Text by Thomas Amey, Director of Social and Environmental Programmes, EcosystemImpact Foundation
Home to some of the world’s rarest bird and turtle species, Bangkaru Island remains…
wild and remote, off the Northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. An Island of natural treasures!
EcosystemImpact and wildlife agency BKSDA have a team of rangers that patrol this Island Paradise and are on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To keep these dedicated rangers in the field, protecting species like the iconic Nias Hill Myna, White-rumped Shama, Silvery Pigeon and Leatherback Turtle, we need to raise $45,000 annually to enable the rangers to do their job.
Without the rangers, many bird species that call Bangkaru home could be pushed to extinction by poachers. Bangkaru is one of only four places in the world that maintains a population of Nias Hill Myna. Research has shown that the Nias Hill Myna population on Bangkaru is possibly the only remaining viable population in the world. These birds have been pushed to the edge of extinction due to trafficking for the illegal pet trade and are now Critically Endangered.
The ranger’s carryout anti-poaching patrols whilst collecting data on Bangkaru’s critically endangered species. The data is then analysed by EcosystemImpact’s team and used to inform future conservation action. Due to the rarity of these bird species, and the very real threat of extinction, EcosystemImpact is part of regional and international groups working to save these iconic bird species.
Bangkaru is also a nesting site of international importance for Green and Leatherback Sea Turtles. As well as patrolling Bangkaru’s forest and beaches, the rangers remove piles of plastic from the beaches that become obstacles for turtles and their hatchlings on their way to the ocean.
Raising funds during the pandemic has been more challenging than usual. But the threat of poaching for the pet trade does not go away. Please help us if you can. Any contribution you can make towards keeping the rangers on Bangkaru every day of the year would be hugely appreciated.
Together We Heal Our Planet.
The Treasure Island Project is an ongoing annual priority committment of the Silent Forest Group including intensive technical support as well funding. We work at a zero administration budget and 100% of donations directed towards Silent Forest or EcosystemsImpact which are earmarked for “Treasure Island” goes to support EcosystemImpact’s Bangkaru Rangers.
A the new publication by Sarah Heinrich et al. “A case for better international protection of the Sumatran Laughingthrush (Garrulax bicolor)” is fresh off the press. This completed as a cooperation between researchers from Monitor Conservation Research Society, Chester zoo, Marlow Bird Park and the University of Adelaide. The paper argues for a need of strengthened international protection and in particular highlights the potential illegal and unsustainable trade in the European Union in this Endangered species. Read the full paper here
Great news from Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre (CCBC). With the support of ASAP the coming breeding season for the Javan Green Magpie and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush can come. CCBC applied to ASAP’s Rapid Action Fund to continue the breeding programmes of the three birds. ASAP has teamed up with the Oriental Bird Club to provide the funds needed by CCBC.
ASAP is offering opportunities to apply for grants to the ASAP partners organisations for urgent and emergency conservation of ASAP species which are critically endangered Asian species.
Check out the news from the Prigen Conservation Breeding Ark in eastern Java. One of the pre-selected projects of the Silent Forest Campaign and a continued partner of many zoos and the Silent Forest Group
After month of writing up the collected experience by EEP coordinator Manoj Kumar the manuscript has been under review by the EAZA Songbird TAG for additional months. Now it has finally been published and it is worth taking a closer look. The Straw-headed Bulbul is a challenging species to breed in captivity and the effort and attention Manoj and his colleagues is putting into a focussed management will be instrumental for establishing an ex-situ assurance population of this species in the long-term.
Text by Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, Monitor Conservation Research Society Executive Director
Researchers from the Monitor Conservation Research Society and the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group have evaluated the trade in the Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus) and the effects which the long-term CITES appendix II listing have had on the species conservation.
The Chinese Hwamei is one of the few Asian songbirds listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Data was compared from Asian countries outside the species range where the international trade is high but should be regulated by CITES. Assessing if CITES import and export figures matched with observations in the bird markets, and online trade.
The study found that numbers of Chinese Hwamei for sale outside the natural range appear to have been impacted by the CITES listing. Still there is regular trade ongoing without the necessary legal documentation, in violation of the Convention. Neither Thailand nor Indonesia have reported the legal import of any Chinese Hwamei since its CITES-listing, despite some 2,000 birds having been recorded openly for sale in these countries, suggesting large-scale undocumented and therefore illegal international trade in the species.
Given the global nature of the trade in a growing list of songbirds, it is essential that CITES be effectively used to ensure illegal and unsustainable international trade is not a threat to the conservation of these species.
Text and images by Pratibha Baveja, PhD Candidate at National University of Singapore, Singapore
Recently, a research team from National University of Singapore (NUS) in collaboration with Syiah Kuala University and Aceh Birder conducted an expedition to investigate the avifauna on the ornithologically lesser explored islands of West Sumatra (see map below). One of the major goals of this expedition was to document the current status of Barusan Shama Copsychus (malabaricus) melanurus on these islands. Barusan Shama is one of the most heavily traded and highly priced birds in the Indonesian bird markets. It is distinguished from the more widespread White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus as it has a complete black tail, darker red underparts and less pronounced sexual dimorphism. However, as Barusan Shama is not recognized as a distinct species by BirdLife International, there is no concrete conservation or legal protection status for this unique taxon. Consequently, these birds have been the subject of frequent hunting and their numbers, over the years, have dwindled to precariously low levels, bordering on near extinction.
According to taxonomy of Eaton et al. 2016, Barusan Shama is recognized as a distinct species with four subspecies: melanurus from Nias and presumably Mentawai, hypolizus from Simeulue, opisthochrus from Babi and Lasia and mirabilis from Panaitan. Between 2014-2019, our team visited the West Sumatran Archipelago to assess the current ground status of the species and collect sample for genomic analyses to discern the taxonomy of the White-rumped Shama complex. During these visits, we used visual, acoustic and mist-netting surveys supplemented with local ornithological observation, through community interviews to get a holistic picture of the bird status on these islands over the years.
Current status on West Sumatran islands
Simeulue: During the 4 visits to the northernmost deep-sea island of West Sumatran chain, Simeulue, we did not encounter any Barusan Shama in the wild visually or otherwise. Our interaction with locals who were familiar with the bird that is locally known as murai batu agreed that the bird is extinct in the wild or extremely rare. During previous visits to the island, we had formed a trustworthy association with one of the main Shama breeder in Sinabang, the capital of Simeulue, who informed us that the local capture rate had declined steeply from 1-2 individuals per week in 2014, to 1 individual per month in 2015. We managed to visit the breeding facility in Sinabang and collect blood samples for different island individuals through the breeder in 2019. The breeder was very cautious with the shamas and allowed us to take samples after we assured him that the process would not aesthetically damage the bird’s appearance or make it weak. We were hardly given 1-2 minutes to collect sample with each individual. The extreme caution shown by the breeder is not surprising as the market price of the bird can be as high as 5 juta Indonesian rupiah (~US$ 370) and any harm would translate into a great financial loss for him. Through these interactions with locals and our surveys on the island of Simeulue where all the surviving forests are close to human habitation, we are convinced that hypolizus is extinct in the wild and only a few individuals survive in captivity (~100 individuals).
Babi & Lasia: Babi and Lasia are officially uninhabited, deep sea paleo-islands south of Simeulue and reaching these islands involves a 5-6 hours boat journey from Simeulue, often marred with inclement weather. Due to the physical hardships of reaching these islands, one would assume that it would have a few surviving shamas, yet the situation was opposite.
During our 3 visits to Babi between 2015-2019, we surveyed approximately 2 km into the interior of primary forests of Babi trying different forest trails but did not encounter any shamas in the wild. Babi has a single antenna tower. The warden managing the tower recounted how the shamas fell prey to hunting and poaching activities. The Javanese trappers had visited the islands around 2010, catching thousands of shamas and the local trappers followed suit. The warden’s anecdote aligned with our observation of many fisherman boats on both Babi and neighboring Lasia.
As these are small islands, opisthochrus is most likely extinct in the wild, while a few individuals might still be found in captivity.
Bankaru & Tuangku: Bangkaru and Tuangku are shelf island members of the Banyak archipelago, south of Simeulue and north of Nias, harboring an undescribed population of shamas. Bangkaru has a lot of primary rainforests and is uninhabited except for a few forest rangers employed for turtle conservation. We stayed at the rangers’ station and were assisted by the rangers in our extensive forest trails on this island in 2018. With the guidance of the most experienced ranger to the known habitats of shama, we traversed through the different microhabitats on Bangkaru, climbed the waterfall to reach the highest hill and ultimately landed on the other end of the island with no visual or acoustic encounter of Barusan Shama despite using playback devices. The mist netting surveys also did not yield any shama. On the highest hill of Bangkaru, we noticed traces of plastic within the core forests, indicating recent human presence. According to the forest rangers, poachers were relatively less frequent to Bangkaru compared to Tuangku due to the presence of the rangers, however, we noticed fisherman boats anchored on the eastern coast of Bangkaru facing Tuangku. The most experienced ranger told us that his own personal encounter with a shama was a year back. As Bangkaru is a small island, there is little chance of survival of shama on this island.
From Bangkaru, we traveled to Tuangku via a 2-hour boat journey. The island had a number of villages and we witnessed ongoing large scale forest conversion in Tuangku. Through our surveys and local interactions, we found that the shamas have been extinct on the island, conforming with the Bangkaru rangers’ knowledge of the high poaching pressure in Tuangku.
We encountered a single Bangkaru individual with the local breeder in Singkil, a town adjacent to the Banyak islands in mainland Sumatra. The morphology of the individual suggested that the Bangkaru population could be intermediate between White-rumped Shama from Sumatra and Barusan Shama of West Sumatran islands. Further genomic analyses would confirm the identity of this population.
Nias: Nias, one of the largest West Sumatran islands, is the most degraded island having a few remaining patches of secondary forests. Almost all the forests have been converted to villages or rubber plantations and we did not find any shamas in the wild during our surveys as expected. In the capital Gunungsitoli and region surrounding the capital, we saw a large number of caged Barusan Shama displayed by the roadside vendors that were caught a few years back. Nias faces a high poaching pressure and based on our interaction with locals and our field surveys, it is highly likely that melanurus is extinct in the wild on this island.
Mentawai: As Siberut from the Mentawai archipelago is still covered with primary forests, it was thought to be the last refuge of Barusan Shama in the wild. In 2019, we visited Siberut with the hope of finding a comparatively less threatened and large population of Barusan Shama. Our first day on the island was enough to wipe out all our illusions. Siberut was an island undergoing a rapid transformation, both in terms of habitat and human culture. While the large-scale deforestation to construct the Trans-Siberut Highway would ensure habitat loss, the approach of religious missionaries would ensure that the ensuing established villages inhabited by tribal population would have a religion.
Based on local advice, we began a two-day hike to the hill forests of West Siberut that were yet not ‘developed’ to increase our chance of encountering the wild shamas. All our porters were extremely familiar with the shama, few of the younger ones even possessed shama calls in their mobile devices. During our hike through the recently established villages, we observed evidence of local trapping of birds; we saw small cages cramped with different species of birds including Olive-winged Bulbul and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker demonstrating that the trappers were not species-specific. Also, we observed traditional bows and arrows hung to the wall and men carrying air rifles. Through most of the hike in the forest near the villages, we were accompanied by the mechanical sound of chainsaws. We set up our camp at a high elevation within dense primary forest and carried out mist netting, visual and acoustic surveys for the next 3 days. A detailed video interview with one of the porters explained how only 1-2 years ago, Palembang traders had arrived and taught the locals to trap shamas, buying thousands of shams at a low price and selling them at a higher price later, ultimately wiping most of the shama population in Siberut. We mist netted a single juvenile Barusan Shama in this area, giving us hope that a small population of wild shama still survives in this remote location of Siberut. Even though we did not share that we had mist netted a shama with the local porters, we noticed that during the brief period when we heard the shama before mist netting it, one of the porters who had formerly been a trapper himself became extremely attentive. A new wave of poaching activity could endanger the survival of the small population of shamas in Siberut.
Panaitan: In Panaitan, Barusan Shama was last reported in 1980s. We did not visit this island but most likely it is extinct here due to its proximity to the Javan bird markets.
Our assessment of West Sumatran islands suggested that melanurus from Nias and presumably Mentawai survives commonly in captivity. A few individuals (~100) of hypolizus from Simeulue and a handful of opisthochrus from Babi and Lasia might also survive in captivity. Unfortunately, mirabilis from Panaitan is already extinct.
We rarely met anyone who was unfamiliar with murai batu, such is the popularity of Barusan Shama in the wildlife trade. In fact, we met people who are trained in elaborate methods of bird-hunting involving gums, decoys and torchlights. Undeniably, hunting is so widespread that it seemed like we were always a step behind the poachers in reaching the islands. The current dire status of Barusan Shama on West Sumatran islands suggests that the only way to save this unique taxon from extinction is through immediate efforts of ex-situ conservation breeding. In late 2019, few stakeholders including Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Ecosystem Impact Foundation (EIF) and members of the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) have already come forward to begin implementation of conservation breeding facilities. The genomic analyses of shamas, currently underway in National University of Singapore, would guide these concerted efforts. These efforts should be complemented with human behavioral interventions that would ensure long term survival of the species.
With an integrated conservation action plan, we hope that the Barusan Shama will continue to sing in the forests of the West Sumatran islands where their songs are not judged for prestige or money, but embraced as a part of the nature and its beauty.
Note: The results of this expedition have been published and can be found together with many other interesting publications on the website of the NUS Avian Evolution Lab
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
What project-related developments, either directly or indirectly, took place the past months?
Fieldwork for the project is underway at one of the two project study areas, with the remaining areas to be surveyed towards the end of 2019 and in 2020. Surveys were implemented at two sites on Patuha in February and March 2019. Fauna were surveyed using 20 camera traps, 14 audio recorders and walking transects. Camera traps and audio recorders were deployed for 4 days at each site, recording continuously for 24 hours. Equipment was placed approximately every 200 m along existing trails (audio recorders were placed 2-5 m off the trail, whereas camera traps were focused on trails, or clearings). Walking surveys were conducted along 16 km of trails over 4 days per site, surveying for birds and primates. At each audio recorder, and for key bird species, a vegetation survey was also carried out. Vegetation surveys aim to assess the structure (and some key species) of the habitat, with measures also relating to habitat condition (e.g. presence of tree stumps). Evidence of bird trapping was also collected during habitat surveys and on an ad hoc basis across the study site. Amphibians were surveyed along nocturnal transects following streams. A prior study also estimated forest loss between 1990 and 2015 across the study area.
Can you please give us a short status update on objectives and goals you specified in your project proposal?
Forest cover across the Patuha study area was estimated at 3,400 ha, with over 2,200 ha of forest remaining over 1,000 m in altitude. Forest loss between 1990 and 2015 has averaged around 3%, with slightly more forest lost at higher altitudinal bands. A total of 114 bird species and mammal species have been recorded on Patuha to date, including 4 globally threatened birds (Javan Hawk-Eagle, Javan Trogon, Javan Cochoa, Javan Scops-owl), 11 Near Threatened, and 3 globally threatened mammals (Grizzled Leaf Monkey, Ebony Langur and Leopard).
On the Indonesian protection list, 19 birds, and 7 mammals were recorded. The 5 most common birds on Patuha, as determined by the encounter rates on the walking transects, were Javan Tesia, Pied Shrike-vireo, Sunda Warbler, Pygmy Cupwing and Little Pied Flycatcher, with values of 2.16, 1.69, 1.69, 1.45, 1.39 groups/hour, respectively. In contrast, the highest encounter rate of a globally threatened species was 0.22 groups/hour for Javan Cochoa.
Additionally, volunteer students from nearby universities, taking part in surveys, have had excellent opportunities to learn about survey methods (both traditional transects and high tech automated recording equipment) from the experienced project team, including one of the leading experts on Javan ornithology, and author of the definitive bird guide for the region, Bas van Balen.
What activities are planned/ scheduled for the next three months?
Further surveys are planned in 2020 after the rainy season has finished. Also, further data analysis will take place, including a more detailed analysis on bird and mammal occupancy from the automated recorders.
What project-related developments, either directly or indirectly, took place the past months?
Ecological fieldwork for Bali myna has been ongoing at Bali Barat National Park (BBNP) over the last year in collaboration with the national park staff. Five Indonesian graduates have been helping collect data for the project and many of the national park staff team have contributed by reporting Bali myna sightings and other interesting information, including nesting locations and historic records. Through various sources and our fieldwork, we have upwards of 500 Bali myna sightings; most are recent, but some members of the local community provided records dating back decades.
Colour rings have been attached to some released birds to understand their post-release survival, movement, and establishment as part of the breeding population. To date, 69 Bali myna have been colour ringed, with all but 14 of these released into the wild. We are now in the process of recording these birds regularly. One bird has already been recorded moving between three different security posts in the park and has paired up with a non-ringed bird. These data are already providing us with information about connectivity for Bali myna within the national park.
Two Indonesian graduates came to BBNP in July 2019 and have since completed a vegetation survey of the National Park and its surrounding area. This information is now being used to assess habitat suitability for Bali myna across the area and will be an invaluable tool for the national park to use for their general conservation management responsibilities.
Finally, research examining breeding productivity has just begun and will continue throughout the wet season, which is when Bali myna breed. This work is being carried out by two Indonesian graduate biologists who recently joined the project.
Can you please give us a short status update on objectives and goals you specified in your project proposal?
Devise robust pre-release, release, and post-release protocols with input and agreement from multiple stakeholders
Two members of the International Advisory Board for Bali myna conservation visited the national park in 2019 to discuss pre-release and release protocols with national park staff. A further pre-release and release protocol workshop is likely to take place in 2020, with the involvement of multiple stakeholders expected. The post-release protocol is a work in progress, and it is expected that recommendations towards this will come out of Tom Squires’ PhD work.
Introduce a robust system of monitoring and studying released Bali Mynas in BBNP using standard radio-telemetry tracking to determine the key ecological needs of the species
Post-release monitoring is currently being carried out using colour rings to study survival, movement and breeding for a sample of the released population. It is hoped that this work can be expanded in the near future, to include more individuals.
Support Indonesian students/ecologists to conduct studies of Bali Myna.
To date, capacity building has been very successful as part of the project at Bali Barat. Five Indonesian students and graduates have made valuable contributions: BSc student Panji Gusti Akbar assisted on all aspects of the project for six months, gaining valuable ornithology skills; two recent BSc graduates, Aldina Rahmadhani and Muhammad Arif Romadlon, completed the park-wide vegetation survey; and Mas Untung Sarmawi and Andri Nugroho have recently started a study on Bali myna breeding productivity in the national park.
What activities are planned / scheduled for the next three months?
A study to examine the breeding productivity of the wild population of Bali myna is the focus of fieldwork in BBNP for the next six months. Two Indonesian researchers, Mas Untung Sarmawi and Andri Nugroho have joined the project and are leading this piece of research, in collaboration with MMU and Udayana University, Bali. They will also be monitoring the colour-ringed birds in the national park and recording a new sightings of Bali myna.
With respect to the data already collected from BBNP, data analysis will be carried out over the next three months and the first results are expected to be produced in this time. A habitat classification for the area covered by the vegetation survey will be finalised and shared with all stakeholders involved in Bali myna conservation. Distribution and population estimates will be analysed and included in preliminary results. A more detailed analysis using all data is planned to be undertaken following the completion of the breeding productivity study.
Have you been following the Silent Forest “binocular contest”?
For more than a year now, Liberec Zoo has been collecting old, but still functional, binoculars to distribute to eco-centers across Indonesia via the NGO Green-books.org (find all information about this in this previous post).
Somehow, this activity escalated into a friendly contest between Copenhagen Zoo (Denmark) and Parc de Branféré (France). Check out the post about it on our Facebook page if you missed it.
Well… We have just been informed of an unexpected turnaround!
Not only do we have a new contestant in the race, Aquazoo Löbbecke Museum (Germany), but they have moved into the lead with 114 binoculars collected!
They addressed a special message to Copenhagen zoo:
“Dear neighbours in Copenhagen,
Düsseldorf inhabitants have been extremely generous and have donated 114 old binoculars for the Silent Forest campaign. We have heard that you were the big champions of binoculars… Did you give everything you had, or do you accept our challenge to collect even more binoculars for Silent Forest and bird conservation? Which city is the most generous in Europe – Düsseldorf or Copenhagen?”
What an unbearable suspense! Will Copenhagen accept the challenge? Will Branféré dare to fight back too?
Author: Chipura Svetlana (Park of flora and fauna “Roev Ruchey”, Russia)
Park of flora and fauna “Roev Ruchey” continues to actively participate in the EAZA Silent forest campaign by addressing global and local problems in the field of biodiversity conservation.
Like our friends and colleagues from other zoos of Russia and the world, we conduct popular science events, lectures, thematic classes, field practices, children’s workshops and creative competitions aimed at promoting respect for nature and animals. Each event attracts at least 500 participants, which is quite high for our city and region!
A few months ago, the Day of Birds was organized and dedicated to raising awareness of bird diversity and protection. Our visitors discovered the feathered inhabitants of the zoo and learned to identify species by feathers and tracks. They also learned about the factors threatening the populations of the different species and about the IUCN Red List categories.
Young naturalists were also engaged in research activities, studying the behaviour and breeding conditions of exotic animals. At conferences, both in and outside the Park, the schoolchildren defended their projects and abstracts on the subject of nature conservation and optimization of the use of natural resources.
At the thematic classes of the Grandfather Roy’s Academy, students were introduced to the wildlife not only in their native land, but also in tropical areas. Under the guidance of experienced zoologists, they studied the social structure, reproduction and behaviour of birds, their taxonomic distribution and range in nature.
Finally, field trips were organised to observe birds in their natural environment and learn to identify the vocalizations.
In all these activities, the students showed a great interest and willingness to preserve nature, not just admire and enjoy it.
As one of their key priorities, the park “Roev Ruchey” will continue to strive to educate the population about wildlife conservation.
During Zoopark Erfurt’s festival on 5 May, kids could get a glittering temporary tattoo at the Silent Forest campaign tent. They could choose among lots of different birds – and other animals to add the mammal or butterfly lovers as well.
Kids were queuing to get one of these very fashionable tattoos, made of glue and glittering powders applied on the skin.
A big thank you to the tattoo parlor MED. NEEDLE Piercingpraxis who donated the material needed.
The kids could get the tattoo for free or could give donations to support the Silent Forest campaign. The zoo club had constructed bird “piggy banks” and kids and parents alike were busily feeding those birds.
The shiny bird tattoos were so great, there was always a long waiting queue! Unfortunately, as it takes time to apply the glue and wait until it is semi-dry, not all kids could get their tattoo on time. So, during the next festival day we will need 3-4 full time “Tattoo makers” to be able to satisfy all the kids.
Interested in doing the same? Great: just make sure that your tent is in a place without wind! Otherwise the whole space turns into a glittering, brilliant Silent Forest world!
Other activities were also organised to promote the campaign. A beautiful and educative day in Erfurt!
A few weeks ago, the opening speech about the Asian Songbird Crisis and the EAZA Campaign was given by curator Heike Maisch at ZooPark Erfurt for the launch of their new exhibition and already 252,50 Euro were collected for the Campaign! A great start!
The special exhibit located in the old elephant and rhino house opened its doors on the 1st March.
Two artificial forest areas have been designed and painted by Roy Bäthe (the name rings a bell? You might have seen some of his bird paintings here) and Heike Maisch for the exhibit.
They are now empty of birds. Kids and groups will create their own bird pictures during several special Silent Forest event days. Together with the young artists we will bring those birds into the empty exhibit forests. This is meant as a symbol of the aim of the campaign: to bring the birds back into the wild.
Hopefully, at the end of the campaign, both forests will be full of birds!