BABAHAN, Indonesia (AP) — Throwing flowing crests back and forth, three snow-white Bali mynas share a branch, screaming and looking around with the blue patches around their eyes catching the sunlight. Minutes later, four more join in – a sight that would have been impossible in the wild two decades ago.
But working with bird breeders and sellers – the very group that has contributed to the critical endangerment of prized birds – conservationists are releasing them in the province of Bali, hoping to increase the wild population.
Experts say more research and monitoring is needed, but the conservation model has shown promise over the past 10 years and could be replicated for other vulnerable birds in Indonesia.
Endemic to Bali, the Bali mynah has been a highly sought-after collector’s item in the international cagebird trade for over a century due to its striking white plumage and song. The capture of the birds for sale, coupled with habitat loss due to land conversion to agriculture and settlements, has led to the bird being listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. in 1988 and to be classified as “critically endangered” in 1994. By 2001 experts estimated that about six Bali mynahs lived in the wild, with thousands in captivity around the world.
Recognizing the deep-rooted culture of bird breeders in Indonesia and the urgent need for conservation of the Bali mynah, the non-governmental organization now called BirdLife International partnered with the government to start a captive breeding program in the years 1980.
Breeders can apply for licenses to breed the birds. If approved, they receive mynahs from the government and are allowed to keep 90% of the offspring for private sale. The remaining birds are rehabilitated and released to West Bali National Park, where they can be monitored by park authorities.
The conservation method is compatible with Indonesian culture, where it is common to have birds in cages and people depend on the bird trade for their income, said Tom Squires, a doctoral student at Manchester Metropolitan University who is studying the ecology of the Bali mynah and other threatened birds in Indonesia.
“The national park has started to understand that and … create the conditions where you could have a wild population still thriving,” Squires said. “Ornithologists can still keep birds and follow their hobby without causing real problems for wild populations – which is, I think, much better than endangered species in the world.”
The first releases of mynahs were plagued with problems: some birds were infected with a parasite that caused high mortality in nestlings, others were killed by natural predators. Poaching also continued – and the national park’s captive breeding facility was even robbed at gunpoint, with nearly 40 birds stolen.
Still, conservation efforts over the past decade have seen greater success thanks to increased bird monitoring, stronger census data and more research, Squires said.
Agus Ngurah Krisna Kepakisan, the manager of West Bali National Park, also attributes the success of the breeding program to the creation and proliferation of “buffer villages” around the park. Villagers are being helped to obtain permits to raise Bali mynahs there.
“The community being the breeders…they help us take care of the birds that exist in the wild,” he said. “There are also those who often searched for and took the Bali mynah from the wild.”
Squires said there is definitive evidence that some released birds have produced offspring. “So that leads me to believe that the population is certainly self-sufficient to some degree,” he said.
The progress of the breeding program can be seen throughout the park, where Kepakisan says 420 Bali mynahs now live and hop in the trees, poke their heads out of nest boxes and shout at tourists passing beneath them.
Conservation efforts have extended to Tabanan Regency – a three-hour drive from the park – where mynah flies over lush rice paddies framed by mountains and forests.
The area is a recent release site for the Friends of National Parks Foundation, an Indonesia-based nonprofit that works with donors and breeders to purchase, rehabilitate and release the birds.
Veterinarian I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha, who founded the organization and has worked in Bali mynah conservation for years, said his conservation efforts focus in part on grassroots community investment in well-being. to be birds.
Traditionally, communities around conservation areas thought there was no money to be made from them, he said. But Wirayudha believes the presence of rare birds will help attract tourists, which will provide additional tourism income to the area, as is the case in other parts of Bali province where mynahs have been released.
“You have to give something back to the community so they can feel that conservation is benefiting them,” he said.
Community outreach seems to be working. When the organization released the mynahs in April, groups of students, police, military and nearby villagers watched with anticipation as the mynahs made their first flight in the wild.
Squires, the researcher, says the conservation model could be applied to other vulnerable or endangered birds in Indonesia, such as the black-winged mynah. “For all lowland birds impacted by the caged bird trade…this is the kind of approach that will be needed,” he said.
Tatan Syuflana, Associated Press photographer, contributed to this report.
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