The Red-Whiskered Bulbul is listed as the 550th bird species under the Wildlife Preservation and Conservation Act. Credit: DNP

Prince of Songkhla U. throws support to its researcher after being humiliated by senior politician at “public hearing” on native bird regulation

The humiliation made by a senior Pheu Thai politician and Deputy House Speaker, Dr. Pichet Chuemuangpan, has drawn flak from conservationists for his misbehaving and the Prince of Songkhla University is not hesitant to step out to protect its researcher

Prince of Songkhla University through its Science Faculty swiftly issued a statement yesterday to show its support to Assistant Professor Dr. Sara Bamrungsri, who was humiliated at a public hearing meeting on the regulation on the Red-whiskered Bulbul bird held in Songkhla province on Saturday. 

The bird is popularly raised as a ped songbird by locals in the South due to its beautiful voice but is still a protected species under the Wildlife Preservation and Conservation Act. The act bans trade, possession, and poaching of the bird in the wild but allows breeding and possession of the bird with proper registration. The bird in the wild can be found in sparse forests and shrubs in the North, the Central and Western regions, and the South, but the population in the South has dropped significantly in recent years with some estimates by 90% due to illegal capturing.

Several participants wanted to remove the species from the list of protected animals under the law to facilitate their possession of the bird. Currently, if owners of the bird do not register their birds with concerned authorities, they are deemed to violate the law. 

According to the National Parks Department (DNP), at least 134, 325 Red-whiskered bulbul birds are registered by 11,466 owners. However, the department has acknowledged that a lot more are still unregistered. The bird owners complain about a complicated registration process with the department, the department noted.

At the meeting chaired by the deputy House Speaker, Pichet Chuamuangpan from the Northern province of Chiang Rai, the issue was subject to a lengthy debate among the supporters and conservationists. During the meeting, Dr. Sara proposed the best way out, saying the pain point would rather be the registration process as breeding and possession of the bird is already allowed by the law.

What the biology researcher was concerned with the most was the fact that the deregulation would open the doors for poaching of the birds in the wild, of which the population has already plummeted.

“It would not be right to address the issue by delisting the species and this could allow poaching of the bird everywhere. Such deregulation could prompt extinction of the bird in the wild, and that could mean the loss of its natural genetic bank that help us sustain its population,” Dr. Sara pointed out one of his prime reasons.

l Dr. Sara and Mr. Pichet at the public hearing meeting. Credits: Panudet Kerdmali and DNP

The assistant professor, however, was bluffed by the deputy House Speaker, who was on the stage along with other MPs, with harsh questions directed at him. For instance, the deputy House Speaker asked him whether he was a Southerner or not or whether he ever raised the bird. If he was not, he would not understand the way of life of Southern people well.

His action drew loud applause from the supporters in the room, but conservationists both inside the room and online viewed otherwise. They were not hesitant to throw support to the professor, whose work has won major awards from the international community including the Spallenzani Award for his biological research on bats in the region.

Well-known marine biology lecturer at the same faculty Sakanan Plathong posted on Facebook account, saying he and Dr. Sara have extensively conducted research in the South and shared their findings with Southern people to support their conservation work in the region, many of which are their students who have never shown discrimination against them although they are not Southerners. 

Another well-known biologist Dr. Petch Manopawitr also posted on his Facebook account, saying the conservationists did not oppose the breeding and possessing of the bird, but by delisting it from the act could allow extensive poaching of the bird in the wild. The bird population in the South, he said, clearly suggests that the management of the bird in the wild and that in the cage are different issues and should not be mixed.

“It doesn’t make sense to delist it from the law. We need to strike a balance between utilisation and conservation. The chair of the meeting should consider how he behaved. Politicians should rather base their actions and decisions on facts, not just act in the hope of gaining popularity,” said Dr. Petch.

The university said Dr. Sara’s proposals were based on research and facts and could benefit concerned parties and the bird as a whole. So, the university stood by him and his integrity in providing public services with a body of knowledge and bringing righteousness to society. This, it said, was in line with the work principle of the university.

Panudet Kerdmali, Chairman of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, who also attended the meeting, said the attempt to delist the bird from the wildlife conservation law has been made by several governments but it has never got approval from the National Wildlife Conservation Committee.

The meeting deemed as another attempt by the current government following a petition made to the deputy House Speaker, he said, was crowded by supporters while there were only four people who opposed the idea. However, they stood up to express their points but were often interrupted by the chair.

Mr. Panudej said after listening to all sides that the critical issue would be the complicated registration rather than the listing of the bird. What is the most concern among the conservationists is the fact that the delisting of this bird could set a precedence for other protected species.

“I trust that without disturbance, the bird population in the wild could recover. So, we would not intervene the nature any further at this point,” said Mr. Panudej.

The new registration process for Red-Whiskered Bulbul. Credit: DNP

The DNP, meanwhile, decided to expedite and improve the registration process upon hearing views and opinions from the meeting. The DNP’s chief, Mr. Athapol Charoenshunsa, said he has instructed the Wildlife Conservation Office to overhaul the process by fast-racking it to facilitate the bird owners, who have not yet registered their birds with the office. This will help shorten the process from 25 days at least to only five days. At the same time, those found capturing the birds in the wild will be strictly charged according to the law, he added.

Dr. Pichet, meanwhile, has not made any comments or offered apologies since the meeting yet.

Watch the FB recording of the meeting here (The humiliation was made during the 2.00.00 hour)