Help to save the Yellow-backed Lory!

Rosemary Low

In Indonesia illegal trapping of parrots continues on a vast scale. Combined with deforestation, this is causing some populations to crash. An example is the island of Obi, in the Northern Moluccas, which has recently suffered severe forest loss. There are seven parrot species on Obi including the Chattering Lory. Obi and Bacan are the only islands on which the stunning yellow-backed form (Lorius garrulus flavopalliatus) is found.

Obi Yellow-backed Lory: 
Photograph John Mittermeier

In 1996 Tim Severin, one of Alfred Russel Wallace’s many admirers, retraced his hero’s journey through the islands of Indonesia. When he reached Bacan he was dismayed at the activities of the bird trappers. In just one village there were fifteen. They travelled to areas of the island where they could catch lories, parrots and cockatoos. They hung ripe fruits in the trees, next to branches which they had covered in gum. The parrots were trapped on the sticky branches. In this way they expected to catch 200 in two weeks.

Severin wrote: “… our informant told us that it was increasingly difficult to catch commercial species of birds on Bacan itself. The main island had largely been stripped of birds and, to make a living, bird-catchers were now going to small offshore islands to catch birds there”  (Severin, 1997).  They had built a holding facility there and the birds were picked up by traders who took them to Sulawesi, from where many were shipped to Singapore.

Importation of the Yellow-backed Lory into Europe was banned by EU legislation in 1987 due to excessive trade which was endangering its survival. But many other regions imported any parrot species, caring nothing for their survival. Export of this lory was legal, with quotas set at 5,900 each year in 1990 and 1991. The numbers recorded exported were 4,727 in 1990 and 3,526 for the first six months of 1991. The catch quota for Bacan in 1991 was a mere 250, yet from October 1991 to February 1992, 2088 were seen in holding cages.

Obi and Bacan are small islands in the province of North Maluku. Obi is 84km (52 miles) long and about 47km (28 miles) wide.  Bacan is said to cover about 1,900km² and Morotai (sub-species morotaianus) a little less.  Halmahera, where the nominate race occurs, is much larger – 19,400km² (7,500 square miles). Nevertheless, the quotas set were exorbitant.  These are the only four islands on which the Chattering and Yellow-backed Lories occur.

Not only is this lory extremely popular as a pet among local people, it is trapped and exported from eastern Indonesia in larger numbers than any other parrot.

On Obi trapping is carried out using branches with glue made from the breadfruit tree and the lure of a captive Yellow-backed Lory. When caught, the lories are wrapped in leaves and taken to trapper’s homes where kerosene is used to remove the glue. The lories are sold at low prices to local people (equivalent of about US$10) or higher prices to international traders offshore (US$50). Kept crowded in small cages, they are then taken offshore in small boats where they meet larger ships of international traders and transferred at sea. There are reports of soldiers and miners, who work on various islands around Indonesia, buying parrots and taking them home in sawn-off water bottles and plastic tubes. The death rate must be very high.

The Chattering and Yellow-backed Lories have been so heavily trapped in some areas that they can no longer be found. Consequently the species is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

This status was assigned on the assumption that 5,000 Chattering Lories (Lorius garrulus garrulus and L.g.flavopalliatus) are trapped each year across its entire range. However, in July 2012 John Mittermeier and Eden Cottee-Jones visited Obi while carrying out research for the University of Oxford/Louisiana State University. They estimated that 5,976 Chattering Lories are trapped annually on the island of Obi alone. This compared with estimates of 1,092 for the Violet-necked Lory (Eos squamata) and much smaller numbers for Eclectus Parrots. Their estimates resulted from interviewing trappers and other local people.

During these conversations they found that 54 of 204 households kept parrots and that 32% had caught parrots for themselves. Their reasons for keeping them were for entertainment or as toys for the children.

Red-flanked Lorikeets (captive-bred)
Photograph: Rosemary Low​​​​​​​

BirdLife International had used the figure of 5,000 trapped annually to apply across all islands. Clearly this figure was too low. If the Yellow-backed race was considered to be a distinct species it would probably warrant Endangered status. Even if this were not the case, the facts that it has gone from many lowland forest areas and that large-scale logging in parts of its range is another threat, would probably justify this status anyway.

The Chattering Lory was first listed as Vulnerable in 1994 due to the excessive numbers trapped.  Frank Lambert, working in BirdLife International’s Indonesia and Asia Programme, wrote in 1998: “Chattering Lory remains a highly favoured bird in the domestic market and there is good reason to be very concerned about its conservation status” (Lambert, 1998).

In Lambert’s 1993 paper on status and trade in Cacatua alba (Umbrella Cockatoo), Lorius garrulus and Eos squamata (Violet-necked Lory), the following estimated minimum totals of parrots caught in 1991, compared with reported exports, were as follows for the Chattering Lory

Number caught: 9,600-9,927

Number dying before shipment to distant markets: 1,440-1,985

Number in domestic trade: 1,061-1,573

Total exported: 6,042- 7,426

Exported according to CITES net export data for 1991:  6,295.

Legal trade ceased in 2003, but there was a ready market for them in many other countries, especially in the east, so the illegal trade continued.

It is not only the trade figures that I find deeply disturbing.  Anyone who knows this beautiful bird, recognizes it as a highly intelligent, sensitive and sociable species. So many of those trapped die soon after from neglect and many of those that survive are destined to spend a lonely life – probably short due to incorrect diet. Many of these playful birds, who desperately need the company of their own kind, will spend their lives with a ring around the leg, chained to a perch. It is a heartbreaking vision.

Even in more enlightened countries where aviculture is a serious pastime, the Yellow-backed Lory has declined almost to the point of rarity. Despite the thousands imported into Europe before 1987, there are now few breeders.

John Mittermeier and Eden Cottee-Jones published an article in which they recommended urgent fieldwork to estimate the population on Obi. This has not happened. They wrote that given the small number of trappers on Obi “a series of stakeholder meetings at the key trappers’ villages may be sufficient to launch a no-take zone system.”

A conservation education programme, targeting the villagers who catch lories for their own use, would also be very valuable, hopefully reducing the numbers caught by individuals who were not selling them.  Investigation is also needed into the current situation on Bacan.

The World Parrot Trust’s Lory Conservation Network has a valued worker in the region, Mehd Halaouate, who has for several years been working on the Mitchell’s Lorikeet (extinct in the wild). He visited Obi in July, and was shocked by the scale of deforestation there. He attended and spoke at a meeting on illegal parrot trade hopefully to make contact with the trappers there and to investigate how the problem of over-trapping of the lories could be addressed.

In June 2017 a meeting was held in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The aim was to find ways to collaborate in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade, locally and internationally.

Many organisations attended including forestry officers from Ternate, Halmahera, Bacan and North Sulawesi, Law Enforcement agencies in the region, the TRAFFIC organisations from Malaysia and the Philippines, Head of Profauna in the Moluccas, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the Indonesian Parrot Project, Wildlife Conservation Society, Planet Indonesia and the World Parrot Trust.

Confiscations of illegally trapped birds, mainly parrots, such as Chattering and Violet-necked Lories, Eclectus Parrots and White Cockatoos, frequently occur.

Confiscated Red-flanked Lorikeet crammed into wire mesh.
Photo: Gakkum, Indonesia.

On June 21 2017, officials in Ternate – an island off the coast of Halmahera – confiscated 25 lories and lorikeets which had been illegally trapped. They had already been advertised on the internet: twenty Red-flanked Lorikeets at the equivalent of US$15.38 each and five Violet-necked Lories at US$38 each. In another confiscation, 120 parrots were rescued. The smugglers’ route starts in Ternate, continues to Jakarta via Surabaya and ends in Singapore.

Illegal birds are taken to Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue.  It is possible to release some but others have had their flight feathers removed and must wait for months until they have moulted. This work costs time and money. Please make a donation via the World Parrot Trust, to their Lory Conservation Network.


Cottee-Jones, H.E.W., J.C.Mittermeier, E.C.Purba, N. M. Ashuri and E. Hesdianti, 2014. An assessment of the parrot trade on Obi Island (North Moluccas) reveals heavy exploitation of the Vulnerable Chattering Lory Lorius garrulus, Kukila 18 (1): 1-9.

Lambert, F., 1998. Conservation Priorities for Parrots in Indonesia, Proceedings, IV International Parrot Convention, 142-171, Loro Parque, Tenerife.

Severin, T., 1997.  The Spice Islands Voyage, Little, Brown and Company, London.


 All photographs and text on this website are the copyright of Rosemary Low unless otherwise stated. 
They may not be reproduced without permission.
  Site Map