Straw-headed bulbuls find a safe haven in Singapore

There are only an estimated 600 to 1,700 straw-headed bulbuls left in the wild. Singapore is thought to have at least 200 - and counting. Their numbers on Pulau Ubin have nearly doubled in 10 years.
There are only an estimated 600 to 1,700 straw-headed bulbuls left in the wild. Singapore is thought to have at least 200 - and counting. Their numbers on Pulau Ubin have nearly doubled in 10 years.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHAUN SPYKERMAN

Plunge in numbers worldwide but songbird now classified as endangered thrives here

Singapore is one of the remaining havens for a rare songbird now classified as endangered worldwide, according to wildlife experts.

There are only an estimated 600 to 1,700 straw-headed bulbuls left in the wild. Singapore is thought to have at least 200 - and counting.

The bird's conservation status was raised from "vulnerable" to "endangered" on the latest edition of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, released on Thursday.

Illegal wildlife trade has caused several species to move up to higher threat categories.

"There is now evidence that unsustainable levels of capture for the cagebird trade, largely centred on Java, are driving the deteriorating status of many species," said IUCN .

But in Singapore, the straw-headed bulbul seems to be doing better.

  • Creatures under threat in Singapore

    Singapore is home to over 200 species of animals considered globally threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

    VULNERABLE

    199 species in Singapore

    Smooth-coated otter
    Lutrogale perspicillata
    Oriental small-clawed otter
    Aonyx cinereus

    Singapore has two otter species, both classified as vulnerable. The famous otter families spotted around Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Marina Bay are smooth-coated otters.

    Less commonly spotted is the oriental small-clawed otter, which is the world's smallest otter species.

    ENDANGERED

    27 species in Singapore

    Straw-headed bulbul
    Pycnonotus zeylanicus

    This songbird's global conservation status was raised from vulnerable to endangered in the latest update. But its population in Singapore seems to be increasing, say bird experts here.

    CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

    Sunda pangolin
    Manis javanica

    These shy creatures are the only mammals with scales - for which they have been hunted and poached worldwide. In Singapore, road traffic is probably their greatest threat, according to the IUCN.

Their numbers on Pulau Ubin have nearly doubled in 10 years, according to a paper headed by Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) Bird Group member Yong Ding Li.

According to non-governmental organisation Traffic, which monitors the wildlife trade, Singapore is "one of the few remaining strongholds for the species".

NSS executive committee member Ho Hua Chew noted that the bird has been recorded in patches of forest outside nature reserves, such as at Khatib Bongsu and Bukit Batok Nature Park. To help protect this bird, the authorities could include such patches for conservation too, Dr Ho told The Straits Times.

Singapore has 236 species of animals classified as globally "threatened" on the list (see sidebar).

Even as development encroaches upon green spaces, the authorities have tried to limit the impact. On the former cemetery land of Bidadari, where public housing is being developed, a wooded hillock is being conserved for migratory birds.

The NSS worked with the authorities to identify key areas. Bidadari is an important stopover for birds such as the brown-chested jungle flycatcher, classified as "vulnerable".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Straw-headed bulbuls find a safe haven in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe