“As cheap as water” is a common saying in Bangladesh. Despite the fact that water is actually not cheap, salespeople nonetheless love to use the expression to draw the attention of potential customers.
These days, social media marketplaces use this phrase to advertise something extremely valuable: wild birds.
Though selling, buying and caging wild birds is against the law, these birds are being sold publicly at a relatively low price.
The Wildlife Conservation and Security Act of 2012 makes it illegal to purchase, sell or transfer local bird species.
Over the course of a monthlong investigation, Mongabay discovered up to 10 Facebook pages, profiles and YouTube channels selling wild birds like the scaly-breasted munia (Lonchura punctulata), blossom-headed parakeet (Psittacula roseata), Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria), red turtle dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica), common hill myna (Gracula religiosa), and common myna (Acridotheres tristis).
Many other pages and groups promote the taming of wild birds. One YouTube channel was selling Accipitridae birds like eagles, hawks and Brahminy kites (Haliastur indus).
The blossom-headed parakeet is a near threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The most commonly sold of these species — which are barred from sale — the Alexandrine parakeet, is near threatened globally.
Three big online retailers
Masud Rana and Arif from Mirpur, Dhaka, and Ibrahim from Tangi Bazar are the most well-known online sellers of wild birds on social media. All three vendors sell wild birds that can mimic humans as cage pets. They sometimes claim the birds they sell were bred in captivity but most often say these birds, especially the common hill mynas and common mynas, were captured in different forests.
They aggressively market their nestlings and fledglings whenever they have supply, which also indicates the birds are not continuously reproducing. Their selling activity is seasonal and spontaneous in nature. They have adult birds as well. The birds can be bought year-round, but only as long as supplies last. Mongabay talked to them posing as a client. All three claimed they only had one or two of the mentioned birds and the prices were nonnegotiable.
Rana, who is accessible through two or more YouTube channels, appears to be one of the most dependable sellers. It was clear from the comments section that his clients rely on him. He also has a greater variety of species than other sellers, and he even sells Accipitridae. Most of his sales consist of young nestlings. Rana claims his parrots are from Pakistan and never accepts preorders. He says that every time he has stock, he immediately sells it online.
Arif does not operate any store. He works from home and doesn’t have a dedicated delivery service. He prefers customers pick them up from him.
Ibrahim is the most prominent seller of the three. He has a physical store and a storage area at his home. He has been arrested for selling wild birds twice. Ibrahim accepts preorders and cash on delivery; his delivery fee is only 200 taka ($1.87) for Dhaka and 500 taka ($4.68) for anywhere else in the country.
Legal loopholes and poor implementation of law
On Dec. 30, Ibrahim was arrested under the Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU) of the Bangladesh Forest Department. But he soon secured bail. Mongabay called Ibrahim on Jan. 20, pretending to be in the market for a myna and two blossom-headed parakeets. When the reporter asked Ibrahim if buying this bird might attract legal complications, he responded that he had confidence in his business.
Ibrahim could be sentenced to six months in prison and fined up to 100,000 taka ($937) based on the charges against him. However, since Ibrahim was not selling a tiger or an elephant, his crime is bailable under the Wildlife Conservation and Security Act of 2012. Ibrahim was granted bail a day after his arrest and returned to his business.
“We are just a team of six people who don’t have direct power to impose the law,” said WCCU director Md. Sanaullah Patwary. “When we receive information about such transgressions, we immediately intervene, either by setting up a mobile court and immediately punishing them, or turning them over to the police.”
The WCCU chief said there were no magistrates available that day to set up a mobile court, so Ibrahim was turned over to the police.
A thriving ecosystem
Ibrahim aggressively expanded his online presence on getting out on bail and is now involved with several Facebook groups and YouTube channels. He is further encouraging other people to join the trade. YouTube channels like Pets, Pakhi Palon Bangla, Deshi Khamar, Pets Box Office, Raju Pigeon TV, BD Bird farm and others have contributed to creating a thriving market. These social media sites help online businesses by offering video shoots and editing services alongside managing their social media. More offline vendors are entering the online wild bird market this way. The existing conservation law does not have any provisions to check such activities.
There is a craze surrounding these online bird shows and sales. Shahed from Jessore, Rana Ahmed from Narayanganj and SH Mehad, who promotes himself as a falcon master by marketing and training Accipitridae birds like eagles, hawks and Brahminy kites, are other prominent names in this thriving online marketplace.
According to Muntasir Akash, assistant professor of zoology at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh has a large number of bird species — more than 700 — but their habitats are in danger due to deforestation and the loss of water bodies. If illegal trade becomes common, these species will struggle to survive.
A big awareness gap
There are significant knowledge gaps surrounding the sale, purchase and caging of wild birds, besides law enforcement issues. The general public and various government bodies do not appear to acknowledge that keeping birds in cages is an offense that carries a penalty. A caged common myna recently made an appearance in the well-known movie “Hawa.” The censor board gave the movie its approval despite this transgression. The WCCU of the Forest Department filed a complaint against the movie director Mejbaur Rahman Sumon, as he used a captured bird. Inspector Nargis Sultana Liza of the WCCU said that if only 10% of people who watch the movie are moved enough to start taming common mynas, 2-million-taka ($18,750) worth of birds could enter the marketplace.
Nargis cited another example of the wildly popular animated series, “Meena,” about a bright, young village girl who fights various social taboos with the help of her talking parrot, Mithu. The show inspired people to own parrots that can say, “My name is Mithu.”
If one bird is captured, it harms an entire colony and future reproduction. Wild birds kept in cages can also transmit zoonotic diseases. Pandemics like SARS, monkey pox, Ebola and COVID-19 first infected wild animals and birds. According to the World Economic Forum, zoonotic diseases are responsible for an estimated 2.5 billion cases of illness and 2.7 million deaths each year. “For our own sake, we should stop catching wild animals and birds,” said Nargis.
Durden LA, McLean RG, Oliver JH Jr, Ubico SR, James AM. Ticks, Lyme disease spirochetes, trypanosomes, and antibody to encephalitis viruses in wild birds from coastal Georgia and South Carolina. J Parasitol. 1997 Dec;83(6):1178-82. PMID: 9406799.
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This article by Maksuda Aziz was first published by Mongabay.com on 29 August 2023. Lead Image: A scaly-breasted munia in Natore, Bangladesh. Image by M Murtoza Sarwar via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).