Indiscriminate hunting drives Eurasian bird species close to extinction

Indiscriminate hunting drives Eurasian bird species close to extinction

Yellow-breasted bunting, a bird species found so commonly in Asia and Europe, has seen a sharp decline in the recent decades due to large-scale commercial hunting.

A joint study by the UK-based BirdLife International and Mumbai-headquartered BNHS-India puts the decline of yellow-breasted bunting by 90 per cent since 1980 and the shrinkage of its distribution range by 5,000 square kilometres.

A research paper recently published in the journal ‘Conservation Biology’ blames the bird’s near-extinction and shrinkage of its distribution range to unsustainable levels of hunting in China.

The bird was once distributed across the vast areas of Europe and Asia, stretching from Finland to Japan. In India, the bird is known more as a winter visitor in the northeast states of Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur, while it is also sighted in West Bengal and in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The bird species has also been reported in Nepal and Bangladesh. In India, the birds were largely found between October and April in small and large flocks of up to 200 birds.
The birds gather as larger flocks in night time roosts during migration and wintering grounds, becoming easy catch for hunters who lay large nets to catch them. The birds were captured for food.

Hunting reached unsustainable levels in recent times, particularly in China, where the disappearance of the yellow-breasted bunting is quite pronounced. The country banned hunting of the birds, known in Chinese as ‘Rice Birds’ in 1997, but millions of them are being hunted, along with other song bird species, and sold in black market as recently as in 2013.

Consumption of yellow-breasted bunting has increased in East Asia and the once common subsistence hunting became commercial and large scale in recent years to meet the demand.

A 2001 estimate suggests about 10 lakh yellow-breasted buntings were consumed in China’s Guangdong province alone.

The rate of hunting and consumption is comparatively less in India, where bunting meat is known as Bageri.

Yellow-breasted bunting and red-headed bunting are hunted and consumed during winter in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area,” said Dr Johannes Kamp from the University of Münster, the lead author of the paper.

Commenting on the bird’s catastrophic decline, Dr Asad Rahmani, director, BNHS, said, “The decline of a once common species like yellow-breasted bunting, a winter visitor to India, is further evidence that illegal hunting could be behind the disappearance of many erstwhile common Indian bird species.”


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