A chat with Dr. Astrid Andersson

In my previous blog post, I introduced different interesting facts about cockatoo and why I found them fascinating. My hope is to bring different angles to viewing cockatoos as a species (other than ‘cute pets’). But I am not alone in finding these birds worth noticing.

Dr. Astrid Andersson: endangered Cockatoo in Hong Kong Astrid Andersson komodo park
Astrid at Komodo National Park, surveying the wild Yellow-crested Cockatoo.

Astrid Andersson, Ph.D., founder of Earth Savio

I reached out to Dr. Astrid Andersson, a Ph.D. graduate of the University of Hong Kong and founder of Earth Savio. Astrid is a conservation biologist based in Hong Kong. Her research topics included wildlife trade and urban biodiversity. She dedicated 4 years of her Ph.D. life to conserving the declining population of yellow-crested cockatoo.

Endangered Cockatoo in Hong Kong

The yellow-crested cockatoo could be spotted in the urban landscape of Hong Kong. One could find them in the financial district and urban parks on the Hong Kong Island. The birds are originally from Indonesia. Due to habitat loss and unsustainable trapping, the yellow-crested cockatoo is now critically endangered. There are 2,000 of them left and 10% of them lives in Hong Kong.
The local Hong Kong-er might be familiar with spotting the cockatoos, but there are very few comprehensive studies done to understand the birds further. That was until Astrid joined the team at the Conservation Forensics Laboratory of the Research Division for Ecology and Biodiversity at Hong Kong University.


Different from Cockatoo in Australia!

Yellow-crested cockatoo looks very similar to its cousin, the sulphur-crested Cockatoo. However, the sulphur-crested Cockatoo is larger, not endangered, and often seen in Australia. If you have been to Australia, you might have seen one of them!

5 meanings of Cockatoo & parrots in European visual arts_Blog illustration_Taaye Cockatoo painting
Dr. Astrid Andersson: endangered Cockatoo in Hong Kong Astrid Andersson lab work e1650079253645

Conserving the endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo


When Astrid first started her studies, there was very little pre-existing data about the species. What made the situation worse was that it was legal to trade cockatoos if the birds were captive-bred in Hong Kong. Cockatoo laundering happened and it was almost impossible to tell if a bird was captive-bred or wild-caught.

Forensic tool

Astrid and her team developed a novel forensic tool to stop cockatoo laundering. The tool distinguished the wild and captive birds by comparing their diets and helped monitor pet trades in Hong Kong

The tool provided a clear understanding of the population of yellow-crested cockatoo, and it could also be used in conservation work for other endangered animals in the future.

Research trip to Indonesia

Other than Hong Kong, Astrid also took a research trip to Komodo National Park in Indonesia. She interviewed rangers and villagers on Komodo Island to gather local information about the bird, measured natural habitat data, and recorded the sounds of the wild yellow-crested cockatoos in Komodo.

Astrid’s experience with the Yellow-crested Cockatoo

I chatted with Astrid to talk about her personal experience with the Yellow-crested Cockatoo. Like many Hong Kongers(including myself), she first encountered the birds when walking through the parks in the financial district of Hong Kong

What was your first memory of the yellow-crested Cockatoo?

I was walking through Hong Kong park with my family – I must’ve been about 6 – and I remember hearing loud screeching above and looking up into the trees and seeing a huge group of cockatoos flying around freely in the park, feeding and playing with their crests up. My parents had no idea what they were but, of course, now we know that they are a population of introduced, critically endangered cockatoos that were brought over as pets from Indonesia and had somehow escaped or been released into urban Hong Kong!

What about yellow-crested Cockatoo that charmed you?

I am impressed by the ability of cockatoos (and parrots in general) to learn and adapt their behavior. The Yellow-crested Cockatoos are a perfect example of this; they have learned to survive in one of the busiest cities on earth, and right in the heart of the financial district, no less!

How did you decide to study the endangered Yellow-Crested Cockatoo?

I am interested in traded wildlife (everything from shark fin to snake leather to exotic pets), and the different knock-on effects wildlife trade has. In many cases, it is not managed well enough and leads to species declines, disease spread, and wildlife being transported to environments where they previously were not found.

What did you discover after studying the Cockatoo that surprised you?

I was surprised when I realized how many we have here in Hong Kong (around 200 individuals) and saw that they actually do successfully nest in the tree cavities they find. Whether or not the chicks survive is a question we are still trying to answer.

Anything else about the yellow-crested Cockatoo?

Just that they often don’t really make a very suitable house pet – they live for up to 70 years, are very noisy, and can be quite aggressive if they take a dislike to you! Also, the species we have in Hong Kong are not the same as the ones that are found in Australia (Sulphur-crested Cockatoos); although they look very similar, the ones in Hong Kong are Yellow-crested Cockatoos from Indonesia, which are much smaller and are critically endangered!

General impression towards the Cockatoo

I asked Astrid what is the general public’s impression of the wild cockatoos in Hong Kong. Astrid said during her studies, she conducted a questionnaire and received about 150 respondents, “Most of them said they liked the cockatoos and thought it was special that Hong Kong has this interesting bird living amongst its skyscrapers.”

Dr. Astrid Andersson: endangered Cockatoo in Hong Kong Astrid Andersson

Why should we pay attention to the endangered Cockatoo in Hong Kong?

For Hong Kong

For Hong Kong, the story of the yellow-crested cockatoo is incredibly parallel to the stories of the local people: Both arrived in Hong Kong as immigrants, struggled, and thrived in this urban jungle after many generations. I believe that the yellow-crested cockatoo adds to the cultural identity and biological diversity of the city.

For the world

The fact that the critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoo is able to co-exist with humans in urbanized Hong Kong, an environment unlike anything of their native habitat, represents hope on many levels. It is especially true in this current time when we are dealing with the effects of climate change daily.

Read more about Astrid’s background story and check out Earth Savio.

Read further from the National Geographic on the amazing bio-diversity of Hong Kong


Share “A chat with Dr. Astrid Andersson” on: