Native bird trade shifts from popular Bangkok market to online platform 

by Jun 18, 2024Press Releases

A new study has revealed that the open availability of native birds at a massive Thai weekend market infamous as a source of illicit wildlife, has declined over the past 50 years.

In this sprawling market in the Thai capital of Bangkok, stalls are open to the public on weekends, with everything from bags to biscuits and live animals openly displayed for sale. This includes birds native to the country, most of which are protected.

Until a recent fire destroyed its pet section, the market had been subject to scrutiny for decades due to the variety and volume of wild species on sale, both legal and illegal.  

Researchers analysed records from over 100 surveys at this market, including market survey data collected by the authors and data from published studies that dated back to 1966.

They found the mean average number of native birds recorded in the market had gone from a high of 5,788 in the late sixties to 2,233 in the late eighties and finally dropping sharply to 245 in the most recent period studied, which spanned 2007 to 2022.

The decline was found to be particularly steep from 2016 onwards and coincided with increased enforcement efforts, said authors of Trade in Native Birds At Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand, highlighting the importance of consistent and effective vigilance.

The availability of many native bird species in this market decreased in volume over the years with one exception. The stand-out was the Red Whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus, a popular songbird, which was sold in increasing numbers over the years and was the most frequently encountered species in the most recent set of surveys.

But don’t break out in song just yet warn the study’s authors.

The decline in volumes recorded could be reflective of some declining populations, such as the now Critically Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, once sold in the thousands in the market.

“These analysis on trends help us understand the impact large-scale trade can have. And we already see how illegal and unstainable trade has resulted in population declines and even local extinctions of many wild bird species,” said Serene Chng, TRAFFIC Senior Programme Officer and co-author of the study.

“The findings make the case for continued monitoring and enforcement at the Chatuchak market and for scrutiny to be extended to online platforms or markets in other large Thai cities,” said Boyd Leupen, Wildlife Trade Specialist at Monitor Conservation Research Society and co-author of the study.

While open sale declined in Chatuchak Market, the study revealed the growing importance of the internet as an alternative trading space in Thailand’s demand for native birds.

Looking only at native songbirds offered for sale on Facebook between 20 October 2019 and 20 January 2020, researchers found 1,037 birds for sale in 17 groups.

The Red-whiskered Bulbul leads the flock again as the most recorded species online.

The findings hint at a partial shift to online trade from physical markets but raised alarm bells because more native birds were found in the three-month online snapshot than in the study’s last 13 physical market surveys between 2016 and 2022.

“Crucially, it also shows that online monitoring, regulation and enforcement should be stepped up in this important bird trade country where trade dynamics are clearly changing,” said Chng.

The research, published in Siam Society was jointly undertaken by TRAFFIC and Monitor Conservation Research Society before a recent fire razed the market’s pet section reportedly killing over 5,000 animals. 

Since the fire, Bangkok’s Governor Chadchart Sittipunt has announced an investigation into the fire and told media the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will investigate unauthorized pet markets throughout the city. He has also announced new permit requirements for pet shops. 

For further information please contact

Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC
+60 3 7880 3940

Loretta Shepherd, Communications Coordinator, Monitor Conservation Research Society

Share this article:

How you can help

Please consider making a donation to support 
this crucial work for wildlife.