Corona Virus Pandemic affecting the development of the Sumatra Songbird Sanctury

How is the Corona Virus Pandemic affecting the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme and its development of a Songbird Breeding Centre?


Text by Ian Singleton, SOCP

We would have hoped already to see buildings coming up… rather than just presenting a few sticks in a muddy field! Construction plans are delayed but it is not limitations in the current situation.

How is the situation in everyday life? The answer is basically very ’strange’! The reason is say that is that most of Indonesia is carrying on totally as normal…..out on the streets, in traffic jams, going to coffee shops, etc etc…..and yet the number of cases and deaths are extremely low!

Of course, there is massive under-reporting but even allowing for that, the numbers are still remarkably low! So, it is indeed weird as we really don’t know what is happening and it’s difficult to fully understand the situation.

Whilst much of the world is also debating what is going to happen in the second wave, I think we haven’t even had our first wave yet… and with it now being the month of Ramadan, and the numbers travelling around the country having been steadily increasing the last couple of weeks and about to peak this weekend, with millions of people also visiting relatives and friends, I think we are about to see a BIG increase in cases, to a peak in mid to late June. Let’s see…

As for how it’s affecting us at the SOCP, we realised early that there is a significant risk that orangutans could be affected, and this is supported by a few journal papers. We therefore locked down all our facilities with captive orangutans early on (the quarantine and reintroduction centres) and also ceased all activities at any of our field research stations to minimise any risk to the wild populations.

We have developed and implemented new policies and procedures to minimise risk of infections to staff and orangutans in our care, and protocols in case they do become infected. We’ve also raised funds and are now building a new high biosecurity “Covid quarantine facility” of 5 cages, totally isolated and at distance from all other facilities and apes at our quarantine centre. This is because whilst we are not sending any orangutans out of the centre (e.g. to the reintroduction sites) orangutans are still arriving. Therefore, we need to make absolutely sure they’re SARS-CoV-2 free before they are progressed through the system near other animals.

At the same time, we’ve had a hard look at our budgets. We estimate we are likely to incur around USD 150,000 unforeseen and unbudgeted costs at the quarantine and reintroduction centres (extra food and medical costs as we have 50% more orangutans than normal (74 versus a normal average of around 50, as we have been unable to release any), and we are trying to buy longer lasting foods etc in case of problems with supplies, and much higher prices for personal protective equipment for staff and vets. etc. All at the same time, like everyone else, we are predicting a significant drop in grants and donations for the rest of 2020, which will almost certainly run into 2021 as well, and maybe beyond.

So basically, interesting, and busy times, never a dull moment. Workload has increased for most of us due to all of the above, and having to hold more discussions online, often in several different time zones.

Therefore, the construction of the Sumatra Songbird Sanctuary facilities has been additionally delayed, however funding stands and we are confident that construction can proceed fairly soon to form homes for severely threatened Sumatran songbirds.

Find the most recent updates from the Sumatran Songbird Sanctuary here

Amazing drone images of Bangkaru Island

Wild, remote and beautiful, a new dawn breaks on Bangkaru Island.

Text and images Alex Westover

This incredible drone shot shows Bangkaru Island from a new perspective. At the upmost capabilities of Alex Westover’s drone, this photo was captured as a last-minute decision just before leaving the island.

‘It was such a last-minute shot that I almost didn’t end up getting. I’m glad that didn’t happen!!’

In December 2019 a team of international wildlife photographers ventured to Bangkaru to capture the biodiversity and beauty of this wild and remote island. When we say remote, we mean remote. To get to Bangkaru, one must travel from Medan on mainland Sumatra – already quite remote – to Simeulue Island via small island-hopping plane. From Simeulue it is then an 8-hour boat ride, or at least it should be. On this occasion one of the boats motors failed, making the journey 12 hours.

‘Getting to Bangkaru is an adventure in itself. 14 hours from Australia, 3 hours in Medan, another flight, 12 hours on a boat and we made it! And it’s all so worth it to be in a place as beautiful as Bangkaru.’

None of this is easy, especially not with a camera crew and all the gear. After offloading the gear from the boat in a

The camp, located next to a river known to contain crocodiles

sheltered bay, the equipment had to be carried through the jungle to the camp spot. A makeshift basecamp was set up on one of Bangkaru’s beaches and the team spent a week photographing and filming Bangkaru’s spectacular landscape and wildlife. The video footage of this expedition can be seen here on EcosystemImpact’s website.

There truly are very few places left in the world as unaltered by humans than Bangkaru. This does not however, mean that Bangkaru’s wildlife is safe. In fact, far from it. Before setting up the Bangkaru Ranger Programme, close to 100% of turtle eggs were poached and it is estimated thousands of birds captured of the pet trade.
Ranger programmes work because the ranger’s presence and ability to enforce the law deters poachers. In 2016, EAZA, EcosystemImpact and partners Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA) and Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BKSDA) successfully implemented the first capture and legal prosecuting of poachers in the area. This action showed local communities we are serious about conserving Bangkaru’s wildlife and we are happy to report that since this intervention there has been no recorded turtle egg poaching and a noticeable reduction in bird poacher activity.
EcosystemImpact and EAZA’s Silent Forest campaign is continuing to develop and strengthen our ranger presence on Bangkaru. We are also working with local communities to bring environmental education to schools to heighten environmental awareness and further reduce poaching.

Learn more About the Treasure Island Project

Sensational news of Javan Green Magpies adopting their own young

Young Javan Green Magpie reared with the help of a “puppet”. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo

Thanks to intuitive avicultural skills and innovative methods used by the Prague Zoo’s bird team a chick from one of the rarest birds in the world could be saved. The young Javan green magpie, was reared safely by using a puppet but also introduced back to its parents for important social learning skills, enabling it to contribute to the ongoing breeding programme. Prague zoo is only one, out of three European institutions which has reared the critically endangered magpies.

Father feeding his youngster. Photo: Antonín Vaidl, Prague Zoo


Read the whole story by Lenka Pastorcakova and Antonín Vaidl from Prague Zoo and learn why this chick was in danger and how the team succeeded to rear the young corvid with a hatching weight of only 5.85 grams and eventually introduce it back to its parents right here.

Bird poster for Nias

Text and Pictures by Simon Bruslund

As part of the Save Magiao project the planning of the education and pride campaign for the Nias Island songbirds and especially the Magiao, the Nias Myna (Gracula robusta) continues. Currently we are developing a poster with the most threatened birds of Nias and with the Magiao in the center. We aim to place this poster in all classrooms on Nias and hopefully also in many other public buildings. The poster will feature magnificent artwork by Danish artist Carl Cristian Tofte who kindly made the paintings of the Nias species for the poster. Carl Christian and his partner fine artist Jessica Lee Hjort donated the rights to use the paintings and the designwork of the poster. We look forward to presenting the finished poster here on the Silent Forest website.

Planning the layout
Students learning about endemic birds

Transition of Bangkaru Programme from HAkA to Ecosystem Impact

Author Tom Amey, Director of Social and Environmental Programmes, Ecosystem Impact Foundation.

In December 2019, a decision was made for Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA) to transition the Bangkaru Ranger Programme to Ecosystem Impact Foundation (EI). It was felt that direct management by EI would be more efficient & effective. It also enables EI to build on the Bangkaru bird & turtle conservation work and expand this to Simeulue.

Bangkaru Island Rainforest from Above Photo: Paul Hilton @paulhiltonphoto.


With HAkA’s MoU with Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BKSDA) for the Bangkaru programme ending March 2020, the first quarter of this year has been spent focusing on securing the renewal of this MoU / transitioning to EI.

Bangkaru Rangers planning the days work. Photo: Paul Hilton(@paulhiltonphoto)

During the interim period between the existing MoU ending and EI gaining the new MoU, EI and HAkA have worked together with BKSDA to secure the Bangkaru Rangers status as Masyarakat Mitra Polisi Hutan (Community Forest Ranger Partners). This gives the rangers the necessary legal basis to continue patrolling Bangkaru. EI have – through EAZA funding support – provided a formal commitment to BKSDA to finance the rangers.

EI has developed the MoU proposal to BKSDA, with an MoU request being the ability to carry out surveying of terrestrial and marine biodiversity on Bangkaru. This will give EI and partners the ability to carry out further scientific data collection into the birds of Bangkaru.

All 7 rangers as well as HAkA’s former Bangkaru Coordinator will be moved to EI staffers from 1 April 2020. HAkA are being very supportive of this transition and we will continue to partner.

Nias Hill Myna on Bangkaru Island. Photo: Ross Gallardy

Bird Conservation Work on Bangkaru, and Future Developments
Entry points and camp locations of bird poachers have been identified in partnership with a new local conservation organisation working in the area – YSAN. We have worked through a viable terrestrial monitoring program to further address bird poaching on Bangkaru that we will be implemented in the coming months.



Bangkaru and Simeulue Islands located of the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Green and Leatherback turtles nest on these islands 365 days of the year. Sadly the beaches are covered in plastic, creating another obsticale in addition to egg poaching. Photo: Paul Hilton for Earth Tree


Spring news from the Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark (PCBA) – March 2020

Author Jochen Menner, Curator of Birds Taman Safari 2/ Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark

The PCBA was established in 2017 to serve as a breeding facility for the most endangered Indonesian species, the main focus is on songbirds. The centre is located within the grounds of Taman Safari 2, Prigen in East Java, it operates as a joint effort of Taman Safari, EAZA institutions and the ZGAP.

               Songbird complexes in February 2020. Photo PCBA


Construction updates

By January 2020 we were able to complete the construction of the fourth songbird breeding complex, consisting of 22 aviaries. 11 of them measuring 2.5m/2.5m/3m the others 7m/2.5m/5m. The smaller aviaries are currently accommodating a group of 10 (5.5) Javan Pied Starlings (Gracupica jalla) which we are keeping as a colony to decrease the problem of partner aggression. The remaining 6 smaller aviaries are used for Leafbirds (Chloropsis sonnerati and C. cochinchinensis), currently being housed individually in the hope to achieve proper breeding condition.                                           Leafbird aviaries in complex 4. Photo PCBA                       Male Javan Leafbird in PCBA. Photo Roland Wirth

The 11 larger aviaries are used to house our most sensitive pairs of larger species. For example, we are keeping Javan Crested Jay (Platylophus galericulatus garlericulatus), Rufous fronted Laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons rufifrons), Nias Hill Myna (Gracula robusta) and Nusa Tenggara Hill Myna (Gracula venerata) there.

With the completion of unit 4 the PCBA now consists of 121 songbird aviaries housing 24 species. In January the construction of the units 5 and 6 started and is progressing very fast, so that the completion by May seems doable. These 2 units will consist of an additional 62 aviaries with the dimensions of 3m/1.5m/3m and will be used to breed smaller and medium sized songbird species. All aviaries will be equipped with connecting slidedoors to give us the chance to connect and separate flexibly.

                                                         Construction on complex 6 in February 2020. Photo PCBA


Important recent breeding results

Within the last 6 months we managed to breed 10 threatened Songbird species. The most remarkable amongst those might be Wangi-Wangi White-eye (Zosterops sp.) and Maratua Shama (Kittacincla malabarica barbouri). Both taxa seem to be kept worldwide in no other institution and are of highest conservation priority.
The Wangi-Wangi White-eye is endemic to Wangi-Wangi island in the Tukang Besi archipelago, with its naturally very small distributions its vulnerable to any kind of disruption. Recently a massive increase of tourism activities has taken place on Wangi-Wangi, so a lot of suitable habitat might be lost but an even bigger threat poses the poaching for the cagebird trade. This White-eye was virtually unknown in the trade until relatively recently but with more and more Javanese workers coming to Wangi-Wangi, the species is now occurring in bigger numbers in the Javan and Balinese trade.
So far, we managed to breed with 2 pairs while 2 more are building nests, these first promising attempts will hopefully be the foundation of a successful conservation program and valuable knowledge for .

                                             Wangi-Wangi White-eye with the very first chick. Photo PCBA


Even more dire seems to be the situation for the Maratua Shama, endemic to Maratua island off the eastern coast of Borneo it hasn’t been seen on the island since 2011 and might very well be extinct in the wild.
Within the last 18 months we managed to secure 8 individuals of which 1 died, the remaining 7 turned out to be 1.6 and might have represented the largest part of the global population by then. Since about 6 months no Maratua Shamas have been offered in the online trade, indicating that we may have managed to get hold of some of the very last survivors.
Between October 2019 and January 2020 in total 7 Maratua Shama chicks hatched at the PCBA, 6 of them are still alive, bringing our small population to 4.9.
In January we paired our only adult male with a second female, to get as many founders involved as soon as possible. This new pair immediately produced its first clutch and successfully raised 2 chicks.


The first (likely extinct in the wild) Maratua shama hatched at the PCBA. Photo PCBA





Update on Ecological Monitoring of Bali myna at Bali Barat National Park

Author Tom Squires, PhD Candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

The Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi), so emblematic of the island it is endemic to, has been reintroduced to Bali Barat National Park over the past 30 years in attempts to re-establish a wild population. The population of this highly sought-after songbird was decimated from the mid-20th century onwards by trapping to supply the insatiable demand from the cagebird trade. In support of latest reintroduction efforts, an ecological monitoring project has been undertaken, its goal being to gather detailed information on the wild population and share this with the national park for the benefit of important ongoing conservation activities. Such monitoring can provide valuable insight regarding the species’ ecology, demographics, dispersal, and long-term population viability. Much of the data required for this analysis have been collected over the past 12 months, but fieldwork is still ongoing. Here, we provide a summary of the monitoring work we have been carrying out.


Population Distribution and Abundance
For the past 12 months, Tom and research assistants Panji Gusti Akbar, Muhammad Arif Romadlon and Aldina Rahmadhani, mapped the occurrence of Bali myna within and surrounding Bali Barat National Park. Well over 1,000 encounters with Bali myna were recorded, giving us a good idea of where birds spend their time, as well as daily and seasonal variation in habitat use. With this information, we will be able to determine which areas are most likely to support a range expansion, and areas outside the national park that birds might be expected to disperse to in the future.

Habitat Preference and Suitability
To complement the bird occurrence data, we undertook an extensive park-wide habitat survey, recording habitat structure and vegetation characteristics in 10 m radius plots. Muhammad and Aldina, recent Indonesian graduates with a primary interest in botanical field research, joined the project and after an instructive week with Bali Barat’s botanical expert, Bapak Putu Yasa, amassed an impressive dataset of >700 habitat plots across the national park and in the area immediately surrounding it. These data will be used to generate an up-to-date supervised habitat classification for Bali Barat National Park and its surrounds, as well as to examine more detailed habitat associations of Bali myna.

Nestboxes have been installed at each Bali myna release location to offer birds safe and easy access a nesting site. This has the added benefit of enabling relatively straightforward monitoring of breeding productivity, although it is still demanding work that takes time and patience throughout the breeding season, and an in-depth understanding of behaviour to ensure disturbance to birds is minimised. Mas Untung, Andri and Sasmita have taken on this task of detailed monitoring of the nestboxes and natural nest cavities used by Bali myna in close cooperation with national park staff. They are collecting extremely valuable breeding data, and with the help of an endoscope (or “snake camera”), have been able to collect some of the first definitive data on clutch size, numbers of chicks, and nesting success from wild birds. This work will continue until the end of the breeding season, thought to be around May/June, although some birds may actually continue to breed after this period, one reason for this important work to be a continual effort.

Above Untung and Andri are in the process of checking a nest with an endoscope

Survival and Movement
Ever since the first aluminium ring was attached by Hans Christian Cornelius Mortensen in 1899 to another member of the Sturnidae, the European starling, modern-day bird ringing has helped us determine how long birds live for and where they go. The use of coloured plastic rings now means that birds need not be re-caught to know their identity, reducing disturbance. Using these methods in Bali Barat on a sub-sample of the Bali myna population has helped us to understand the movement of birds between release sites – indeed, we have confirmed that birds are moving more than we expected! Furthermore, through continual monitoring and repeated registrations of the same birds over time, we are able to measure the birds’ apparent rate of survival, an important metric required to help build a population viability analysis.


With the end of the current breeding season will arrive the final data required for the planned analysis to begin and for results to be published and shared with the national park, project partners, and wider scientific community. Completion of this initial analysis is anticipated by July 2020.

This work has been made possible thanks to funding from the EAZA Silent Forest campaign, and Tom also receives funding from Chester Zoo and MMU as part of his PhD.


Community engagement projects for Bali Mynas

Authors Sunny Nelson, Stuart Marsden & Tom Squires

Sunny (Lincoln Park Zoo) along with Tom and professor Stuart from Manchester Metropolitan University recently visited Bali Barat National Park, Bali Safari & Marine park and Nusa Penida to develop the Silent Forest Campaign pre-selected Project for Bali Myna conservation. We concentrated on community projects – the rationale being that local communities need to be on board if conservation efforts to bring the species back to the wild are to succeed long-term.

First stop was to work with our friends from Bali Barat National Park. Talks with park director Pak Agus Krisna and his staff were fruitful and we hope they will pave the way for some imaginative outreach projects with local primary school children all centred around Bali Mynas. Monitoring of the Bali Myna releases at BBNP has shown that some of the offspring of released birds are on the move – and this movement is tending to be towards the eastern parts of the park and even to community areas outside of the park.

Another project component we are currently planning is to work with hotels and other businesses near the tourist resort of Pemuteran. If hotels can be persuaded to put up nest boxes and provide feeding stations for the birds, then this might be a win-win situation with the mynas finding a safe haven outside the national park while local businesses promoting themselves to tourists as a ‘Jalak Bali-friendly community’ (Jalak is the Indonesian word for starling).

Here Sunny is discussing and learning about local community projects


Next stop for the team was a visit to the new Bali Myna release site at Bali Safari & Marine Park. We were so impressed with the release efforts of Dr. Kadek and his team, all backed up with some great outreach efforts with local communities led by Dayu Ari. It will be of course some time before it is known whether this release has ‘taken’ or not, but early signs are good.


Searching for Bali Mynas on Nusa Penida with the FNPF team.

Our final stop was the island of Nusa Penida, where the inimitable Dr Bayu and his team at Friend of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) have been working for more than a decade on Bali Myna releases. This release is going well with several pairs observed on the island. We expect to support some work on both monitoring and assessing community engagement needs naturally depending on future funding opportunities.

The EAZA Passeriformes Taxon Advisory Group changes its name

The EEP Committee has approved the name change of the EAZA Passeriformes TAG into “EAZA Songbird TAG” as per 6 January 2020.

During the last TAG meeting in Valencia we proposed this name change to the participants with the argument that the scientific order name is not always really user friendly. Also, sometimes it tough to stay scientifically accurate as a “order name” might indicate because taxonomy changes happen, or practical accommodations has to be made for certain species to be integrated in a different TAG than the name might indicate.

Currently the EAZA Songbird TAG covers “only” species of the order Passeriformes which is already the largest group of birds with more than 6600 different species distributed throughout the world.

Under the TAG the working group on Asian Songbirds threatened by trade was instrumental for initiating and developing the Silent Forest Campaign between 2017 and 2019. This working group will continue its important work as a part of the Songbird TAG under the name Silent Forest Working Group. Members of this group routinely meets twice a year, mostly in conjunction with another EAZA meeting.

The Silent Forest Campaign Team says Thank you

To all the supporters of the Silent Forest Campaign our heartfelt gratitude. HOWEVER, the work will continue and the TAG working group on Asian Songbirds will in the future adapt the name Silent Forest Working Group and take over the campaign logo and website. The content and communications including social media will be taken over by the working group. Most of the educative resources on this website will in the near future become open source and thereby freely available to anyone educating to make a difference.

Most importantly fundraising will also continue with the same account to be available with EAZA for the next 5 years. Donations should always be marked “Silent Forest” and projects will be selected in accordance with priorities determined by the IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group.