Recognizing Indonesia’s deep-rooted aviculture culture and the urgent need to conserve the Bali mynah, the non-governmental organization now called BirdLife International partnered with the government in the 1980s to start a captive breeding program.
Breeders can apply for licenses to breed the birds. If approved, they receive mynahs from the government and are allowed to keep 90% of the offspring for private sale. The remaining birds are being rehabilitated and released into West Bali National Park where they can be monitored by park authorities.
The conservation method is compatible with Indonesian culture, where it is common to have caged birds and people depend on the bird trade for their income, said Tom Squires, a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University who threatened Bali-Mynah ecology and others Birds studied in Indonesia.
“The national park started to understand that and … create conditions where you could have a wild population that is still thriving,” Squires said. “Bird keepers can still keep birds and pursue their hobby without causing real problems for wild populations – which I think is a lot better than species going extinct in the world.”
Early Mynah releases were plagued with problems: some birds were infected with a parasite that caused high young bird mortality, others were killed by natural predators. Poaching also continued – and the national park’s breeding facility was even robbed at gunpoint, with nearly 40 birds stolen.
But conservation efforts over the past decade have been more successful with increased surveillance of the birds, stronger census data and more research, Squires said.
West Bali National Park director Agus Ngurah Krisna Kepakisan also credits the breeding program’s success to the creation and proliferation of “buffer villages” around the park. Villagers receive assistance in obtaining permits to breed Bali mynahs.
“Since the community is the breeders … they help us take care of the birds that exist in nature,” he said. “There are also those who used to often seek Bali Mynah and take it from nature.”
Squires said there is clear evidence some released birds have produced offspring. “That leads me to believe that the population is certainly self-sustaining to some extent,” he said.
The progress of the breeding program can be seen throughout the park, where Kepakisan says 420 Bali mynahs now live, hopping around in trees, poking their heads out of bird boxes and yelling at tourists who pass beneath them.
Conservation efforts have extended to Tabanan Regency — a three-hour drive from the park — where mynahs fly over lush paddy fields framed by mountains and forests.
The area is a new release site for the Friends of the National Parks Foundation, an Indonesia-based nonprofit that works with donors and breeders to purchase, rehabilitate and release the birds.
Veterinarian I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha, who founded the organization and has worked in the conservation of the Bali mynah for years, said their conservation efforts focus in part on grassroots community investment in the welfare of the birds.
Traditionally, communities near wildlife sanctuaries thought there was no money to be made from them, he said. But Wirayudha believes the presence of the rare birds will help attract tourists, which will bring additional tourism revenue to the region, as is the case in other parts of Bali province where mynahs have been released.
“They have to give back to the community so that they feel that conservation is beneficial to them,” he said.
Public relations seem to be working. When the organization released mynahs in April, groups of students, police, military and neighboring villagers watched intently as the mynahs made their first flight into the wild.
Squires, the researcher, says the conservation model could be applied to other endangered or endangered birds in Indonesia like the black-winged mynah. “For all lowland birds that are affected by the cage bird trade…this is the kind of approach that is needed,” he said.
Associated Press Photographer Tatan Syuflana contributed to this report.
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