Bali Starling community-based conservation project in the village of Melinggih Kelod

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 clear white feathers, with black-tipped wing and tail feathers, and a long drooping crest. 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 given its name by Erwin Stresemann in 1912 following his journey to Indonesia, naming it after his sponsor Lord 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, many owners lost their 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 has been protected by Indonesian law since 1970 and its status as Threatened was listed in the IUCN Red Book as early as 1988. Several organisations have worked on its survival since then, but the wild population has still not increased to a sustainable level. The Bali Starling's status was upgraded to CITES Appendix I in 1994. 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. 

The Project

Begawan Foundation's 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 and provided excellent facilities to enhance breeding successes.

The Foundation’s captive population grew from four to 97 birds between the start of the captive breeding programme and November 2005. In 2005, the birds, along with their enclosures, were moved from the 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.


A total of 65 birds were released from Begawan Foundation’s captive breeding enclosures.


The decision was made that same year to bring all 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.


The Sibang Breeding and Release centre was officially opened in November 2011.

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.


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 YouTube channel 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 MOU has since been renewed and sees WRS playing a supporting role in the Bali Starling breeding and release program in Bali. 

In 2014, Begawan Foundation undertook three 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. Despite the fact that these two young birds found mates and actively built nests, theft and natural predation has meant that these pairs are no longer alive.

“I am so very glad you are doing what you are doing – it is so important.”

In August 2014, Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, visited Bali, opening the UNAOC (United Nations Alliance of Civilizations) event on the morning of the 29th August in Nusa Dua together with the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In the afternoon, Ban Ki Moon and his wife, Madam Yoo (Ban) Soon-taek visited Green School in SibangKaja Village, Badung, where Begawan Foundation’s Breeding and Release Center is located. They released two male Bali Starlings after receiving a short introduction to the project from Begawan Foundation’s Breeding and Release Manager.

 

Begawan Foundation was acknowledged by the Balinese themselves through a Tri Hita Karana Nugraha Award in April 2015, as pioneers in the task of saving the critically endangered Bali Starling over the past 16 years.

The ongoing work 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.


 

Bali Starling community-based conservation project in the village of Melinggih Kelod.

A decision was made to relocate the birds to their original breeding and release centre so it is in close proximity to the newly established learning centre. The community-based conservation program is focused in Melinggih Kelod Village, Payangan, and the Breeding and Release Centre itself is now centred in banjar Begawan, open to all breeders and the local community. This allows us to focus on our foster breeding program, our education programs and our own breeding all in one area.

The program has been further enhanced with the opening of our Community Learning Centre in Payangan.

Begawan Foundation is developing its conservation program by involving the community in sustainable bird breeding, alleviating the need to take birds from the wild. As we all know community-based conservation is often challenging and requires strong commitment and proper planning in order to be successful. Begawan Foundation has initiated and committed itself to building a long-term partnership with Melinggih Kelod village to conserve the Bali Starling both in captivity and in the wild.

Prior to the foster parents receiving a pair of breeding Bali Starlings, staff conduct trainings for these committed breeders at our Breeding and Release Centre in Melinggih Kelod. Enclosure placement has been undertaken with our supervision in order to meet all the requirements needed for a healthy breeding environment.  

In order to create a 'win-win' situation between conservation and community development, the benefits to the community must be clear. The aim of this program is for offspring to be released within two years and in subsequent years. With serious monitoring and adat law enforcement, it is envisaged that these offspring will reproduce in the wild, creating a wild flock of Bali Starlings protected by the community, and a program of ecotourism in Melinggih Kelod village to provide income for the community.

The Foundation’s Breeding and Release Centre moved to Begawan and the Opening of Learning Centre

The new Breeding and Release Centre was officially opened by Founders, Bradley and Debora Gardner, together with Ngakan Putu Riadi, representing the Breeding Division at the Gianyar District’s Agriculture Office, Dewa Made Rupa, representing the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Agency’s (BKSDA) Gianyar Conservation Head Zone II, and Melinggih Kelod Village Head, I Nyoman Suwardana at Begawan, Melinggih Kelod Village, Payangan, Wednesday, May 23, 2018. Melinggih Kelod community breeders, Melinggih Kelod Banjar Heads, Bali Starling student supporters and school principals from Melinggih and Melinggih Kelod, also attended the event.

In response to the arrival of the Bali Starlings at Melinggih Kelod, Melinggih Kelod Village Head, I Nyoman Suwardana, said that “with the breeding centre and the community-based conservation program in the village, support and awareness from locals will automatically be increased in order to reach our mutual goal of conserving and reintroducing the endangered bird’s population back into the wild.”

The Learning Centre was opened on November 22, 2018. The Learning and Conservation Centre caters to the needs of local students. It provides literacy and numeracy classes as well as having a large airy space for additional activities such as wet art and craft. It also has its own kitchen so that students are able to come to learn to cook as well as apply their Mathematics and Reading skills during the cooking classes (measuring, weighing, following a recipe). The Centre is strategically placed adjacent to a permaculture garden, a place for students to learn basic principles and enjoy gardening. Extra-curricular classes such as Balinese dance and Karate have also been added. All of the extra-curricular classes involve teachers from the local community. The more we involve the community, the more we will see local support for the Bali Starling breeding and release program.

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