21 Oct 2020

As guardians of the Monsoon Forest, the spectacular and diverse bird species will open your eyes to the incredible biodiversity of the South East Asian islands. But sadly, these rare species are facing unprecedented threats in the wild.

From the black-naped oriole, blue-crowned hanging parrots, rhinoceros hornbill to the grosbeak starling, these are only a few of the unique and rare species that reside in the native islands of South East Asia, and Monsoon Forest.

As a result of their beautiful and colourful appearance, they are heavily trafficked as part of the illegal wildlife trade, often kept as pets in people’s homes. Songbirds in particular, are taken from their habitat and kept, or used to take part in songbird contests in Indonesia.

Monsoon Forest is not just an immersive and fun day out for all the family, it’s also a vital journey we must take to better understand the threats these birds face, and what we can do to help stop the world’s rainforests, falling silent.

We speak to Andrew Owen, Curator of Birds at the zoo, to find out what visitors can expect to see, why Monsoon Forest is unique, and the threats these precious birds face in the wild…


What birds species can visitors expect to see in Monsoon Forest?

“You’ll see a wide variety of species all from South East Asia, mostly from Indonesia. Lots of the birds are called songbirds, which are passerines. So species such as asian fairy blue bird, the chestnut back thrush, a colony of grosbeak starlings which are quite noisy birds that sit up in the canopy of the rainforest.

“There are also a number of other species such as the white-rumped shawarma, which is one of the famous birds that they used for the songbird competitions in Indonesia. They have a beautiful melodic song. There are a lot of different pigeon’s and doves, for examples we’ve got superb fruit doves which are really beautiful birds, with multi-coloured plumage. We’ve also got the victoria crowned pigeon, which is the world’s largest pigeon, and come from the island of New Guinea. They are very impressive looking blue birds, with a great big crest on top of their heads”

“We also have black crowned barbet, which are beautiful bright green bird with red, yellow and blue markings on its head. This bird is fascinating, and was sadly confiscated from an illegal shipment of birds that came into Europe from Indonesia. If the Dutch authorities didn’t intervene, then they would’ve been sold on the black market as part of the illegal pet trade. “

“We’ve also welcomed an exciting new species,  the blue crowned hanging parrots, which are tiny and striking multi-coloured birds. They’re also very unique, as they get their name from the way that they roost upside down, similar to a bat.”

What makes Monsoon Forest so special?

“The attention to detail that everyone has put in to make Monsoon Forest so natural, especially the Botany and Horticulture department, has resulted in a habitat that really looks like a tropical Indonesian rainforest. We’ve brought in a lot of fantastic plants and tree’s, including a lot of ficus species, from the fig family, to try and tell that story of how important figs are to the ecosystem of the rainforest. Many of the birds feed on the fig fruits, then they disperse the seeds and regenerate, a vital process”

What threats do these birds face in the wild?

“One of the biggest threats for many rainforest species is deforestation and loss of habitat, integral parts of the ecosystems they live in. Many parts of South East Asian rainforests, where these birds come from, are cleared for agricultural reasons, to harvest timber, mahogany, teak and lots of other expensive woods. Some of those are also bi-products for clearing forests to make way for palm oil plantations, especially in the lowlands across South East Asia where the majority of rainforests have been cleared. It’s become a major issue, and Chester Zoo are very passionate about trying to work to improve that situation.”

“The other major threat is the illegal wildlife trade, which has impacted a lot of bird species across the world, but particularly in South East Asia. Songbirds especially, are trapped illegally, kept as pets, companions and also for singing competitions, a trend which is popular in South East Asia. Generally the prizes are high, so there is a real ‘mania’ for keeping songbirds in cages. This also affects other species too, such as the illegal parrot trade which is also a big problem as well, which affects species like the blue crowned hanging parrots which we have here at Monsoon Forest as well.”


Species are under threat in South East Asia as a result of the illegal wildlife trade. Find out how you can prevent the rainforests from falling silent.

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