The yellow-breasted bunting was once found in abundant numbers throughout Europe and Asia. Today, the elusive songbird is in danger of being illegally eaten to extinction by China’s middle classes, who regard the beautiful bunting’s flesh as something of a delicacy.
A new scientific report published in the Conservation Biology journal reveals that, since 1980, numbers of the yellow-breasted bunting have fallen by 90 percent, and the area it inhabits has been diminished by more than 3,000 miles due to illegal hunting.
The report states that not since the passenger pigeon was hunted into extinction in the U.S a century ago has a bird suffered such a devastating decline in numbers.
“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area, with the exception of the passenger pigeon, which went extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting.
“High levels of hunting also appear to be responsible for the declines we are seeing in yellow-breasted bunting.”
The yellow-breasted bunting, which has disappeared from Japan, eastern Europe and large parts of Russia, had been hunted for more than 2,000 years in China, but following the severity of their population decline, hunting of the species, sometimes known as the “rice bird,” was banned by China in 1997.
However, according to the study, as late as 2013, millions of yellow-breasted buntings and other songbirds were still being slaughtered for food and sold on the black market.
The surge in appetite for the flesh of the yellow-breasted bunting is thought to be a result of east Asia’s economic growth and growing prosperity.
The growing black market has met this demand with hunters easily trapping the tiny songbirds on their wintering grounds in their millions as they net huge flocks at night-time roosts.
So serious is the threat to the yellow-breasted bunting, the Express reports that the Convention on Migratory Species will initiate an international action plan for its planned recovery by 2017.
Senior conservation officer at Birdlife International, Simba Chan, explained how bird lovers and watchers in China can also play their part in the preservation of the yellow-breasted bunting.
“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.
“In the last decade birdwatching has become increasingly popular in China. Birdwatchers will play an important role in future data gathering. Now is the time to address these worrying declines in the yellow-breasted bunting across the region by mobilizing people for conservation action.”
(Photo By David McNew/Getty Images)