The small songbird, yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola) has been listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 18 months ago but any species that is considered medically beneficial or tasty for food in China hardly lives longer.
As late as the 1980s, the bunting was a frequent visitor in the skies of northern Europe and Asia but experts say its known sojourn in summer and winter has actually led to its decimation. The bird was seen during the summer in Finland, Northern Russia, China and Japan, while in the winter it heads to south to be visible in southern China and India.
In a study undertaken by Johannes Kamp and published in scientific journal Conservation Biology, it was pointed out that within 13 years from 1980 to 2013, nearly 90% of the bunting population was decimated owing the demand as tasty food and medical panacea for certain diseases in China and Southeast Asian markets.
From an estimated 100 million population, the species is facing erosion of 8.6 million per year, says Kamp, a landscape ecologist at the University of Münster, Germany.
Blaming on persecution and over-exploitation by humans, Kamp says is the main reason for the species extinction, which is not confined to one geographical region but superabundant with very large ranges from the Palearctic, Scandinavia to the Russian Far East.
Using anecdotal information about unsustainable trapping along the species’ migration routes, the researchers monitored data and developed models of extinction the songbird is going through. “The population declined by 84.3–94.7% between 1980 and 2013, and the species’ range contracted by 5000 km,” said Kamp in his abstract.
Citing police raids, he said rampant illegal trapping of the species along its East Asian flyway in China. Their extinction simulation model shows that the birds declined by 2%, while the annual increase has been capped at 0.2% increase, making it a perfect case for extinction soon.
“We suggest that trapping strongly contributed to the decline because the consumption of Yellow-breasted Bunting and other songbirds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in East Asia,” cautions Kamp in his paper.
Another alarming pointer made out by Kamp is that the Bunting is facing similar extinction model as that of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), which went extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting. “Our results demonstrate the urgent need for an improved monitoring of common and widespread species’ populations, and consumption levels throughout East Asia,” he said.
In November 2011, Chinese police confiscated a total of two million captured songbirds in a single raid in the southwest China and some 20,000 of them are yellow-breasted buntings. “Each bird weighs about 16 to 18 grams and is sold for about 30 euros, said Kamp in his media interviews.
More than listing it in IUCN as endangered species, Kamp pleads for social media awareness to protect the bunting ending up on dinner plates of many rich people.