A recent study by the UK-based Bird Life International and its India partner, BNHS India has recorded a 90 per cent drop in the population of what was one of the most commonly found Eurasian birds since 1980. Yellow-breasted Buntings, as the report suggests, have also retracted its range by a staggering 5000 square kilometres in the last three decades. The Conservation Biology documents that these birds were hunted to near extinction because of Chinese eating habits.
The Yellow-breasted Bunting used to be a common bird with significant distribution over vast areas of Europe and Asia. In India, it frequents in small to large groups as a migratory visit ant to the North Eastern states, West Bengal, and some regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between October and April. Sightings of these Buntings are also not rare in Nepal and Bangladesh.
Yellow-breasted buntings have been incredibly stress free prey for hunters as they gather for night time roosting in flocks. Considered a delicacy in China, these birds have been subjected to ineffable exploitation till 1977, when the Chinese government put a ban on its hunting following its initial waning population. Yet, reports suggest that thousands of these birds are still slaughtered for food and sold in the black markets till as late as 2013.
Interestingly, in recent times, the popularity of these birds as a culinary delight has increased manifolds in East Asia. To meet these increasing requirements, subsistence hunting has been replaced by mass scale commercial hunting. In India, the popularity of Bunting meat, called Bageri, is comparatively less and hence is killed less.
S. Balachandran, Deputy Director, Bombay Natural History Society, speaking with G’nY correspondent said that apart from hunting there are a plethora of other causes that have contributed to the abrupt decrease in the population of these Buntings.
“Actually, it’s extremely hard to conduct any focused study because of their scattered distribution. Whatever studies have been conducted reveals that change in cultivation patterns have also played a major role in the magnitude and speed of their decline,” he informed G’nY.
The alarming rate of decline in the population of Yellow-breasted Buntings calls for serious and motivated conservation laws.
Commenting on the ruinous decline, Dr. Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS said, “The decline of a once common species like Yellow-breasted Bunting that is a winter visitor to India further proves that illegal hunting could be the reason for the disappearance of many once common Indian bird species. Only poaching of large mammals is reported in the media and sometimes action is taken. But what about the insidious and clandestine trapping of large numbers of birds that still goes on in some parts of our country?
The authorities should bring a halt to all types of poaching and trapping. The complete stoppage of Amur Falcon killing in Doyang area of Nagaland achieved by the forest department shows that authorities can take effective measures. Forest department, police, civil authorities, NGOs and civil society should come together to stop or at least curtail poaching of all wild species.”
There is an urgent need for encompassing strict surveillance of migratory birds in East Asia as a part of conservatory attempts. Considering the severity of the issue, the Convention on Migratory Species has volunteered to come up with a global action plan for the recovery of Yellow-breasted Bunting throughout its range by 2017.