As the world looks to tighten up the illegal capture of wildlife, migratorybirds are being threatened by widespread and unsustainable hunting across theAsia-Pacific region.

University of Queensland-led research has revealed that three quarters ofmigratory shorebird species in the region have been hunted since the 1970s.

UQ PhD student Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao said the finding was deeply concerning, asthese globetrotters were already under pressure from other human impacts.

“The Asia-Pacific is host to one of the most amazing animal migrations onearth,” Mr Gallo-Cajiao said.

“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 a migration corridor known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

“The Flyway spans 22 countries, through which 61 species of shorebirdscomplete their epic annual migrations some covering up to 25,000 km each year.

“But many of these fascinating birds are unfortunately declining, with severalon the brink of extinction.

“Until now, habitat loss due to the expansion of coastal infrastructure hadbeen identified as one of the main causes of their declines, particularlyaround the Yellow Sea region of China and the Korean peninsula, where manybirds stop to rest and feed on their migrations.

“The scale and significance of hunting was unknown prior to this study, andit’s clear that it’s likely contributed to declines of migratory shorebirds inthis region.”

The team worked for four years assembling all available evidence on hunting –analysing hunting records from 14 countries, involving 46 species.

But there are knowledge gaps, as they could not find data for eight countries.

Currently, there are five shorebird species at high risk of extinction in thisregion, including the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, of whichfewer than 500 remain.

“Our study discovered that other threatened species that have been subject tohunting include the great knot, far eastern curlew, and spotted greenshank,”Mr Gallo-Cajiao said.

UQ’s Professor Richard Fuller said managing hunting was complicated by thebroad range of people involved, from recreational hunters to subsistencehunters and commercial traders.

“At least some hunting is driven by issues of food security, so sustainabledevelopment must be considered when developing alternatives for management,”Professor Fuller said.

“There’s no coordinated monitoring of how many shorebirds are taken annuallyacross the region, which makes management really hard.

“Internationally coordinated approaches to address hunting are now underway,including through the UN Convention on Migratory Species, but these effortsneed to be drastically ramped up to avoid extinctions and maintain healthywildlife populations.

“Additional ground surveys and an international coordinated monitoringstrategy are also urgently needed.”

The research has been published in Biological Conservation (DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108582) and was a collaboration between 13 institutionsacross nine countries.

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