade.

Among the well known species featured in the Philippine online trade, imports and exports, and seizures, were Indonesian parrots and cockatoos which are both found only in the biodiversity hotspots of Wallacea and Papua.

“All are regulated by CITES, including five CITES Appendix I species. A listing in Appendix I means a species is prohibited from international commercial trade,” the report stated.

Emerson Sy, one of the study authors, said that aside from direct sale to buyers, wild-caught smuggled birds were also known to be laundered into the legal trade streams, often through the captive breeding facilities in the country.

“This is why we have recommended authorities conduct regular, thorough physical checks and document audits of all registered keepers and breeders of Indonesian wildlife in the Philippines,” Sy said.

The report’s authors also urged the Philippine government to ensure that export permits are granted only for legally obtained CITES-listed specimens, and the CITES Secretariat is notified of all registered operations that breed and export CITES Appendix I species.

Enforcement efforts must also be focused on central Luzon where sellers are concentrated, and southeastern Mindanao where traffickers transit to transport smuggled Indonesian wildlife, the authors suggested.

Establishing regional information-sharing systems such as the Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange (Twix) will encourage closer communications and enable impactful cross-border law enforcement action, added Sy.

“It could also facilitate the quick return of seized Indonesian bird species to their natural habitat,” he pointed out.

The study also called for enhanced monitoring of illegal wildlife trade on Facebook such as implementing stern action against those who violate the platform’s policies, explicitly suspending or deactivating individual accounts, permanently shutting down groups involved in illegal wildlife trade, and holding the administrators of such groups accountable to prevent online trading.