The Pramuka bird market in Jakarta, Indonesia, is Southeast Asia's largest
bird and wildlife market. Located in the northeast corner of the city,
it is the largest of the city's three bird markets. Pramuka has been in
operation since 1975, starting in a building housing 124 market stalls.
In the late 1980s the Jakarta Market Authority added a four-story building on adjacent land, containing 200 stalls. Not all are occupied and just over 250 stalls are open for business on any given day.
I had the opportunity to survey the market 12 times in 1992 and 1993, for a TRAFFIC Southeast Asia study of the region's bird trade. During each of those visits, readily recognizable protected species were offered for sale by touts and displayed in a corner of the market.
Birds for Sale
While several hundred parrots of a dozen or more species could always
be found, parrots and other CITES-listed species were always greatly outnumbered
by non-CITES birds. This is because the Pramuka market serves the local
demand, and none of the species on display are for the export market (most
parrots are usually exported).
Once on a typical day I counted all the wild songbirds I saw - and came up with 20,500 birds of 77 species! That, on average, it takes about two weeks for traders to sell their stock gives some idea of the turnover: over 40,000 wild birds a month, only to local buyers.
During a few hours' walk around the market it was not unusual to record 90 or more species, and no matter how many times I visited this market, even on several days in a row, there would always be something I had not seen there before.
The surveys turned up about 300 local species, a truly amazing variety. It was at this market, after all, I once saw a rare Javan scops owl for sale. This species is known from only one area in Java (in a national park, no less), and has been seen only a few times this century.
The capture and internal transport of birds are supposed to be regulated
by a system of capture and transport permits, and many species are totally
protected from capture. However, the system is not applied and few if any
of the birds in the Pramuka market have been "legally" captured.
Under the much publicized Environmental Act of 1990, unauthorized capture of protected species can carry a penalty of imprisonment up to a maximum of five years and a fine up to a maximum of $50,000; trade in protected species through negligence is liable to one year's imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.
Despite the daily infractions in the Pramuka market (and in virtually every wildlife market in Indonesia), to the best of my knowledge no one has ever been charged under the Act for catching and selling endangered species in bird markets. And there are so many nationally protected species on sale that one gets the distinct impression that no place is safe from bird catchers.
Mammals for Sale Too
Not only birds were offered for sale: leopard cats, civets, primates
such as macaques, gibbons, and slow lorises, otters, and various lizards
and snakes were also on display. Occasionally, touts offered to take me
to where species such as orangutans, sun bears and young tigers could be
In 1994 I heard reports of a crackdown by wildlife authorities on the Pramuka market. I assumed this had come about because of outside efforts to bring attention to the problem of the bird trade in Indonesia. At the time Indonesia was under review by the CITES Standing Committee, and authorities were making serious efforts to restructure how the trade in wild species was being managed.
Because of these efforts, Indonesia narrowly evaded sanctions at the November 1994 CITES meeting in Fort Lauderdale. I thought the bad old days of the Pramuka market were over.
In October 1995, I again had the opportunity to spend several days in the Pramuka market. I fully expected to find the market a shadow of its former self, and selling more in the line of captive-bred birds. After all, locally bred zebra doves, "singing" roosters, and pigeons are extremely popular in Jakarta (the latter are "flown" like we would fly a kite, returning to their owner) and the captive-bred birds are usually fairly well cared for.
To my disappointment I found the Pramuka market had not changed at all.
There were still over 250 stalls doing business, and I saw no indication of a drop in trade. If anything, I saw more protected species on sale than before.
For instance, I noted there were changeable hawk-eagles, black-shouldered kites, and one individual of an extremely rare endemic race of the honey buzzard for sale, despite the fact that all birds of prey are totally protected in Indonesia.
Protected status was not stopping the sale of white-throated kingfishers, banded pittas, black-winged starlings, pied fantails, sunbirds and flowerpeckers, blue-crowned and Javan barbets, and several eclectus parrots. Ironically, the demand for these species is great because of their protected status - owning and displaying them shows you are "above the law."
Many of the birds on display can only be found in the wild with considerable effort. Most naturalists visiting Java will return home without seeing Java sparrows, chestnut-capped and whistling thrushes, and local laughing thrushes - unless they see them at Pramuka.
One contributor to the lack of birds in the countryside is the huge
trade in "throwaway" birds, ones bought as novelty items to impress friends
and neighbors, and that will quickly die in captivity. These birds are
often relatively inexpensive, because the traders want to sell them before
they die. Their low price makes them desirable and easily replaceable,
creating a cycle that destroys many thousands of birds.
Flycatchers, woodpeckers, sunbirds, owls, and most forest birds will quickly die because of poor handling and inadequate diets (some effects are obvious - most green magpies turn a pale blue in captivity). To make things worse, shade-dwelling forest species are placed in small cages under the midday heat, a sure recipe for short survival.
During my walk through the market I came across a little black cormorant in a cardboard box. An unlikely "songbird" if there ever was one, and, like so many thousands of birds in the market that day, it was not going to last very long. As before, there was other wildlife for sale.
I arrived in Jakarta during a craze for iguanas from Central America and there was a thriving sale in these, along with the smaller local lizards, and snakes too. As usual there were many types of squirrels, civet cats, some small otters, and primates on display. Both short-tailed and long-tailed macaques were there, as were silvered leaf monkeys, slow lorises, and a young siamang.
What's going on?
Are the authorities aware of the problem? Why is this still going on?
It is very frustrating that the government is well aware of the state of
affairs in the Pramuka market, but does nothing about it. I've been told
that uniformed wildlife officers occasionally "raid" the market.
However, with the convoluted layout of the market and the many watchful eyes, I picture that no sooner are these officers halfway across the parking lot, all the well-known protected species, including the primates, are hauled away across the back fence to the convenient warren of alleyways surrounding the market.
Conference in Jakarta
In October, the government was preparing to host a meeting of the Conference
of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention, to be held in Jakarta the
following month. I was told the authorities were instructing market officials
and traders to hide the stocks of protected species during the two-week
period the meeting would convene. The city, they feared, would be flooded
with delegates from foreign NGOs and journalists, and the government wanted
to avoid any publicity that would mar their moment in the spotlight.
I don't know if the species were in fact removed from view, or if anybody bothered visiting the Pramuka market or any of the other wildlife markets - but in any case I presume "business" was back to its usual level shortly afterwards.
HOW YOU CAN HELP END THIS CRUELTY
The cruelty to wildlife on Pramuka Market seems endless. In 1989, the BBC exposed the sale of orangutans, siamangs, rare species of leaf monkeys, and macaques, as well as endangered birds. Things have not improved since. We need lots of protest letters.
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