Bird flu gives wings to the demand for plant-based meat in India

Written by Monika Ghosh Published on 4 Mar 2021  •  7 mins readShare

Big Idea Ventures (BIV), a US-based venture capital firm plans to launch an ‘Alternative Protein Fund’ and an accelerator exclusively for Indian entrepreneurs.

In 2008, when faux fish was served during a religious gathering of strict vegetarians, people got angry at the sight of fish on their plates, and in no time, chaos ensued. The customers failed to understand how fish could be plant-based, said Harish Jadhvani, co-founder and CEO of Ahimsa Food.

“We had to explain to the clients that the product was completely plant-based, but there was a lot of anger among the gatherers,” Jadhvani told KrASIA.

Over the years as people got aware of what mock meats are and their benefits, the 12-year-old Delhi-headquartered company managed to earn its customers’ trust and respect.

Ahimsa Foods is one of the few brands that offer plant-based meat dishes to users who are trying to eat healthy by avoiding non-vegetarian food. The wave of people turning vegans has also been catching on in India, fuelling the migration away from animal meat.

This trend has resulted in a major innovation in the food and restaurant industry that is now trying to appease such clientele with plant-based dishes that taste like chicken, fish, or mutton.

Similar to Ahimsa Food, Rajasthan-based Gooddot sells ready-to-cook vegan meat dishes, while its quick-service restaurant subsidiary Gooddo sells plant-based dishes that look like meat. The company said its raw plant-based meat has been perfected to match the texture of real meat, while the end taste is derived from the cooking style. For instance, to make Thai Green Curry, the startup has partnered with chefs and culinary experts from Thailand to ensure it has its authentic taste.

These companies use a combination of protein rich ingredients like chickpeas, soybean, and other similar legumes.

“Most people are drawn to meat for its texture,” said Abhinav Sinha, vice-president of Strategy, Gooddot.

“There’s a big difference in the overall philosophy of food between the West and the East,” said Sinha. In the West, the meat itself is considered to be the most important ingredient and the recipes involve preserving the integrity and freshness of the meat, he said. But in India, meat is simply a textural component that carries different flavors, which are the most important aspects of an Indian dish, he added.

Read this: China’s answer to Beyond Meat predilects local cuisine: Inside China’s Startups

Although India was slow to adopt an alternative animal protein diet, things have changed over the decade. And with bird flu quickly emerging as the new pandemic threat, people are looking for alternate options to animal meat for their protein intake. Europe and Asia are battling their worst outbreak of bird flu and as of February 12, 14 Indian states have confirmed avian flu outbreaks with Maharashtra being the worst affected.

Even last year, while the COVID-19 pandemic was raging on, the faux meat market in India gained prominence amid fears of disease transmission. During the pandemic, Sinha said, “We saw an almost 50% jump in our overall sales, queries, as well as website hits.”

Ahimsa Food, however, experienced a decline in sales due to logistics disruption and restaurant shutdowns amid the nationwide lockdowns, although its online sales increased. The startup is yet to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now followed by the bird flu outbreak, awareness of alternative protein products was seeing steady growth, albeit slowly. “The Western culture has been significantly moving away from animal meat over the past five years, and there is a similar follow-on effect in India,” said Sinha. There has been an increase in awareness, acceptance, and purchase intent for plant-based meats in India, he added.

A 2018 report said the plant protein market of India captures around 10% of the Asia-Pacific plant protein market. It said the major drivers of this market are the rising purchasing power of middle income and lower-income families, growing youngsters, and the middle-aged population interested in lactose and gluten-free products. By 2023, it said, the plant protein market will be worth USD 565.1 million, registering at a CAGR of 8.6%.

Increasing popularity

India is misconstrued to be mainly a vegetarian country as nearly 70% of the country’s population consumes animal protein. But the demand for plant-based protein is coming from both sides of the food habit spectrum. “I think about two-thirds of our customers are non-vegetarians and about one-third are vegetarians,” said Sinha.

Even strict vegetarians are now looking at plant-based protein for health reasons.

While talking to KrASIA, Mumbai-based plant-based alternative protein startup Evo Food’s co-founder and CEO Kartik Dixit reminisced about one of the conversations with a prospective customer.

“A 65-year-old man from Haridwar who is a purely spiritual man and has never consumed any kind of animal-based product in his life, reached out to us saying that he wanted to try plant-based eggs for his dad because of his protein requirements.” Haridwar is a small Hindu pilgrimage city where the sale of meat and eggs is prohibited by law.

Keeping the health-conscious customer base in mind, Evo markets its product as a plant-based alternative to egg, with the same taste, color, and texture, but with nutrition as its prime focus. Evo has ensured that its product has zero cholesterol and is infused with amino acids and Vitamin D.

The startup has been testing its liquid egg in the market over the last six months and is preparing to launch it commercially by next week. Dixit believes focusing on an egg alternative gives Evo a better chance at gaining a foothold in the fast-crowding mock meat market.

“Companies are really not playing in this area of plant-based eggs so we want to be dedicated to that,” said Dixit. Besides, “egg is a sort of protein source for most people, that they are not really that much passionate about. People really love chicken and mutton recipes, but an egg is sort of functional protein-based food and people with different kinds of religious beliefs eat it,” even a subset of vegetarians, he added.

Egg scramble made of plant proteins by Evo. Photo courtesy of Evo.

Evo has signed agreements with 20 brands to introduce Evo egg as a part of their menu in restaurants. However, once the product becomes well accepted, the startup plans to also sell through online channels as a raw ingredient that can be cooked as per choice, said Dixit.

Alternative animal proteins have gained traction in metropolitans as well as semi-urban areas. And the customers come from both upper and lower-middle-income groups.

Gooddot sells its products through restaurants, direct sellers, and its online website. Its subsidiary Gooddo sells its faux meat-based dishes through QSR outlets across Mumbai, Udaipur, and Jaipur.

The startup partners with culinary experts to ensure the authentic end taste of its dishes. Ultimately, Gooddot’s main focus is to create an impact by lowering animal cruelty and slaughter, said Sinha.

According to him, Gooddot’s partnership with RCM, an FMCG direct selling company with an extensive network of stores across India, along with Gooddot’s relatively low-price points has helped the startup generate significant sales volume from the low and middle-income segments.

Market outlook

The total plant protein market, which includes dairy and egg substitutes apart from meat, was estimated to be worth USD 374.1 million in 2018 and is expected to grow at 8.6% CAGR to USD 565.1 million by 2023.

Both Ahimsa Food and Gooddot have grown steadily over the years. Ahimsa Food has witnessed a 25% to 30% year-on-year growth since its inception. Gooddot has been growing 100% year-on-year and currently sells over 15,000 packets of ready-to-cook mock meat dishes every day.

Investors are also bullish on the plant-based protein market in India.

“There is great potential for the faux meat market in India because of the country’s long-established history with plant-based foods and vegetarianism,” said Andrew D. Ive, General Managing Partner of Big Idea Ventures (BIV), a US-based venture capital firm that focuses on food-tech companies. “We think that faux meat strikes a chord with Indian millennials who are particularly keen on eating healthy and ethically-produced food.”

Last year, BIV invested in Evo, which went through its accelerator program. In October last year, BIV also announced its plans to launch an ‘Alternative Protein Fund’ and an accelerator exclusively for Indian entrepreneurs. The Mumbai-based accelerator is set to accept applications this year, while it has started raising capital for its USD 25 million fund.

According to Ive, “The alternative protein sector is in a phase of rapid global growth, and India is one of the most promising markets for an ecosystem of world-class startups to emerge. The conditions in India are ripe for innovation in the alternative protein space,” he said. That’s because India has the largest vegetarian population in the world, and Indian consumers have indicated a strong willingness to try more plant-based products for health and environmental reasons.

With the growing demand for meat and the need for sustainability in the face of climate change, plant-based and other faux meat and animal protein substitutes are not just a choice, but also a necessity. However, adopting a strictly vegan diet may be difficult, and hard to sustain.

Therefore, “We are not telling people to become 100% vegan. The first step is to become a flexitarian. If you’re flexible, you eliminate one day of eating meat, and you substitute it, and slowly get used to the diet,” said Jadhvani.

Resolution to have sandhill crane hunting season draws controversy

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

by Taylor NimmoThursday, March 4th 2021AA(Xianwei Zeng / Audubon Photography Awards) 90% (Xianwei Zeng / Audubon Photography Awards)

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MICHIGAN (WPBN/WGTU) — A new proposal in the Michigan Legislature is taking aim at sandhill cranes.

The resolution was introduced by Sen. Edward McBroom for theU.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceto create a hunting season for the large bird.

Now,Michigan Audobonis speaking out against the plan.

The group helped protect the sandhill crane for more than 100 years.

The controversial proposal was brought to a hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

“Several flaws and issues were brought to the attention of the committee the resolution sponsor and because of those flaws and issues,” said Director of the Songbird Protection Coalition Julie Baker. “The vote to allow the recreational killing of sandhill cranes was postponed as of today, sadly though that does not mean Michigan sandhill cranes are safe but it does…

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Letter: It’s time to end the cruel pastime of trapping

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog


The following is a letter to the editor submitted to the newspaper by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press. To submit a letter, send it to or Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.7:25 am, Mar. 5, 2021

    To the editor:

    The public perception problem that Minnesota trappers are facing is of their own making (“Minnesota trappers fight public perception and dwindling participation,”Feb. 26 Echo Press). The gruesome pictures featured in that article are worth a thousand words of PR spin, and make it clear that trapping is a cruel pastime that has no place in modern society.

    Most trapped animals are not killed for food, but rather to fuel the global fur trade. They die in steel-jaw leghold traps, which tear flesh, cut tendons and ligaments, and break bones and teeth as trapped animals bite –…

    View original post 210 more words

    New bill could eliminate whale entanglements, hurt crab fishery


    The Whale Entanglement Prevention Act introduced on Feb. 10 proposes that trap fisheries such as the crabbing industry use ropeless gear by Nov. 1, 2025, to stop the injury or accidental death of endangered marine to enlarge

    • Photo By Jayson Mellom
    • GEAR CONTROVERSY Dungeness crab fishermen say they oppose new legislation that would mandate ropeless gear because it’s not effective and it’s overpriced.

    Authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) in collaboration with Social Compassion in Legislation and the Center for Biological Diversity, Assembly Bill 534 argues that crabbers use antiquated trapping gear that needlessly harms marine life.

    California Coast Crab Association President Bejamin Platt said the industry has been against ropeless gear because it’s not cost-effective—the current price for the gear is more than $1,700.

    “This is a particularly expensive gear type that no fisherman could afford and its incredibly slow and inefficient compared to what we do,” Platt said.

    Dungeness crab fisherman typically use circular steel traps that are submerged onto the seafloor. The traps are attached to lines marked by floats on the sea’s surface that fisherman can pull to retrieve their traps.

    The legislation proposes crabbers use ropeless gear with wireless technology that summons the trap back to the surface. However, several start-ups are still in the gear prototype testing phase.

    Platt said that the fisherman have less than a minute to pull a pot from the ocean, rebait it, and put it back in the water.

    “This [ropeless] gear, which every prototype that we’ve seen so far takes from eight to 10 minutes for each pot to be called back. It’s an electronic signal that has failed 20 percent of the time. So if I’ve got a 400-pot permit on my boat and I lost 20 percent of my gear every time I went out to try this gear, I would lose 80 pots. I’d be out of business within a couple of trips,” he said.

    Platt said mandating ropeless gear will mean the end of the Dungeness crab fishery.

    The Dungeness crab industry has taken its own steps to reduce the potential for entaglements. On March 2020, Fish and Wildlife approved the Lost or Abandoned Dungeness Crab Trap Gear Retrieval Program, a practice that Platt said many ports in the state already participate in.

    At the end of every season, fishermen go out into ocean and look for abandoned or lost traps and return them to the owner, who pays a fee for its return. If the owner refuses to accept a crabpot’s return, their permit allocation is reduced. The industry also created a best practicies guide, which calls for reducing the length of the buoy lines attached to traps.

    AB 534 is the Center for Biological Diversity’s latest move in its pursuit to eliminate entanglements. In 2017, the organization sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for failing to prevent commercial Dungeness crab gear from entangling, injuring, and killing humpback whales, blue whales, and sea turtles in violation the Endangered Species Act.

    The parties settled the lawsuit the following year and created the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP), which looks at data and analyzes where/when entanglement risks are higher to dictate the start or closure of Dungeness crab fishing seasons. Center of Biological Diversity Oceans Legal Director Kristen Monsell told New Times that while the RAMP regulations are a good first step, it doesn’t eliminate the risk to marine life entirely.

    “Those regulations only apply to commercial Dungeness crab gear. We know that whales and sea turtles are getting tangled up in other fishing gear,” Monsell said. Δ

    Coronavirus has the Karens and Biden voters cowering

    The Extinction Chronicles

    Coronavirus has the Karens and…


    Biden, Dems prevail as Senate OKs $1.9T virus relief bill

    March 6, 2021 at 12:33 pm



    STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MA  (02/17/2021) - Gov. Charlie Baker held a State House press conference on Feb. 17, 2021 to announce that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility was expanding to include people age 65 and older. (Pool Photo)
    STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MA (02/17/2021) – Gov. Charlie Baker held a State House press conference on Feb. 17, 2021 to announce that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility was expanding to include people age 65 and older. (Pool Photo)

    ByHOWIE CARR|| Boston HeraldPUBLISHED:March 4, 2021 at 4:37 p.m.| UPDATED:March 5, 2021 at 7:48 a.m.

    Covid Derangement Syndrome — it’s real, and there was a massive outbreak of it this week.

    Three states announced they were ending the absurd yearlong “mask mandates,” and the left’s collective head exploded in outrage.

    The reason is because this isn’t about public health anymore, or even politics, if it ever was. COVID is now the state religion, and the decisions…

    View original post 751 more words

    Wisconsin hunters kill 216 wolves in less than 60 hours, sparking uproar

    Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

    Kills quickly exceeded statewide limit, forcing the state to end the hunting season early

    Gray wolves in the North American wilderness.
    Gray wolves in the North American wilderness.Photograph: GatorDawg/Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Victoria BekiempisWed 3 Mar 2021 11.34 EST


    Hunters and trappers inWisconsinkilled 216 gray wolves last week during the state’s 2021 wolf hunting season – more than 82% above the authorities’ stated quota, sparking uproar among animal-lovers and conservationists, according to reports.

    The kills all took place in less than 60 hours, quicklyexceedingWisconsin’s statewide stated limit of 119 animals.

    As a result, Wisconsin’s department of natural resources ended the season, which was scheduled to span one week, four days early.

    While department officials were reportedly surprised by the number of gray wolves killed, they described the population as “robust, resilient” and expressed confidence in managing the numbers “properly going forward”.AdvertisementSenate debates as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9tn Covid relief bill – liveUS experts warn new Covid variants and states reopening may lead to fourth wave'Only we know what we’ve seen': migrants re-enter US after Biden lifts Remain in MexicoRethink or reset? Joe Biden's dilemma over Mohammed bin SalmanAnti-virus mogul John McAfee charged with fraud over crypto promotionSenate debates as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9tnCovid relief bill – live

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    Americans love grizzly bears, but Montana and Wyoming lawmakers are not getting the message

    Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

    By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

    March 4, 2021 0 Comments

    Americans love grizzly bears, but Montana and Wyoming lawmakers are not getting the message

    Photographer Kunal K. Singh documented Grizzly 399 in a rare photograph taken last June that shows her protecting her cubs after another bear got too close for comfort.Photo by Kunal K. Singh359SHARES

    Grizzly 399, often called the world’s most famous grizzly bear, has a fan base of wildlife watchers that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Each year, dozens of paparazzi attempt to record her every waking moment, from the time she emerges from her den in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the spring until the time she goes back into hibernation in the late fall. She even has two entire books devoted to her.

    This week, 399, as she was named by scientists who study grizzly bears, made news again when a…

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    I Know Why the Caged Songbird Goes Extinct

    An initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity

    Yogyakarta Bird Market, Central Java, Indonesia. Photo: Jorge Franganillo (CC BY 2.0)

    A rampant trade in Asian birds for their beautiful songs is emptying forests of sound and life.

    Extinction Countdown

    March 3, 2021 – by John R. Platt

    Wild, Incisive, Fearless.

    The straw-headed bulbul doesn’t look like much.

    It’s less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.

    But this Southeast Asian native stands out in one notable way: It sings like an angel.

    “It’s arguably the most beautiful song of any bird,” says Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor Conservation Research Society and an expert on Asian songbirds. “It’s amazing,” he adds.

    The bird’s beautiful voice serves a vital ecological purpose: Males use it to attract mates. The better the song, the greater the chance of finding a female and propagating the species.

    But the song has also come with a terrible modern cost. Humans have come to value the bulbul’s calls so much that they’ve collected the birds from almost every inch of their habitat. Captured birds, quickly caged, have been shipped to markets throughout Southeast Asia. Due to this overwhelming commercial demand, the species has disappeared from most of its range and is now critically endangered. Only a few pocket populations continue to hang on.

    And the straw-headed bulbul is far from alone in this decline. Practically every songbird species in Southeast Asia faces a similar predicament. Many birds face the very real risk of imminent extinction, leaving some forests in the region eerily silent.

    Recent research finds that several songbirds have become perilously close to vanishing — if they haven’t been lost already.

    One Indonesian bird, the Simeulue hill myna, has only just been described as genetically and morphologically unique from other lookalike species. It probably went extinct in the wild in the past two or three years, according to a paper published last spring in the journal Ibis. As the researchers wrote, “On multiple recent excursions to Simeulue, most recently in July 2018, we were unable to find the bird and learned from locals that there had been a great drive to catch the last survivors on the island in response to a wealthy person’s bounty on these birds.”

    The paper calls this an “extinction-in-process” and warns that any remaining birds left in captivity may die without producing offspring. Even if they do manage to breed, the researchers fear they could be hybridized with other similar-in-appearance mynas, obscuring their genetic lineage.

    That same phrase, extinction-in-process, has also been used to describe the Barusan shama, which according to a 2019 study published in the journal Forktail has become one of the most threatened of Asian songbirds due to rampant collection. It’s now gone from all but one island.

    Like the Simeulue hill myna, the Barushan shama’s plight went virtually unnoticed for years because many taxonomists have classified it as a subspecies rather than a full species. Newer research finds that it’s a species with four subspecies, few of which may now survive.

    Not that the species/subspecies disputes matter too much at this point.

    “Taxonomic debates about the rank of these forms should not stand in the way of trying to ensure the survival of what is clearly an evolutionarily distinct lineage,” says Frank Rheindt, a biologist with National University of Singapore and senior or lead author on both of the papers.

    So what happens to these birds once they’re taken from the wild?

    That’s where the story gets even bleaker.

    Disposable Love

    Songbirds are an important element of culture and tradition for many peoples in Southeast Asia. In Java, for example, it’s almost assumed that every household will have at least one pet songbird. The more birds, the more prestigious the home.

    But wild songbirds in captivity…well, they don’t tend to last long.

    “We’ve often called the caged songbird trade like cut flowers,” says Shepherd. “The birds look nice. They’re often inexpensive. You bring one home. It sits in a cage for a couple of days and it dies just like a cut flower. They’re not expected to live.”

    And because many Asian cities feature massive markets full of birds that have been easily snatched from the wild — usually illegally — any bird that dies is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.

    Cages line the Malang bird and animal market on Java in 2016, Photo: Andrea Kirkby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    Even bird traders don’t put much value on their stock, since a new supply of wild-caught birds always seems to be waiting in the wings.

    “I’ve seen some cages where the surviving birds are all sitting on top of dead birds in the cages,” Shepherd says. “You can’t see the floor of the cage. It’s covered with a few layers of dead birds, and then there’s some sick and half-dead birds perched on top of them. And they cost the dealers next to nothing. So, you know, even if they sell a few, they think they must be covering their costs or you wouldn’t have a business model like that.”

    Although all of this seems to favor low-cost disposability, some species are captive bred by the thousands, and prices can soar for the right birds.

    As with so many other groups of heavily traded species, the rarest birds fetch higher prices from collectors — a “better get them before they’re gone” collector’s mentality that pushes prices higher, drives further poaching and drives birds even closer to extinction.

    The Simeulue hill myna, for instance, might have sold for about $100-$150, “certainly if a foreigner or non-Simeulue person asks,” says Rheindt. “This is easily 2-4 monthly incomes for rural people on the island.”

    The Caged Bird Sings

    Along with its rarity, a bird’s appearance is clearly a valuable trait to collectors. Some of the birds are strikingly beautiful, like birds of paradise and the Javan white-eye.

    A kingfisher, looking a little worse for wear, in the Malang bird and animal market in 2016. Photo: Andrea Kirkby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    But the quality that typically drives up a bird’s market price?

    That, of course, would be the song.

    A good song can earn a bird owner a big payday. Entire competitions have sprung up that offer cash prizes for the birds with the best songs — up to $50,000, according to some reports. On Java these events are known as Kicau-mania (“kicau” is Indonesian for “chirping”).

    The bird doesn’t get much for his work. Perhaps some food and a chance to sing again.

    But it can take a lot of human effort to inspire them to sing for their suppers.

    “People will keep the male birds in captivity for a long time,” says Shepherd. “Some birds don’t want to sing in captivity and take a long time before they adjust to the point where they’ll start to sing. Then they’ll train the bird. They’ll keep it near other males so it sings more frequently, because they naturally compete with their songs.”

    This forced companionship changes the very nature of the song.

    “Some birds pick up notes and sounds from other species,” Shepherd says. “Some of the species that are disappearing, they’re just training birds. They’re not even the ones used in competition. They just keep them beside other the species that compete so they have a more complex and unique song in the competition.”

    After that, it’s a bit like a dog show.

    “Everybody takes their bird in a cage and there are songbird judges. They walk around and listen to the song and there’s big cash prizes for the bird with the best.” (Most recently, these competitions have moved online due to COVID-19.)

    Through all of this, the gift nature gave these animals to help propagate their species — song — ends up driving them toward extinction.

    This makes the trade similar to trophy hunting, which values the biggest animals or those with the most beautiful features. “The strongest bird in the wild, the one with the greatest song, would be the one that would pass on his genes,” Shepherd says. “Those are the ones being removed from the wild. So, you know, only inferior birds are left behind.”

    Unlike trophy hunting, however, where an elephant’s tusks can theoretically trade hands in perpetuity, a bird’s song is ephemeral — sung once, then lost to time.


    Shepherd says the Asian songbird crisis went virtually ignored for many years. Relatively few scientists studied it, and funding for conservation remained scarce. That’s been a costly delay.

    “One of the interesting and sad things is that lot of the species that I worked on in the early Nineties, the ones I tried to raise the alarm on, are now gone or almost gone,” he says. “And then the ones I was working on that were extremely common at the time are now the next wave that’s disappearing.”

    Fortunately, that’s started to change. For one thing, scientific research about the trade and affected species continues to pick up. One of the most worrying studies came out last August and found that Java now has more songbirds in cages than in its forests. The study found that one species, the Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla), now has fewer than 50 birds remaining in the wild, while 1.1 million live on the island in captivity.

    Meanwhile governments, NGOs and other researchers have also stepping up their game. Conservation experts came together in 2015 to hold an event called the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit. Two years later they formed the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group, which had its first official meeting in 2019. And over the past five years governments have started to take action, including seizing several large shipments of poached birds, although the trade remains mostly illegal and unsustainable.

    Local groups have helped, too, which brings us back to the Simeulue hill myna and Barusan shama. A Simeulue-based organization called Ecosystemimpact set out to help the two birds at the beginning of 2020. Although their efforts were hampered by the COVID pandemic, they’re still trying to acquire any captive birds they can find to keep them out of the trade. If they do rescue any Simeulue hill mynas — such as four juvenile birds that reportedly recently turned up for sale on Facebook — they’ll need a permit from the government to breed them.

    Even then, saving them from extinction won’t be easy.

    “Hill myna are notoriously hard to breed, requiring large, tall aviaries with good vantage points over forested areas,” says program manager Tom Amey. “It’s not out of the question that hill myna will breed within our aviaries, but given their specific requirements, we feel it is unlikely.” They’re working on raising funding for new aviaries designed specifically for hill mynas.

    They also hope to educate the community, to turn its love of captive birds into one that also supports wild populations.

    “There is a distinct lack of bird song on Simeulue, especially within close to medium proximity of [human] habitation,” says Amey. “Our ambition is to bring the beautiful sounds of songbirds back to Simeulue’s forests and culture. Songbirds have played an important role in Simeulue culture and many members of the community wish to see them return.”

    As with everything in the past year, progress to protect Asian songbirds has slowed down of late. “Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has been a huge, but legitimate, distraction from the global fight against extinction, and very little attention has been paid to such issues in the last few months,” says Rheindt.

    Once the pandemic recedes, Shepherd suggests that tourism may play an important role in keeping birds alive, uncaged and in their natural habitats.

    “There’s a very big birdwatching community,” he says, “and I think working with the community and with the birdwatching tour guides to raise awareness of the benefits of having songbirds around is important. The birdwatching industry’s worth millions. I think we need to raise awareness of the fact that you can lose your birds, but also awareness of the facts that having birds around is good for the environment, it’s good for your mental health, it’s good for all kinds of things — but it’s good for the economy.”

    Until those messages resonate more than the ka-ching of a cash register, however, Asian songbirds will remain in crisis.

    Russian MP moves to ban poaching of killer whales & dolphins in bid to shut vibrant but controversial marine mammal park industry

    2 Mar, 2021 10:29 / Updated 3 days agoGet short URL

    Russian MP moves to ban poaching of killer whales & dolphins in bid to shut vibrant but controversial marine mammal park industry

    FILE PHOTO. An animal trainer during a killer whale show at the Moskvarium Center of Oceanography and Marine Biology at the National Exhibition of Economic Achievements (VDNKh) © Sputnik

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    By Jonny TickleA leading Russian parliamentarian has proposed a new bill to ban the catching of marine mammals, which would eventually lead to the closure of the country’s many dolphinaria as collections could no longer be replenished.

    Authored by State Duma deputy Svetlana Bessarab, of the ruling United Russia party, the bill would prevent the practice of taking mammals such as dolphins, seals, and killer whales into captivity, including for educational purposes. The aim is to stop the poaching of animals that have evolved to live in a large oceanic territory. Over time, as the animals currently affected eventually die, institutions with marine mammals would be forced to close.

    While the practice is already illegal in many countries around the world, dolphinariums are a fixture of Russian resort towns. Furthermore, poachers also sell around 100 animals a year to China, for about $2 million each.ALSO ON RT.COMBig money makes solutions tough, Putin says, as first captured belugas and orcas are released

    As things stand, capturing marine mammals is already highly regulated, with purchasing from illegal poachers completed banned. However, according to Bessarab, there is now an absurd situation where state agencies seize animals from criminals and then hand them over to dolphinariums for ‘safekeeping’, despite these institutions not being equipped to rehabilitate the animals.

    READ MORE: Fight for freedom: Last batch of belugas on a doorstep of ‘whale prison’ ready to go to the wild (VIDEO)

    In 2018, activists discovered around 100 whales living in tightly packed aquatic ‘pens’ in Russia’s Far East. The animals were later declared as having been illegally captured, and the local governor said they would all be released back into the wild. In November 2019, the last of the captured whales were finally returned to their ocean home.