Hunting threatens migratory waterbirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway

A new study led by PhD candidate Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao from The University of Queensland and an international team from thirteen institutions and nine countries shows that migratory birds are threatened by widespread and likely unsustainable hunting across the Asia-Pacific region. The study shows that three-quarters of migratory shorebird species in the region have been hunted since the 1970s. This finding is deeply concerning as these amazing globetrotters are already under pressure from many other human impacts.

Shorebirds being sold as food in southeast Asia, 2019. Photo © Toby Trung and Nguyen Hoai Bao/BirdLife

Every year, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds, wetland-dependent species, breed across the Arctic and boreal regions, moving south to Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The Flyway spans 22 countries, through which 61 species of shorebirds complete their epic annual migrations some covering up to 25,000 km each year.

However, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is the most threatened flyway among the world’s nine major flyways. Many of these fascinating birds are unfortunately declining, with several now on the brink of extinction. Up to now, habitat loss due to the expansion of coastal infrastructure had been identified as one of the main causes of their declines, particularly around the Yellow Sea region of China and the Korean peninsula, where many birds stop to rest and feed on their migrations. While hunting has always been known to occur, its scale and significance were unknown prior to this study.

The study’s lead author, Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao from the University of Queensland, explained that “Hunting has likely contributed to declines of migratory shorebirds in this region”. Eduardo continues, “we worked for four years assembling all available evidence on hunting, leaving no stone unturned, and then putting it all together like a massive jigsaw puzzle”, “our results were not great news for migratory shorebirds, as we realized the large scale of the issue, with hunting records from 14 countries involving 46 species. “

He continued to point out, “Currently, there are five shorebird species at high risk of extinction in this region, including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, of which fewer than 500 individuals remain. Hunting had already been identified as a threat to this species, but we did not know how many other threatened species could be affected too. The study discovered that other threatened species subject to hunting include the Great Knot, Far Eastern Curlew, and Spotted Greenshank.”

Professor Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland said that “managing hunting of wildlife is complicated by the broad range of people involved, from recreational hunters to subsistence hunters and commercial traders”. At least some of this hunting is driven by issues of food security, so sustainable development must be considered when developing alternatives for management. Professor Fuller continues, “there is no coordinated monitoring of how much wildlife is taken annually across the region, which makes management really hard”.

Mr. Doug Watkins, Chief Executive of East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership Secretariat mentioned that “Internationally coordinated approaches to address hunting are underway, Partners in the EAA Flyway have to work together. Therefore during the EAAFP MoP 9 in 2017, the Task Force on Illegal Hunting, Taking and Trade of Migratory Waterbirds was adopted, following the recommendation of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), and in line with the mandate provided by the Resolution adopted at CMS COP11 (11.16 rev. COP12), entitled “The Prevention of Illegal Killing, Taking and Trade of Migratory Birds” of the Convention on Migratory Species. Yet such efforts need to be ramped up to avoid extinctions and maintain healthy wildlife populations.”

Additional ground surveys and an international coordinated monitoring strategy are also urgently needed, concluded the research team.


The paper can be freely downloaded [here].
Original press release from the University of Queensland: (Dated on 21 May, 2020).

Other press release: The Conversation: Be still, my beating wings: hunters kill migrating birds on their 10,000km journey to Australia (Date 25 May, 2020)

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