Crows: Misunderstood in the Maldive Islands
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Crows: Misunderstood in the Maldive Islands

Bluepeace Special Report April 2004

Very few resident birds are recorded in the Maldive Islands and the most common of them are nearly two dozens of sea birds. Crow is the one of most common terristrial resident bird through out the Maldive Islands. There are no known endemic species of birds in the Maldives, but there are a few endemic subspecies which includes the Maldivian House Crow Corvus splendens maledivicus. Crows are believed to be first introduced to the Maldive Islands by anchient master mariners who sailed in the Indian Ocean, and they were used for navigation purposes to look for land masses.

Crows were used for navigation purposes to look for land masses.
Crows were used for navigation purposes to look
for land masses.

Crows are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Corvidae, along with over 200 other species. They are some of the most best known of all birds. They are intelligent, wary and adapt well to human activity. Some locals do care and admire crows in the Maldive Islands, but majority see crows as pests, ready to be shot for fun.

Sadly, natives of these islands cannot perceive crow as a bird and locally call it kaalhu and never call it dhooni or bird. Dhooni is also often call to child or girlfreind as a pet name as a gesture of love and affection. However, Kalhu is used in a negative way to refer someone who is roudy, especially girls. So, in order to address the issue of conservation of crows in the Maldive Islands, the common perception towards crows need to be changed.

Crows are an essential part of the food chain of the islands of Maldives, their foods include fish waste, worms, harmful insects such as tent caterpillars, locusts and white grubs, in cleaning up dead birds and animals, and even our improperly disposed organic garbage. Crows are also scaveger and they eat dead carcasses of fish and birds.

As crows play a vital role in the food chain of the of the fragile island ecosystems of the Maldive Islands and if there numbers are dwinddling, this could have negative impact ecological balance of these islands.

Photo left: Din Din Koveli or Dhikoe-Female. Photo right: Kaalhu Koveli or Kuboali-Female.
photo by: John Michael

Immediate threats to crows in the Maldive Islands come from eradication of crows from selected islands. On several islands the organic litter is burned and thus lost to the island ecosystem. A general change in the lifestyles of the islanders towards more modern practices has brought with it serious conservation concerns. For example, natural vegetation is often cleared to make the islands look” more develop” with no crows. On the island of Fua Mulah it was believed that the total eradication of the crow was linked to the appearance of an even more serious and damaging pest problem--the longhorn beetle, which attacked the island's breadfruit trees. An estimated 70% of breadfruit trees, an important seasonal staple, had already died (Hunter, 1994). The islanders believed the eradication of the crow had removed this form of natural pest control, and resulted in the destruction of their breadfruit trees.

Crows and local population can co-exist.
Local population should learn to
appriciate crows

It is well known fact that crow incubates and hatches the eggs of Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacel. However, total eredication of the crows from selected islands still continues in the Maldive Islands. Eradication of crows have a direct impact on the Asian Koel population in some islands, and Koel stock have declined due to the fact that most Koel deserts their eggs onto crow nest where they are hatched and looked after by the unknowing crow. Ironically Asian Koel is a protected bird in the Maldive Islands under Environmental Protection and Preservation Act and crows are not. Laws and regulations designed to protect birds in the Maldive Islands are well intentioned but rarely enforced.

In many islands crows have learned to prosper very well alongside humans. They have adapted to urban environment and learned how to benefit from human activity. However, in some islands in the Maldives, sadly crow population have started to dwindle and others totally wiped out. As a result of total eradication of crows in some islands, Asian Koel population has started to dwindle through out the Archipelago. The usual early morning songs of crows and Asian koels fascinate many in the morning, but, the fear is….. for how long?

Hunter, D. (1994) A report on a trip to Fua Mulah to assess the problem of Batocera rufomaculata on Artcarpus altilis. Report prepared for Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, Republic of Maldives
Hunter, D. (1996) Traditional pest control and agricultural development in the atolls of the Maldives