In two articles in the Jakarta Post (22 February 2007) I Wayan Juniartha writes on the endeavours by The Association of Bali Mynah Conservationists (APCB) and the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) to safeguard the Bali Myna. This mascot of Bali has found a new home on Nusa Penida.
Activists plan program to fight poachers
The chairman of the Association of Bali Mynah Conservationists (APCB), Tony Sumampau, loves taking the bull by its horns. He believes that when a "snake" is already out in the open, beating around the bush was simply a waste of time.
"Poaching is the most critical problem in the conservation of the Bali Mynah," he said. "Trying to conserve and protect this endangered animal without seriously addressing poaching and (wildlife) trade issues are tantamount to, well, daydreaming." Poaching has been identified as the single most important factor behind the drastic decrease in the population of the indigenous Bali Mynah - Leucopsar rothschildi, also known as the Bali Starling - in the wild in the last 50 years. Hundreds of these beautiful birds had been trapped and smuggled out of the island and into the hands of private collectors and zoos in the West.
Image right: A Bali Mynah enjoys a meal of fresh papaya on Nusa off the western coast of Bali. The bird is one of 37 Bali Mynah that were released into the wild at the end of 2006 (courtesy FNPF)
In 1924, over 1,000 Bali Mynah flocked the dry hills and shrubby coasts of western Bali. By 1990, only a small population of around 100 birds called the area their home. And by 2005, only 13 birds remained in the wild. The total population of Bali Mynah in the world today reaches over 800 birds. But only a minuscule fraction of them - five to be precise - was still living free on their native island, Bali. "The rest are living in captivity in numerous breeding facilities in Indonesia and abroad. There are over 400 birds in the hands of individual Indonesian breeders alone. The West Bali National Park (TNBB) has around 125 birds in their facility". APCB senior member Rudy said.
Poachers did not even spare that facility. From late 1993 until mid-2004, local police recorded 14 burglaries at the 77.7-hectare park. So far, the thieves have managed to get away with a total of 88 Bali Mynah. The single biggest loss - 39 birds - occurred during a burglary in November 1999.
Some people blamed the burglary on the park's poor security. Others pointed at the park's less than harmonious relationship with local villagers. In one burglary case, however, the apparent cause was a bad recruitment decision. It turned out that one of the facility's security guards had a nasty side job: he was a Bali Mynah smuggler.
Yet, for APCB chairman Tony the cause of the rampant poaching and burglary were very clear. Being an entrepreneur himself - Tony owns the country's largest safari park - he understood that money, and a large sum of it, was a formidable temptation. "The only reason people take the risk of traversing a wild jungle or breaking into a state-run facility is because the risk is worth taking in the place," he said.
A healthy Bali Mynah could command a price up to Rp 10 million (US$1,064) on the country's black market for birds. A healthy pair of Bali Mynah that had already raised their young, would be priced even higher. "Illegal breeders love to get their hands on such a couple. Last time I heard, the price for such couple is Rp 40 million ($4,255)," Bali Mynah conservationist Bayu Wirayudha said.
Tony believed that only way to curb poaching was by ensuring that the risk was no longer worth taking. "If the price for a Bali Mynah is only Rp 1 million, only a few people would take the risk of scouring the dangerous jungle or breaking into a guarded breeding facility to get the birds," he said.
To achieve this, all that conservationists had to do was breed as many Bali Mynah as possible to drive down prices. Conservation laws allow the free trade of F-4 - or the great-grandchildren - of parental stock Bali Mynah. "We should get as many F-4 as possible and use them to flood the market. Once the supply is continuously bigger than demand, the price would continuously decrease. It's a simple economic principle," Tony said.
The problem: there were not enough legal breeders around to create the flood. Thus, Tony is currently busy lobbying the government to ease regulations on legal breeders. "The APCB has designed a program which will decrease illegal trade, minimize poaching and increase community participation. Once the government gives us the green light, we will immediately commence the program," he said.
This program would include rallying private sector support, particularly from Bali's gigantic tourism industry. In a massive adoption effort, each tourist establishment would be expected to allocate a small amount of its revenue to raise a pair of Bali Mynah on its grounds. "The APCB will provide the birds, the tourism industry will provide the facility and money to nurture and, later on, breed them," he said. In compensation, the establishment would get a new tourist attraction and official APCB acknowledgement as a Bali Mynah conservation and educational site. "Being pro-conservation will surely boost the industry's image abroad, particularly in Europe and Japan. Both regions have a long history in Bali Mynah conservation and also happen to be among Bali's primary tourism market," Badil said.
The offspring of these "adopted" birds would be handed over to the APCB which, in turn, would give them to other prospective "foster parents". These foster parents are expected to include government agencies, schools and concerned individuals in future. "Some will be released into the wild, either at a tourist enclave or a pristine forest on the island," Tony said. He believed that it would take 10 years for the program to make a significant impact on poaching and trafficking. "By that time, the program will have enough stock of F-4 Bali Mynah to literally flood the market," he said.
By then, the number of Bali Mynah in the wild would surely be far greater than just five birds. "Most importantly, the program provides the Balinese with a rare opportunity to reclaim their ecological legacy. By participating actively in it, the Balinese will be able to return the symbol of their island, the Bali Mynah, into its native habitat," Badil said.
- Juniartha, I Wayan - 'Activists plan program to fight poachers', in: The Jakarta Post, 22 February 2007
Released Bali Mynah find safe home on Nusa Penida
A thin shower of rain fell on the dusty road and soon an exotic, refreshing aroma permeated the air. It was a scent of longing, of an earth that yearned for the nurturing rain. Yet, the partly cloudy sky could not hide the sun and its rays pierced through the transparent veil of the rain.
Bayu Wirayudha paused, deeply inhaling the rich fragrance of nature. He swept his forehead with the back of his palm, wiping away the irritating dirt formed by dust mixed with sweat. His lips curved into a childish grin as turned and looked back at the group of exhausted journalists and bird-lovers who were following him that day. "Welcome to Nusa Penida, the future home of the Bali Mynah. This is the island where the strongest of rains brings the happiest of joys," he said.
With his ponytail, bright hippie shirt and timidness, Bayu seemed more a poet than an activist. Yet, once the topic of conversation touched the Bali Mynah, one couldn't help but treating and respecting him as an activist. A passionate albeit shy one. "I have been falling in love with birds since I was a kid," he said.
That love propelled him to enroll in veterinary medicine at Bali's Udayana University and, later on, to join the Bali Bird Park and the Begawan Giri Foundation (BGF). The latter, a non-profit organization founded and funded by Bradley and Debbie Gardner, ran a successful Bali Mynah breeding facility from 1999-2006. "There, I realized that the number of Balinese who were involved in conservation was very small. It was then that I decided to commit myself to this cause," Bayu said.
Along with local environmental activists, Bayu established the Bali Friends of National Parks Foundation (FNPF). Its main objective was the creation of the island's first bird sanctuary. Nusa Penida, a small off-shore island south of Bali, was selected as the site of the sanctuary. "Compared to the rest of Bah, Nusa Penida is a pristine area that hasn't been overpopulated nor over-developed, an ideal home for the birds," he said.
Image right: Bali Mynah hatchlings huddle in their nest at a breeding facility on Nusa Penida, run jointly by the Giri Foundation and the Bali Friends of National Parks Foundation. (Courtesy FNPF)
In mid-2006, the two organizations converged when bureaucratic pressures and intrigues forced the BGF to abandon its Ubud home base. The BGF relocated its breeding facility to the FNPF site in Nusa Penida. It was a decisive moment for Bayu and his friends. "We have reached that critical point of no return. Nusa Penida is the best thing that has ever happened to us. If we fail in Nusa Penida, we won't get a second chance nor a second place to start all over again," he recalled.
The program succeeded. Assisted by a host of dedicated volunteers, including Udayana University students, Bayu helped the birds survive the transition period. Nusa Penida wasn't Ubud - the weather, climate and vegetation were different, as were many other factors. "We nursed the birds very carefully, making sure they only ate fresh food and had a lot of space.
Other breeders generally use canned food or poultry feed and lock up the birds in confined spaces. These practices are not good, physically nor emotionally for the birds," Bayu said. "Here, we have a dietary regimen comprised of fresh foods." The diet paid off. By January 2007, the facility had nursed a total of 93 Bali Mynah and witnessed the birth of 15 hatchlings.
In July 2006, the facility took the conservation program to the next level by releasing 25 birds into the wild - in Batumadeg village and in the courtyard of the revered Penataran Agung Ped. Dozens of villagers bade the white birds farewell as they rapidly flapped their wings and disappeared into the surrounding forests. "It was a wonderful sight. The ultimate objective of any conservation program is providing endangered animals with a chance to live naturally in their native habitat. We have just done it," Bayu recalled.
But the release triggered a wave of opposition from government officials and Bali Mynah expert. Officials regretted that the birds were released on Nusa Penida instead of in West Bali National Park (TNBB), the government's designated site for Bali Mynah conservation. Yet, nobody bothered to mention the park's poor record in protecting its own Bali Mynah. "The birds surely do not (care) about bureaucrats' fixation with jurisdiction and legality," chuckled a member of the Forum for the Conservation of Indonesia's Wild Animals (FOKSI), Judhabrahma. FOKSI and the Association of Bali Mynah Conservationists (APCB) are two non-profit organizations that openly supported the Nusa Penida program.
The experts, on the other hand, worried that the birds would not survive the challenges of Nusa harsh environment. Some believed that the Bali Mynah, a very timid bird by nature, would be out-competed by the local birds and might die of starvation. "Do not underestimate the survival instinct of the Bali Mynah, or any other animal for that matter." Bayu said. "Moreover, we have familiarized them with the local setting in a month-long rehabilitation period prior to their release."
Image left: A microchip is glued on to a Bali Mynah's tail feathers for identification and monitoring purposes. (Courtesy FNPF)
It turned out that it took only a week for the newly released Bali Mynah to learn to feed themselves. In the first days after release, the birds stayed near the facility. By the fourth week, however, most of them had already settled in their new home, located 5-10 kilometers from the facility. "We know this because we are monitoring the birds. Each bird has been equipped with a ring or a microchip for identification and monitoring purposes. A group of volunteers spent most of their day following these birds," said volunteer Made Sugi.
The mortality rate among the newly released birds was around four percent, most of which were caused by the Bali Mynah's natural predators. By early 2007, the facility had released a total of 37 birds into the wild and of these, five pairs had produced hatchlings. So far, the group has eight newly born Bali Mynah - surpassing the population of wild Bali Mynah at the TNBB. "These hatchlings are truly wild Bali Mynah. They have never spent a single day in captivity. They will play an important role in the continuation of this species in the wild," Bayu said.
The joint BGF and FNPF conservation program has also scored another important victory in a slightly different field. "The program has managed to educate and empower the local community on conservation issues. By doing so, the program has won not only the community's support, but also its active participation in the program," Rudy Badil said.
The Nusa Penida communities expressed their support by incorporating bird protection clauses into their (written customary laws) or (unwritten traditional conventions). In mid-2006, only 14 Desa Pakraman (customary villages) had such clauses. By early 2007, all 35 Desa Pakraman on Nusa Penida had enacted these clauses, making it illegal to hunt, kill, trade or smuggle the endangered birds. "Traditional laws and institutions are more powerful and influential in Bali than the national ones," Bayu said.
- Juniartha, I Wayan - 'Released Bali Mynah find safe home on Nusa Penida', in: The Jakarta Post, 22 February 2007