BABAHAN, Indonesia — Three snow-white Bali mynahs sway with billowing tops and share a branch, screeching and looking around with the signature blue spots around their eyes that catch the sunlight. Minutes later, four more join — a view that would have been impossible in the wild two decades ago.
But by teaming up with bird breeders and marketers — the group that helped put the prized birds under serious threat — conservationists are releasing them into the province of Bali, hoping to boost wild populations.
Experts say more research and monitoring are needed, but the conservation model has shown promise over the past 10 years and could be replicated for other vulnerable birds in Indonesia.
The Bali mynah is endemic to Bali. It has been a highly sought-after collectible item in the international cage bird trade for over a century for their distinctive white plumage and song. The capture of the birds for sale, and habitat loss from land conversion to agriculture and settlements, led to the bird being listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1988 and upgraded to “endangered” in 1994. critically endangered”. By 2001, experts estimated only about six Bali mynahs were alive in the wild, with thousands in captivity worldwide.
The non-governmental organization BirdLife International recognizes the deep-rooted Indonesian culture of bird breeders and the urgent need to conserve Bali-mynah.
Breeders can apply for permits to breed the birds. They get mynahs from the government and keep 90% of the offspring for private sale if approved. The remaining birds are being rehabilitated and released into the 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 livelihood, said Tom Squires, a doctoral student at Manchester Metropolitan University who studies Bali mynah ecology and other endangered birds in Indonesia. Studies.
“The national park started to understand that and … create the conditions where you could have a wild population that still thrives,” Squires said. “Bird keepers can still keep birds and pursue their hobby without causing any real problems for wild populations — which, I think, is much better than species that are becoming extinct worldwide.”
Early releases of mynah were plagued with problems: some birds were infected with a parasite that caused high mortality in young birds, and others were killed by natural predators. Poaching also continued — the national park’s breeding facility was robbed at gunpoint, with nearly 40 birds stolen.
But conservation efforts over the past decade have seen greater success through increased bird surveillance, stronger census data, and more research, Squires said.
Agus Ngurah Krisna Kepakisan, the head of the West Bali National Park, also attributes the breeding program’s success to the establishment and spread of “buffer villages” around the park. Villagers get help obtaining permits to grow Balimynahs there.
“Because the community is the breeders … they help us take care of the birds that exist in nature,” he said. “There are also people who used to often look for Bali-mynah from nature and take it from nature.”
Squires said there is definitive evidence that some released birds have produced offspring. “So that leads me to believe that the population is definitely self-sufficient to some degree,” he said.
The progress of the breeding program is evident throughout the park, where, according to Kepakisan, 420 Bali mynahs now live and hop around trees, poking their heads out of nest boxes and screeching at tourists passing below.
Conservation efforts have spread to Tabanan Regency — a three-hour drive from the park — where mynahs fly over lush rice paddies surrounded by mountains and forests.
The area is a recent release site for Friends of the National Parks Foundation. This Indonesia-based nonprofit 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 mynah conservation in Bali for years, said his conservation efforts are focused in part on community investment in the welfare of the birds.
He said that traditionally, communities around protected areas don’t think there’s any money to be made. But Wirayudha believes the presence of the rare birds will help attract tourists, bringing additional revenue to the region, such as in other parts of Bali province where mynahs have been released.
“You have to give something back to the community so they can feel that conservation benefits them,” he said.
The community work seems to be working. When the organization released the mynahs in April, groups of students, police, military and neighboring villagers eagerly watched them make their first flight into the wild.
Squires, the researcher, says the conservation model could be applied to other vulnerable or endangered birds in Indonesia, such as the black-winged mynah. “For all the lowland birds affected by the caged bird trade … this is the kind of approach that will be needed,” he said.
Associated Press photographer Tatan Syuflana contributed to this report.
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