Saving the Bali Starling from Extinction
The Bali Starling Conservation Project was Begawan Foundation’s first initiative, established in 1999 with the aim of saving this precious bird from the very real threat of extinction.
Also known as Bali Myna, Jalak Bali and Leucopsar rothschildi, the Bali Starling became the official mascot of Bali province in 1991. It is famous both for its beauty and the very real threat that it will become extinct. The Bali Starling has very clear white feathers, with black-tipped wing and tail feathers, and a long drooping crest. However, its most amazing feature is the beautiful bare blue skin that surrounds its eyes. The beauty and the gentle, trusting nature of these birds have worked against them, making them prized catches among poachers. Local and overseas demand led to a drastic decrease in its numbers. At one point, there were thought to be only 5 birds left living in the wild.
The Bali Starling was named in 1910 by the English ornithologist Lord Walter Rothschild. Since then, this bird has become well known worldwide, especially in Europe and America. Several hundred of them were imported into the US and Europe during the late 1960s and most of the 1970s. Unaware of how to look after them, most of their owners lost the birds within a few years, without having managed to breed them. However, some pairs did breed.
As a result of local and overseas demand, the number of Bali Starlings living in their natural habitat decreased drastically. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the wild population never exceeded more than around 200 birds. By 2002, the estimated number had fallen to about 16 – and that was after the Governor of Bali released 10 birds from Bali Barat National Park’s breeding facility to join the five Bali Starlings still believed to be living in the wild at the end of 2001.
The Bali Starling was registered as an endangered bird species by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 1970. Several organisations have tried to help it survive since then, but the wild population has still not increased to a sustainable level. Besides the destruction of its habitat, the major problem facing the bird’s repopulation is theft, both from official breeding facilities and from the wild.
Begawan Foundation's (formerly Begawan Giri Foundation) Bali Starling Conservation Project commenced when the Foundation purchased two pairs of birds from the aviaries of Mr Nick Wileman, a successful and knowledgeable breeder living near London, and brought them "home" to Bali on 24th June 1999.
Begawan Foundation adopted a professional approach to the project of breeding and conservation of the Bali Starling. The excellent facilities the founders provided at the Estate undoubtedly contributed to the overall success.
The Foundation’s captive population grew from four to 97 birds between the start of the captive breeding programme and November 2005. In 2005, most of the birds, along with their enclosures, were moved from Begawan Giri Estate to a newly established bird sanctuary, set up in 2004 on Nusa Penida, a small island south of mainland Bali.
A number of Bali Starlings were prepared for release by giving them the opportunity whilst still enclosed to search for food and water rather than finding it in a bowl. It was intended that the release of these birds be a 'hard release' with no assistance offered in provisions or shelter once they were out of the enclosures.
On July 10th, 2006, 25 micro-chipped birds were released into the wild during a ceremony that involved local villagers, temples and provincial and local government officials. Microchips were supplied by Theo Pagel, Director of the Cologne Zoo in Germany.
Within two weeks of their release, several birds had paired up and were observed bringing nesting materials to a variety of local trees, ficus, sugar palms and coconuts. Their first eggs had hatched by September 10th, and on September 28th, three birds instead of two were observed on the nesting tree. The first Bali Starlings to be released into the wild had started a family!
Twelve more birds were released on December 12th, 2006, and this flock was soon joined by two young birds that were the offspring of birds from the first release.
On April 28th, 2007, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Republic of Indonesia and First Lady Kristiani Herawati released a further 12 birds when they visited Nusa Penida to celebrate the launch of a ferry service to mainland Bali.
Further official recognition of the Programme came during a visit to Nusa Penida on August 25th of that same year by the Indonesian Forestry Minister M. S. Kaban and Dr Ir Tonny Suhartono, the Director General for Forestry Preservation and Nature Conservation. These two dignitaries officially announced that the island was a suitable site for further releases of Bali Starlings.
The Bali Starling Conservation Project has been well-received by the islanders. The birds originally released in just three sites, have spread far and wide around the island, with sightings also on Nusa Lembongan. A total of 65 birds were released from Begawan Foundation’s captive breeding enclosures.
In 2009, the Foundation allied itself with Cologne Zoo AG in Germany and Jurong Bird Park representing Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
Bali Bird Park assisted us to train our birdkeepers, provided livestock consultancy, and played an active part in the first wild bird audit. Begawan Foundation thanks BBP for their assistance when the birds were imported from Europe and Singapore.
On 26th October 2010, 19 keen 'bird counters' from a number of different associations set out from Padang Bai, the harbour in the east of Bali, across the Bali Straits to Nusa Penida to spend two days undertaking a third-party audit of the wild Bali Starlings to verify the success of the Bali Starling release program established by Begawan Foundation. As many of the party were new to the activity, Wayan Sumadi from Bali Bird Walks introduced everyone to the art of bird watching on a walk around the general area. The group was then divided into six parts, each with an experienced bird watcher to count at six selected sites.
All groups were successful, with everyone reporting sightings. As Raja Segran, General Manager, Jurong Bird Park said, "Nothing beats seeing 22 Bali Mynahs coming to roost in the evening."
A conservative estimate totaled 52 birds, including two flocks of juvenile birds and a number of pairs, some accompanied by their young.
Two further audits were undertaken in 2011, with Andrew Owen, Curator of Birds, and Roger Wilkinson, Head of Field Conservation & Research, both from Chester Zoo in UK, accompanying the team to Nusa Penida in early November of that year.
In April 2012, a trip to Nusa Lembongan established the fact that there were at least 12 birds living in two separate enclaves.
Begawan Foundation’s Field Officer monitors all known sites regularly, and discusses possible new sites or breeding activities with local community members.
In 2013 and 2014, Begawan Foundation’s staff joined with BKSDA and KSDA Bali in their annual monitoring of free Bali Starlings. Begawan Foundation reports to the government the birds that the Field Officer has seen during his daily monitoring on a monthly basis.
Sibang Breeding and Release Centre
With an established flock on Nusa Penida, the decision was made in 2009 to bring the remaining captive birds and their enclosures to Sibang on a site next to Green School on mainland Bali, and to commence a new breeding program in readiness for a release program on mainland Bali. On August 2nd, 2010 all birds arrived at the site at Sibang under official government escort.
Cologne Zoo, following their agreement with the Foundation, along with fellow European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) partners in Europe bred a total of 20 birds that were to be sent to Bali to increase the Foundation’s Bali Starling genetic pool, and to assist to increase breeding numbers. Cologne Zoo renewed their financial support for BF in 2014.
A further agreement, signed with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) in April 2011 provided funds for the Foundation in 2011. This sponsorship enabled Begawan Foundation to construct new Bali Starling breeding enclosures, install CCTV to observe breeding behaviour, and to continue with a program of research and education, focusing on Nusa Penida and the wild flock. WRS' focus is on conservation through education, with a concentration on endangered species.
The ten new enclosures were constructed in 2011, in order to accommodate the 23 new Bali Starlings imported from Singapore and Europe. The European birds were transported in August 2011 by Qatar Air to the airport in Denpasar, Bali where the birds were taken to quarantine at Bali Bird Park until they were declared healthy and ready to be housed at the Foundation site at Sibang.
Jurong Bird Park, following the signing of the MOA, sent three Bali Starlings to Begawan Foundation for breeding purposes, with the wish that the offspring be released at a future date at a new site in Bali.
On 5th November 2012, after a feasibility study of the area was made and meetings were held with a number of local villages, 4 pairs of Bali Starlings were released into the wild at the Sibang Breeding and Release site. Visit our 'Media' - 'In The News' page to view a wonderful video of this release made by one of the year 8 Green School students.
Following the release, Begawan Foundation members met with the supporting teams from Jurong Bird Park and Chester Zoo to discuss the ongoing breeding and release program.
An amended MOU between Begawan Foundation and Wildlife Reserves Singapore was signed in November 2012. Bradley T Gardner attended the launch of the new High Flyer Bird Show at Jurong Bird Park, after which the MOU was signed by Bradley and Lee Meng Tat, CEO of WRS. This new MOU will continue until the end of 2015 and sees WRS playing a supporting role in the Bali Starling breeding and release program in Bali.
Begawan Foundation was pleased to receive a grant from Chester Zoo in England in December 2012, to support monitoring and reporting on events in Nusa Penida, including numbers of Bali Starlings sighted, and the sites that are being used. One large tree has been the home of a pair of Bali Starlings for over five years! Threats to the Bali Starling safety are also reported to both village chiefs and government officials. The grant will also give us the opportunity to develop community awareness in both villages and schools. This grant was continued in 2014 to include monitoring the small flock at Sibang.
The management board of Begawan Foundation underwent changes in 2012 with Anindra Novitasari replacing Drh I. G. N. Bayu Wirayudha as Chairperson.
The success of Begawan Foundation’s Bali Starling Conservation Project clearly demonstrates that it is possible for a private organisation to establish the nucleus of Bali’s own reintroduction programme.
The Foundation will continue to monitor and observe the birds in the wild. This important role ensures that any future releases will be made with planned knowledge of how the bird survives in the wild, what food is required, and how it breeds. The threat of theft, however, remains, with evidence of trapping and poaching reported with photographic evidence whenever this is suspected.
The Foundation plans several further Bali Starling releases at sites yet to be decided, to ensure that its wild population reaches the level where these precious birds are no longer at risk of extinction, and so that they can breed, rear their young, and re-populate their original habitat. One possibility is in east Bali, at a site yet to be selected near Amankila Resort.
However, preparing and releasing the birds is only part of the process. It is also important to observe them in their protected habitat, collect data about them and conduct further research. Local people must be educated about the importance of the project too. As long as their environment is threatened and their value on the black market tempts poachers and robbers, the Bali Starling will remain one of Indonesia’s most-endangered bird species.
Begawan Foundation is also breeding a number of other species including the Mitchell's Lorikeet (Tricoglossus forstens mitchellii). This bird's distribution is limited to the two islands of Bali and Lombok. Although some bird watchers have suggested that the Mitchell's Lorikeet has been extinct in Bali since 1984, neither the government nor any other institution has taken significant action to safeguard its future or reintroduce it to Bali. A recent visit to Lombok saw neither birds nor any evidence of their still being in the area.
Begawan Foundation’s captive stock of Mitchell’s Lorikeets unfortunately declined in numbers while in Nusa Penida, with a total of 10 returning to the site at Sibang from 16 in 2009. A program to breed the Mitchell’s Lorikeets is underway in 2014, with the construction of new enclosures, supported by World Parrot Trust.
Of the four Wreathed Hornbills (Rhyticeros undulatus) originally cared for by the Foundation, only one returned from Nusa Penida. A mate was provided by BKSDA and it is hoped that the two will mate in their large net aviary where there are sufficient trees to provide shelter, flight space and places to perch.
Four Java Peacocks, two male and two females, were also cared for by Begawan Foundation at Begawan Giri Estate, on Nusa Penida and at Sibang. The decision was made in 2012 to send them to East Java, where they were successfully released into the National Park at Baluran.
Visitors to The Project
Markus Shaw, former Chairman WWF Hong Kong, along with Datuk Lim Cheong Keat, Chairman of the Malaysian Forestry Research Development Board, visited Nusa Penida in February 2008, where they were taken on a guided tour of the breeding facilities and the Bali Starling monitoring sites.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, a well known wildlife celebrity from Sri Lanka, known to international audiences through appearances on programs broadcast on National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel and his photographs and articles which have appeared in books and magazines internationally, visited Nusa Penida in January 2009.
“The main reason for birdwatchers to visit Nusa Penida is the iconic Bali Starling. The Bali Starling is a white bird with a blue eye patch. It very probably went extinct in the wild and has been sustained with captive bred introductions. Nusa Penida is a re-introduction site in a captive breeding program managed by the Bali Starling Project supported by Begawan Foundation. The project spent the first year persuading the fifteen thousand or so islanders not to catch or kill birds. The result is spectacular. Even native Balinese are awe struck at how closely wild birds can be observed.”
In early June, 2009, Kayti Denham and Matt McCormick, and a group of secondary students from Bali International School visited the island for the students to get a first hand look at a different side of Bali, and to see a successful conservation program in action.
“Overall it was a fantastic experience.”
Also in June, Frank Hemmings, Curator, John T. Waterhouse Herbarium, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, visited Nusa Penida to look at the project, with an emphasis on observing the birds in Tembeling Forest.
“I had practised my Bahasa Indonesian for the trip to the centre, but hadn’t really been prepared for beyond that! My guide Anton’s English was far better than my Bahasa and the day went well, after our initial difficulties. I had a good look around the various cages and saw the lorikeets, starlings and others. I saw a number of free flying Bali Starlings in the vicinity. These certainly seem to be doing well there. After this we drove to Hutan Tembeling. It was a little quiet for birds by the time we arrived, but … we saw another starling near there. The views were spectacular on the coast … All in all it was a great day. I definitely hope to return to Nusa Penida one day.”
In July 2009, students from the Biology Department of Udayana University, Denpasar carried out a census on behalf of the Foundation, as third party verification of the number of birds observed.
Dr Paul Jepson, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, UK visited Nusa Penida in August 2009. Having been closely involved in Bali Starling conservation in the mid-1990s when he was head of the BirdLife Indonesia Programme, he was keen to look at how the Bali Starlings have adapted to their new home.
“I have great admiration for what Bradley … and you have achieved and I suspect that this will get the recognition it deserves in the fullness of time.”
Bob Jackson, a reputed Lorie breeder in the UK, visited the site at Sibang in early 2011.
"To be honest your set up is by far the best I have seen in Indonesia."
Andrew Owen, Curator of Birds, and Roger Wilkinson, Head of Field Conservation & Research, both from Chester Zoo in UK visited the Sibang Site during the official celebration of the opening of the breeding centre on November 8th 2011.
"The breeding facilities for the Bali Starling are based within the grounds of the International Green School. These were of a very high standard and it was clear that the aviculturists there were very competent."
Among the guests at the opening day's celebrations were Bali's Forestry Agency head, I Gede Nyoman Wirantha, who said that the provincial administration supports the breeding and release project to assist Bali to return its mascot to viable numbers.
Tamen Sitorus, head of the Natural Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Denpasar, said the Bali starling was among 14 endangered species whose population should be increased by at least three percent by 2014 from the current population, as part of a national conservation program.
"Besides breeding, we should also focus on preserving their habitat and empower surrounding local communities to minimize threats against the birds," Tamen said.
Ian Edmans, Curator of Birds at the Rothschild Foundation, Waddesdon Manor Aviary visited Sibang in November 2011. Many thanks for his kind donation to the project for the past two years.
Our young intern, Wyn Clayton, was on site at Sibang from UK for a three week internship over his summer school holidays
“My goals included: learning some Balinese, making a report on the food delivery, report on the conditions of the sanctuary, conquering my fear of insects, taking pictures and being more independent. As my time at the bird sanctuary came to an end, I can proudly say that I have come to understand and achieved many things. I can say that I learnt more about birds (the Starlings in particular), I learnt more about conservation (with the luxury to have worked inside the Green School), I have also learnt more about the local traditions and way of life and lastly I became more confident through my ability of having worked independently.
Working with the Begawan foundation was an exciting experience,e which I will treasure long in my memory. I have never done work experience in a company where my boss and co-workers were so friendly and supportive before. After resigning I have come to realise that I wouldn’t be as mature, confident or independent without the experiences and lessons which I have been given and taught by the Begawan Foundation and its team.”
2012 also saw a timely visit from Stephanie Sanderson, Director of the Living Collection at Chester Zoo who used her skills as a vet to medicate and examine a young sick Bali Starling.
Roger Wilkinson, Head of Field Conservation and Research and Andrew Owen, Curator of Birds, both of Chester Zoo in UK, and Raja Segran, General Manager and Sonja Luz, Director - Conservation, Research and Professional Training, both of Wildlife Reserves Singapore attended the release of the four pairs of Bali starlings at Sibang, adjacent to Green School on November 5th 2012.
“Most impressed with work at Green School and great to meet Mehd who clearly has been instrumental in assisting both release and breeding programmes.”
During 2012 and 2013, Begawan Foundation was pleased to welcome Mehd Halaouate to the site at Sibang on a number of occasions. His knowledge and photographs have been much appreciated – visit facebook.com/begawanfoundation to see some of his photos. Mehd has, since mid 2013, been employed by the foundation as the Breeding and Release Manager for the site at Sibang.
Further staff changes saw Tasya Karissa join Begawan Foundation as its Administrator in May 2013 and Deva Putri Attikasari as its resident vet in early 2014.
Marlisa Wareman, Director of Taman Indonesia in The Netherlands spent four days – having originally planned just an overnight stay - on Nusa Penida following her visit to Sibang in February 2013.
“Had a wonderful 4 days there, saw various of bali starling doing very well (one pasangan was going in and out their lobang with food!) and saw the kaketoes as well. Beautiful.”
Our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Begawanfoundation, set up following our first Bali Starling release at Sibang in November 2012, has seen the number of likes rise during the year and a half that we have been uploading our photos and our activities.
In 2014, Wyn Clayton was a return volunteer, and once again he found that he was learning new skills,
“As a teenager, responsibility is hard to understand but the Foundation taught me more about it through direct tasks set to challenge and teach me. Finishing such tasks, for example maintaining the cleanliness of the site in general always brings about a sense of achievement which is so important for any intern in any job. Learning is an important part of life and there was always something new to learn at the Foundation from an elementary knowledge of Bahasa to the ingredients in the Hornbills' diet.”
We have welcomed a number of volunteers to the site at Sibang in 2014 from a variety of countries. Two foster homes have been established, one at Amankila Resort, in east Bali where two breeding pairs have been placed, and one at the residence of the local king, I Gusti Ngurah Agung Watusila, in Sibang.
In 2014, Begawan Foundation undertook two Bali Starling releases. The first in April was very much a local event, with students from the local schools and officials from government departments and communities in Sibang in attendance.
In June 2014, following the Green School graduation, Dr. Jane Goodall, after spending time at the breeding site talking to staff and local children, participated in the release of two Bali Starlings. These two young birds have since found mates and are actively nest building.
“I am so very glad you are doing what you are doing – it is so important.”
A further release is planned for later in 2014, and hopefully the free birds will find safe places to breed and increase the current small flock.