New vertebrate species are still being discovered in the Indonesian Archipelago (Rheindt et al., 2020, Science, 367, 167–170), many of which may already be threatened with extinction. One such species is the Wangi-Wangi white-eye, an undescribed micro-endemic species of Zosterops inhabiting just one small island: the 155 km2 Wangi-Wangi in the Wakatobi archipelago, South-east Sulawesi (O'Connell et al., 2020, Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 68, 574–587). The Wangi-Wangi white-eye is a novel taxon, unlike many recently described bird species that have resulted from so-called taxonomic splits. Genetic and morphological analyses (O'Connell et al., 2019, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 186, 701–724) have shown the Wangi-Wangi white-eye to be distinct, but it is not formally recognized as a species as no type specimen (a preserved adult) exists in a museum.
Wangi-Wangi Island has been heavily deforested and therefore the Wangi-Wangi white-eye is likely to have already suffered from habitat loss. The Indonesian NGO Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark has found this species is being increasingly traded in bird markets (Menner, 2020, Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark Spring News,). White-eye species are commonly traded for their pleasant song, and trade in bird species that have suffered from habitat loss is threatening songbird species in Indonesia (Marshall et al., 2020, Biological Conservation, 241, 108237). Trade of this undescribed species is therefore of concern. Although Menner (op. cit.) notes the Wangi-Wangi white-eye is being bred in captivity, it is difficult to ascertain how many of the traded birds have been captive bred and how many have been recently trapped in the wild.
Unregulated trapping for the cage bird trade may pose a serious threat, particularly as the Wangi-Wangi white-eye's status has yet to be formalized. Until a species is formally described, it receives no conservation protection (O'Connell et al., 2020, Science, 369, 1172). The process of obtaining permits for the collection of a type specimen is underway, to facilitate formal recognition of the species and an assessment of its conservation status. Only then can it be protected by law. However, this can be a lengthy process.
As its range is < 500 km2, the Wangi-Wangi white-eye is likely to be categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The example of the Wangi-Wangi white-eye highlights the problems faced by rare new species. Modern trappers are quick to exploit profitable populations (Yang & Chan, 2015, Zootaxa, 3980, 67–80; Neslen, 2016, The Guardian,). Conservationists need to be alert to this issue and consider how to make protection more effective for threatened populations.