The illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to the future of the world’s flora and fauna. The aim of Phase 2 of Islands was to continue to showcase Chester Zoo’s conservation programmes based in the South East Asia region, this time with a focus on the Island of Sumatra. The new exhibit was to help communicate to visitors the terrible impact that the illegal wildlife trade has on animals across the globe. This message would link directly to Chester’s songbird campaign as some of the aviary’s inhabitants are birds that were confiscations from the illegal bird trade. It would also provide an appropriate home for two sun bears that were rescued by Free the Bears in Cambodia after being sold into the pet trade as cubs.
The crisis surrounding Indonesian songbirds is dramatically affecting population numbers. Over 1.3 million wild birds are caught every year and sold at bird markets to be used either in singing competitions or kept in cages as status symbols. High demand for these birds has resulted in Indonesia having one of the highest numbers of bird species at threat of extinction.
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is currently listed as vulnerable, partly due to the illegal wildlife trade (IUCN, 2019), and the bears themselves were rescued from the pet trade in Cambodia by Free the Bears. Little is known about the behaviour of this shy, elusive bear meaning they also fulfil an important role for research within zoos and for raising public awareness of universal conservation issues like illegal wildlife trade.
This second phase of Islands incorporates the sun bears, a walk through aviary as well as Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus). This development continues with the original goals of Islands, which aims to create an immersive and educational environment with enhanced viewing opportunities for visitors, while also ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare. These species allow Chester Zoo to highlight the issues and impact of the illegal wildlife trade. The project was submitted for the BIAZA Exhibits Award category 2019 and won a gold award.