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Yellow-backed Lory Headed for Extinction?

Rosemary Low


Chattering and Yellow-backed Lories (Lorius garrulus garrulus and L.g. flavopalliatus) are great favourites with aviculturists, prized for their beauty and appealing personalities. On the Indonesian islands where they occur they are popular cage birds for the same reasons. Unfortunately, in countries where aviculture has a more serious tradition, Chattering and Yellow-backed Lories have declined almost to the point of rarity. Despite the thousands imported into Europe before 1987, there are now very few breeding birds. In Australia, they have never been common.

There are the only a few islands on which the species occurs: Bacan, Obi, Halmahera and Morotai. Unfortunately, the yellow-backed subspecies are being trapped almost to extinction particularly on the island of Obi in the Northern Moluccas, and elsewhere in its small range. It formerly occurred on Morotai’s tiny satellite island, Rau, but the chances of it still surviving there are almost non-existent. Throughout Indonesia, many species of interest to trappers which were confined to small islands are now likely to be extinct, due to trapping and habitat loss. The djampeanus sub-species of the Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus forsteni) is one example. These extinctions are too recent (or as yet unknown) to be found in the literature.

Severely Affected by Trade

In Indonesia, illegal trapping of parrots continues on a vast scale. Importation of the Yellow-backed Lory into Europe was banned by EU legislation in 1987 due to the excessive trade which was endangering its survival. But many other regions imported any parrot species, caring nothing for their survival. Export of this lory (all subspecies) was legal, with quotas set at 5,900 each year in 1990 and 1991. These quotas have been routinely exceeded since then, as the lories are extremely popular as pets among local people and are trapped and exported from eastern Indonesia in larger numbers than any other parrot. On the island of Obi trapping is carried out using glue-laden branches from the breadfruit tree and the lure of a captive Yellow-backed Lory in a cage. When caught, the unfortunate birds are wrapped in leaves and taken to trappers’ homes where kerosene is used to remove the glue. In humans, breathing in large quantities of kerosene can cause dizziness, headaches and vomiting. What it does to the delicate respiratory system of a bird is unknown.

The lories are then sold at low prices to local people (equivalent of about US$10) or higher prices to international traders offshore (US$50). Kept crowded in small cages, they are taken in small boats where they meet larger ships of international traders and transferred at sea. There are reports of soldiers and miners, who work on various islands around Indonesia, buying parrots and taking them home in sawn-off water bottles and plastic tubes. Because of the way the birds are handled the death rate must be very high.

Chattering and Yellow-backed Lories have been so heavily trapped in some areas that they can no longer be found. Consequently, the species has been classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1994, but due to the continuing rate of unsustainable trapping, Endangered would surely be a more appropriate category. Legal trade ceased in 2003, but there was a ready market for them in many other countries, especially in the east, so illegal trade continued. Their Vulnerable status was assigned on the assumption that 5,000 Chattering Lories are illegally trapped each year across their entire range. However, in July 2012 John Mittermeier and Eden Cottee-Jones visited Obi while carrying out research for the University of Oxford and Louisiana State University. (See Autumn 2015 PsittaScene article “An Overlooked Trade Hotspot: North Moluccas”.)

The two estimated that 5,976 Yellow-backed Lories are trapped annually on the island of Obi alone. This compared with estimates of 1,092 for the Violet-necked Lory (Eos squamata) and much smaller numbers for Eclectus Parrots. Their estimates were gleaned from interviewing trappers and other local people. They found that 32% of householders had caught parrots for themselves. Their reasons for keeping them were for entertainment or as toys for the children.

Work on Obi urgently needed

Mittermeier and Cottee-Jones recommended urgent fieldwork to estimate the population on Obi. This has not happened. They state that given the small number of trappers on Obi “a series of stakeholder meetings at the key trappers’ villages may be sufficient to launch a no-take zone system.”

I would suggest that a conservation education programme, targeting the villagers who catch lories for their own use, would also be very valuable, hopefully reducing the numbers caught by individuals who were not selling them.  Investigation is also needed into the current situation on Bacan.

If no actions are taken, it is extremely likely that the Yellow-backed Lory will be trapped to extinction. That is unthinkable. If you can donate or raise money which can be used for education purposes on Obi and Bacan or to help improve the conditions of confiscated lories there, please make a donation to the Lory Conservation Network of the World Parrot Trust.


© 2017 Rosemary Low