Rare bird being eaten to extinction in China


Dwindling population: The yellow-breasted bunting is being hunted to near extinction because of Chinese eating habits, according to a recent study. — AFP

BEIJING: A bird that was once one of the most abundant in Europe and Asia is being hunted to near extinction because of Chinese eating habits, according to a recent study.

The population of the yellow-breasted bunting has plunged by 90% since 1980, all but disappearing from eastern Europe, Japan and large parts of Russia, said the study, published yesterday in the Conservation Biology journal.

Following initial population declines, China in 1997 banned the hunting of the species, known in the country as the “rice bird”.

However, millions of these birds, along with other songbirds, were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013, said the study.

It said consumption of these birds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in East Asia, with an estimate in 2001 claiming one million buntings were consumed in China’s southern Guangdong province alone.

The birds breed north of the Himalayas and spend their winters in warmer South-East Asia, passing through eastern China where they have been hunted for more than 2,000 years, according to the conservation group BirdLife Interna­tio­nal.

At their wintering grounds, they gather in huge flocks at night-time roosts, making them easy prey for trappers using nets, the group said.

The songbird, which nests on the ground in open scrubs, is distinctive for its yellow underparts.

The paper in Conservation Biology drew parallels between the bunting and the North American passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting.

Yellow-breasted buntings have since 2013 been classified by the International Union for the Con­servation of Nature as an “endangered” species due to rapid population decline from trapping outside their breeding grounds.

“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,” said BirdLife Inter­national’s senior conservation offi­cer Simba Chan. — AFP

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