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An Unlikely Sanctuary for Cockatoos

Yellow-crested cockatoos are now a critically endangered species and are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The population in the bird’s native range has plummeted due to poaching and the pet trade. There are now just 7,000 birds living in the wild.

Hong Kong

Yellow-crested cockatoos are natives of Indonesia and East Timor but there are now few birds left in the wild. However, a population of the birds has been established in Hong Kong and this could prove crucial to the survival of the species.

Escaped Pets

The birds were first introduced to Hong Kong in the mid-20th century. Escaped and released pets have since produced one of the world’s largest naturalised populations. The birds have thrived in the city which is now home to 10 per cent of the world’s non-native yellow-crested cockatoos. 200 of the birds live wild in Hong Kong, mostly between Pok Fu Lam and Happy Valley. However, the birds are a controversial subject in the region. Despite the ban on international trade, yellow-crested cockatoos are licensed for sale in the city.

Non-Native Populations and Conservation

A paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment has highlighted the importance of non-native populations in the conservation of threatened species. These populations can help to counter declining numbers in native ranges. However, the birds are an invasive species and so could impact the local ecosystem.

Mistaken Identity

Scientists are concerned that this species can still be sold as pets in Hong Kong. No licence is required to keep one of these birds but owners must have proof that their birds were obtained legally. To make matters worse, the yellow-crested cockatoo is almost indistinguishable from the sulphur-crested cockatoo which is not an endangered species.

Greater Protection Needed

It is possible that some of the birds for sale in Hong Kong are not locally bred as claimed or that some specimens are being identified incorrectly. There are calls for greater regulation in order to protect the yellow-crested cockatoo as the population in Hong Kong could be the bird’s best chance of avoiding extinction.

Uncertain Future

Meanwhile some ecologists are suggesting that the best course of action would be to capture the birds and transport them to Indonesia to boost the population there. The trapping of wild birds is illegal in Hong Kong and so there would have to be changed to the law if this is to happen. More research is required to establish whether it would be better to nurture and protect the population in Hong Kong or to return the birds to their native range.


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