The extinction-in-progress in the wild of the Barusan Shama Copsychus (malabaricus) melanurus.
FORKTAIL 35 (2019): 30–37.
Unsustainable wildlife trade across South-East Asia has contributed significantly to the extinction threats faced by many songbirds. The Barusan Shama Copsychus (malabaricus) melanurus, a highly-prized songster from the West Sumatran Archipelago,is one of the most threatened taxa in Asia’s songbird trade crisis, yet its predicament is often overlooked because some taxonomists treat it as a mere subspecies of the widespread White-rumped Shama C. malabaricus. Here, we provide the first modern comprehensive assessment of the on-the-ground status of Barusan Shamas across all major islands of the West Sumatran Archipelago based on visual and bioacoustic surveys, mist-netting activity, as well as community interviews covering approximately the last five years. A lack of ornithological field records across many years as well as documented drops in local capture rates indicate that increasing poaching pressure and market value have likely driven the Barusan Shama to extinction in the wild on all islands except Siberut. Even on Siberut, we document a drastic population crash and estimate impending extinction in the wild within perhaps five years in the absence of considerable changes in human behaviour. The decline and presumed extermination of some Barusan Shama island populations was so precipitous that it became evident even within our five-year monitoring period. Although our field efforts and those of others must continue, this bird’s future now likely hinges on ex situ conservation efforts. The Barusan Shama occurs in four described subspecies, each endemic to its own island group, further complicating conservation efforts. Although the nominate subspecies melanurus remains relatively common in captivity on Nias and Mentawai, the other three subspecies are currently known from captive populations of a magnitude of about 100 for hypolizus, a handful for opisthochrus and zero for mirabilis, casting doubt on whether ex situ efforts can be initiated fast enough to assure the survival of individual subspecies.