Endangered animals can sometimes flourish in urban areas, researchers from Hong Kong and Australia found in a recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
The researchers explained that the persistent trafficking of wild species is helping some of them survive in relative safety.
“Across the planet, poachers have reached into the last remote habitats to harvest wildlife populations used for clothing, eaten, or kept as pets in faraway cities,” said Dr. Luke Gibson from the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Hong Kong, who led the study.
“In some cases, the traded organisms have escaped and are now thriving in their introduced habitats,” he added.
In their study, the authors identified 49 globally threatened species—those listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered—which have established introduced populations outside their native areas. These include amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds, as well as insects and plants, with introduced populations found on all continents except Antarctica.
One example is the yellow-crested cockatoo, critically endangered due to capture for the pet trade. Ironically, many of these pet birds were accidentally or deliberately released in their new environments. The study said that currently, about 200 yellow-crested cockatoos—an estimated ten percent of the bird’s global population—are found on Hong Kong Island, mostly between Pokfulam and Happy Valley.
“This is a key example of how Hong Kong—a heavily urbanized city-state—can play a role in the conservation of globally threatened species,” said co-author Yong Ding Li, a PhD student at the Australian National University.
Reintroduction of this species to its native range in Indonesia and East Timor could help to buffer populations there, which are rapidly declining due to poaching, Li explained. As an option, collecting the introduced cockatoos in Hong Kong to trade as pets could offset demand from the bird’s native range.
Both approaches could also eliminate threats the introduced population might pose to native species in the new environment, such as monopolizing nesting sites and triggering population declines of local birds.
Combined, augmenting declining populations in their native ranges and eliminating the threats to native ecosystems could “save two birds with one stone,” Gibson said.
“This creative tactic could be essential to save species imperiled by wildlife trade as well as eliminate threats the same species pose in their adopted territories,” he added.