Adam Miller, a young American trying to stop the illegal bird trade, wins Future For Nature Award 2018

Since 2008, the Future for Nature foundation has supported 30 successful conservationists all around the world, each passionately working on environmental protection, and with result. Besides supporting these remarkable people financially, FFN also want to provide a platform to showcase their work and studies and open doors towards a broader network.

On April 20 2018 three young, promising, international conservationists, determined to make a difference and ensure a brighter future for nature, will receive the Future For Nature Awards in Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, this year awarded for the eleventh time. Besides the award itself, each of them receives €50.000 to use to continue their work. This year’s winners each contribute to topical and crucial theme’s in international conservation:

  • Adam Miller (27), a young American trying to stop the illegal bird trade in Borneo, Indonesia
  • Trang Nguyen (27), an adventurous woman form Vietnam fighting a dangerous battle against illegal wildlife trade in Africa and Asia
  • Geraldine Werhahn (33), a Swiss researcher who traded her home country for the mountains of Tibet and Nepal in order to protect an elusive wolf species.

These exceptional individuals operate without boundaries and sometimes despite of great risks for themselves and their international colleagues. All of them actively try to involve the local communities in their plans, thus encouraging them to change their ways. With their innovative approach they successfully motivate people to protect those parts of nature they once threatened.

Adam Miller (27) is originally for the United States, but ended up founding the local NGO Planet Indonesia in Borneo, Indonesia. Besides succeeding in gathering more intel about the illegal bird trade in the rainforest -and sometimes actually bringing the people who practice this to justice- Adam is also actively involved in reforestation projects and the founding of ranger patrol teams. Adam’s efforts made it possible for the severely endangered orangutan to move from one side of their habitat to the other, using the reforested areas. On top of this, Adam makes an effort to involve the local communities in his projects, tries to convince bird traders to pursue a new career and works towards illegalizing the opening of new bird shops.


Spreading the Word

Author: Constanze Mager (Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands)

Campaign wise, the last few weeks can be characterized as the crucial weeks to get zoos on board on national level. My lecture about the campaign during the Dutch zoo employee meeting (150 attendees, mostly zoo keepers) was rather successful. Of course, often the keepers are not the ones who decide whether a zoo join in a campaign. But if they see the conservation need to do so, they can urge the biologists, educators or even director of their zoo to do so!

The week after, we’ve had our national zoo-marketeer-meeting and our national zoo-educators-meeting. Very important gatherings to get more zoos signing up. I hope me marketing colleague and I could convince more zoos to participate. Not only, because the Asian songbirds do indeed need our help! But also because it makes a rather weak statement, if in a joint conservation campaign by EAZA zoos, less than half of the member zoos participate although you only thing you have to pledge for is to do at least one topic related activity in two years’ time!

The education experts under the lead of Lucia from Cologne Zoo also try to keep the EAZA education committee well informed, up-dated and involved. Those people all need to do in their country the same as I try to do in the Netherlands… and then the Silent Forest Campaign will be a great success, with many participants and vibrant activities! Let’s go for it, together!

Asian songbirds for children and adults

Author: Constanze Mager (Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands)

The Silent Forest Campaign has been launched six weeks ago. It’s good to see how the really quick zoos registered within a few days! Wow! By now, almost 60 zoos registered as participants. Also great that quite a lot of zoos indeed pledge to raise money for the campaign. That money will really make a difference for the in situ conservation projects!

In the meantime, in my own institution, the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, we’re thinking or how to communicate the content of the campaign via the different education channels. The cheap and easy ones are really quickly realised. In January, we’ll have an evening presentation on the topic for our season card holders. I’ll talk about the campaign, our Burgers’ Bush head keeper Christiaan will tell more about the proper care of rare Asian songbirds in our large rainforest hall. I expect at least 300 listeners, as this is the average number of people showing up on the lectures.

For the younger visitors, we have planned an afternoon of the youth university in our zoo on the campaign in February. The almost ready Powerpoint presentation for primary schools (soon to be downloadable on the campaign website) is of course a good basis for this lecture. And why not take birds in general as focus for our May holiday activity? There are a lot accessible topics around birds, like feathers, beaks, reproduction, the way the communicate etc, which would nicely complete an activity about the Silent Forest campaign. The core planning group of the campaign keeps having skype meetings at least once a fortnight. Because for a campaign group, the work is absolutely not finished once a campaign is launched!

Asian songbird trade crisis specialist group formed to tackle conservation threats

Threatened songbirds in the region will now have the voice of the first Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group to join the chorus against the illegal and unsustainable cage bird trade.

Formally recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) in May 2017, the Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) is dedicated solely to preventing the imminent extinction of songbirds threatened by unsustainable trapping and the trade. This is the first multidisciplinary specialist group, and prior to its formation, there was no official conservation body under the IUCN SSC focusing on songbirds and the threats arising from its illegal trade.

Over 50 experts gathered to devise a strategy to save Asian songbirds (Photo by Wildlife Reserves Singapore)

Together with other global experts, Wildlife Reserves Singapore played a key role in driving the formation of the ASTSG – a natural progression from the Songbird Crisis Summits in 2015 and 2017— also hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore—and will implement the conservation strategy and action plans discussed at these important meetings. This is also the first time an institution in Singapore is hosting a specialist group under the IUCN SSC.


Southeast Asia is home to more than 850 bird species. Keeping songbirds is seen as a social status symbol, with demand also arising from cultural practices—such as religious releases and songbird competitions. As a result, the region sees huge demand for domestic and international bird trade, involving countless individuals of hundreds of species. Many of these are now facing catastrophic declines.

David Jeggo, Chair of the ASTSG said: “The songbird trade conservation issue is highly complex, with many different perspectives and challenges. A coordinated effort under this Specialist Group would create synergies by bringing together a range of subject matter experts to find solutions to reverse the growing threat to songbird species and improve the conservation status of all the species involved.”

Currently, conservation efforts are broadly centred around in situ research into wild populations; genetic research; trade monitoring and legal protection; ex situ conservation breeding programmes; and education and community engagement. These five themes form sub-groups are led by vice-chairs in the ASTSG.

A straw-headed bulbul (Tan Siah Hin David)
  • Vice-chair (Trade and Legislation) – Christopher Shepherd, Wildlife Trade Expert, Canada
  • Vice-chair (Field Research) – Stuart Marsden (Manchester Metropolitan University, U.K.)
  • Vice-chair (Genetics) – Frank Rheindt (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
  • Vice-chairs (Ex-situ Breeding and Reintroductions) – Luis Neves (Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Singapore) & Andrew Owen (Chester Zoo, U.K.)
  • Vice-chair (Education and Community Engagement) – Ria Saryanthi (Burung Indonesia, Indonesia)

Wildlife Reserves Singapore also contributes in other capacities towards songbird conservation, including education and community outreach activities, as well as through the conservation breeding of various threatened species of songbirds at Jurong Bird Park. Wildlife Reserves Singapore also supports two songbird conservation projects in Bali and Java, Indonesia, where the critically endangered songbirds are bred and reintroduced into the wild.

This press release coincides with the timely launch of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria’s two-year ‘Silent Forest’ campaign, aimed to support and raise awareness of conservation efforts of Southeast Asian songbirds threatened by trade, and by extension the ASTSG’s objectives.

European zoos and NGOs launch two-year campaign to save songbirds from extinction

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, together with TRAFFIC, BirdLife International and the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group, today launched a joint campaign in a collaborative effort to save iconic Asian songbird species from extinction.

The Silent Forest campaign will raise awareness of the devastating effects of the trade in songbirds across Southeast Asia, and will also raise funds for field conservation projects that are working to reverse the decline in numbers of some of the world’s most beautiful birds. Teetering on the brink of extinction, birds such as the Bali Myna and Javan Green Magpie are highly sought after in markets across the region. Owning a songbird has long been an integral part of Southeast Asian culture, but as the region develops, songbirds are fetching increasingly high prices in the markets, encouraging trappers to clear birds from huge areas of forest.

“The Asian songbird crisis has reached a tipping point: without immediate action, it is almost certain their voices will be silenced forever in the forest,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Southeast Asia Regional Director of TRAFFIC, the world’s leading NGO on wildlife trafficking. “We aim to raise the profile of this crisis both in Europe and in the range States and have a plan in place, in the form of a Conservation Strategy for these birds which this campaign feeds directly into”.

“We need to establish a sustainable model that respects both local culture and laws without destroying the incredible richness of Southeast Asia’s biodiversity; that’s a formidable challenge, but this is a very strong coalition of partners, and there are some amazing projects that the campaign will support.”

Thomas Ouhel of Liberec Zoo, and Chair of the Campaign, pointed to the difference that funds raised by European zoos could make: “If we can persuade traders to work with conservationists and breeders rather than pillaging the forests, there’s a real chance to save these birds by changing attitudes towards the ownership of songbirds. Funding for the breeding and conservation projects, linked to educational work in the local communities can halt and eventually reverse the decline in songbirds species, bringing back the music of the forest for the benefit of future generations.”

Silent Forest will run for two years, and is aimed at raising €400,000 from European zoos and their visitors to help save six Critically Endangered flagship species identified by the coalition and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Leading biologists from the EAZA and beyond will also work on scientific measures to increase protection for these species. To learn more, visit

Meet ‘Esa’, the lonely one

15 September, written by Anais Tritto

The Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush used to be very common in the past in high Javan mountains and observed making large flocks and vocalizing with their typical “horse” songs (the Indonesian name for the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush is Poksai kuda which means the “Horse Laughingthrush”).

Esa (“the only one” in Indonesian) is a Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush from the subspecies of Central Java. Although few individuals of the subspecies from West Java still remain in remote locations, the subspecies from Central Java was completely decimated by the intensive illegal catching for the cage-bird trade. This illegal trade is touching all songbirds in Indonesia that are kept in small cages in front of people houses so they can “enjoy” their songs or increase their social status by having a rare bird to show.

Esa arrived in Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre (CCBC) in September 2012 from the biggest bird market of Java, situated in Jakarta. The CCBC team quickly identified this female as Central Java subspecies and large efforts were implemented to find new companions for her and start a breeding programme to counteract the loss of this valuable subspecies. Whereas few Rufous-fronted Laughingthrushes from the West Java subspecies were found and breeding programmes could start, no individual from the subspecies of Esa was found until now. It is thought that this subspecies is already extinct in Central Java and, since Esa, there is no evidence of another individual in captivity (private owners, centres or bird markets).

Until now, Esa is kept in CCBC under the good care of the experienced team. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a mate but can enjoy time with young birds from the West Java subspecies until they reach their sexual maturity and have to be removed from her (to prevent hybridization).

This brown and secretive bird received few attention in the past and the Cikananga team is sad to observe daily the last specimen of its kind that will drive the subspecies to the complete extinction once Esa will pass away.

Actions to preserve the Indonesian songbirds must be implemented right now to prevent other species becoming the new “Esa” and being driven silently to extinction.

Annual conference in Wildlands: here I come!

Author: Constanze Mager (Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands)

The EAZA Annual Conference, THE EAZA meeting of the year, the place to meet and network with 600+ relevant staff of EAZA Zoos! Also, traditionally the time and location to close one EAZA conservation campaign and launch the next one. So, this conference is a crucial moment for a campaign planning team.

However, the EAZA Annual Conference is also quite a costly meeting, to be honest. The conference fee itself is rather high, surely compared to meetings of nationwide zoo educators (which are generally free of charge for one day meetings or very low-cost for conferences that last a couple of days). Then travel, accommodation, the inconvenience of missed working hours,… no wonder that most zoos’ management send curators and/or zoological directors to those conferences only. Educators are a rare species there, even though there are closed and open education sessions.

Last March, when the educators of the preparation team met the EAZA staff during the EZE conference in Paris, Myfanwy Griffith, director of EAZA, made the remark that it is probably best if the curators of the core planning group give the campaign talk during the plenary session of the annual EAZA conference. On the one hand I was personally a bit relieved, as I did not have to ask my boss to attend yet another conference and also, I guess Myfanwy was quite right – as sad as is –  when she stated: ‘tell the directors and curators that for the education stuff is taken care; they are not interested to deeply in it anyway, as long as they know there will be material.’. On the other hand, the conference is a great possibility to talk to people in person and get them enthusiast!  And curators who also have five EEP meetings to prepare and eight TAG meetings and who want to discuss a million different things with their colleagues… might not have the upcoming conservation campaign highest ranking on their agenda, maybe; so a little pushing can’t do harm.

Not thinking about participating in this year’s annual conference any more, the following news strikes me:  the zoos of the Dutch Zoo Federation NVD decided that it might be useful and interesting for non-curators to attend one set day of the Annual Conference in Wildlands, Emmen, the North of our own home country… reduced one-day fee for the first 30 interested Dutch zoo employees; no travel expenses, no accommodation necessary. I signed up really, really quickly! Unfortunately the set date is not the one of the campaign launch. Yet, that day might be a good chance to meet the curators/directors in the campaign preparation group. There are not to many meetings in person, so it would be great to get together during the lunch eg. And  a personal target: talk to at least five non-Dutch-zoo- employees (people I would not meet so easily normally) about the campaign goals and opportunities!

Ticking of the checklist even before the official start

Author: Constanze Mager (Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands)

Sometimes things turn to be out much more complicated and difficult to achieve than expected – and sometimes things work out much smoother than expected on the forehand! A nice example of this general rule in the songbird campaign context:

One possible way to spread the campaign message, so we discussed in the education preparation team, would be to get hobbyists like bird breeders  and other local bird clubs involved. Those people would could even be a key target group. As bird lovers they would care much more than average about the faith of tropical birds getting wiped out in Southeast Asia. Of course, that sounds logic and reasonable… but on the other hand: how many educators/communicators in zoos do already have warm bonds with local bird breeders, chicken fans or parrot lovers? We in Burgers’ Zoo don’t, to be honest. Nonetheless, on my ‘mental personal campaign bucket list’ I put: ‘hold at least one presentation for a local/regional bird breeders club; think about how to realize that later’.

Photo by Roland Wirth
Photo by Roland Wirth

Not having taken any action so far (‘later’ is of course a broad definition for a campaign running from September 2017 till 2019), on our monthly meeting one of my educational volunteer guides approached me. He had been asked by somebody he knows, who is member of a parrot breeder club… if he could give an evening presentation on parrots and other tropical birds of Burgers’ Zoo, next November. If that was ok with me, and if there already was a powerpoint presentation on that topic he could use? Ok? That’s more than ok with me! So I assured my volunteer colleague that he could of course confirm the presentation to the club; and that we would integrate the new EAZA songbird campaign in the talk. Additionally, the little donation he would receive for his talk would go to the campaign funds.  In my experience, a successful talk for one local department of a club often is the start for a whole series of requests for talks for groups in their network. The word will spread…  That target on my campaign bucket list can almost already be ticked off! Minor detail: in our campaign education preparation team’s list it up to me to prepare a standard powerpoint on the campaign as resource on the website! Just have to check with the team members whether we already agreed on a look and layout for that or not…

The harpy eagle and the songbird campaign

Author: Constanze Mager (Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands)

It is always an interesting challenge to get an EAZA campaign – invented and launched by EAZA office and a small campaign preparation group – really alive in hundreds of EAZA institutions in 44 European countries! Actually, zoos sometimes have to be convinced to participate yet in another campaign and organize fundraising and educational activities… on top of all the ‘normal crazy everyday business’ in a modern zoo!

There are a couple of very important moments in the starting-up phase of a campaign to get zoos involved: an EZE meeting, where more than hundred educators come together from all across Europe to discuss. The annual EAZA conference, when even more (mainly) curators attend. The EAZA campaign is always planned in a plenary session of lectures. Presentations on these meetings are crucial to reach the management level of zoos and to get their attitude positive about participating in a conservation campaign. But how to reach the zookeepers as well?

In some countries, zookeepers are united in an interest group. In the Netherlands, this group is called ‘de Harpij’- which means ‘the Harpy Eagle’. It has more than a thousand members. Each November there’s a  huge annual meeting. Quite often, the EAZA conservation campaign is a theme of one of the lectures during this annual conference day. Also this year! The Netherlands of course have a special advantage over other ‘European zoo countries’: the EAZA office is situated in the Netherlands, and some of the EAZA staff are native Dutch speakers… great conditions for a contentwise fantastic story in the keepers’ own language! Unfortunately this year, EAZA office staff are unavailable during the conference date. But, bit of good luck: in the education preparation team, there’s a Dutch speaking person with podium experience… me! A little rearrangement of my own daily agenda (weird that even in July the agenda for over four or five months are already running full in some weeks!), and off I’ll go to this year’s Harpy eagle-conference, to promote the new campaign on much smaller, and to be true a bit less spectacular birds as good as possible! Hopefully, there will be more campaign-ambassadors in more European countries, so that we can get a lot of people really going for the campaign… we’ll try to get the EAZA education committee members  involved in this task!