A glimmer of hope in Bali’s wildlife conservation efforts
World Animal Protection (WAP) last year released its report “Wildlife Abusement Parks”, which investigated 26 wildlife tourism venues in Bali, Lombok, Gili Trawangan, that house 1,500 wild animals. The study revealed those venues failed to meet the basic needs and requirements of animals in captivity. This bleak picture illustrates the current condition for Bali’s wildlife tourism industry.
However, maybe not all is lost in the efforts to conserve Bali’s wildlife. For almost twenty years, Bali-based NGO Begawan Foundation has worked hard to bring the critically endangered Bali Starling back from the brink of extinction. Pairs of these critically endangered birds are highly sought after by collectors and highly valued on the black market. Poaching from the wild of free-flying birds to be sold in the bird trade remains the biggest threat to the Bali Starling’s future existence. Between 1999 and 2005, the Foundation’s captive population grew from four to 97 birds, and in total, between the years 2005 and 2012, around 80 Bali Starlings were released into the wild. However, attempts at establishing free flying populations have failed because released birds have been trapped and there has been no accountability by local villages. The Foundation has therefore decided to work closely with the local community in one village and provide education for students, in order to succeed in its conservation efforts.
Headquartered in Melinggih Kelod Village, north of Ubud, the Foundation has also concentrated its programs in this Village. A community-based conservation program began in the village in late 2017, providing locals with the opportunity to breed Bali Starlings, and to be able to release offsprings within two years, and again in subsequent years. It is also envisaged that the community will be responsible for their safety in the wild through serious monitoring and village traditional law enforcement. Local and passionate breeders were carefully chosen, and each now fosters a breeding pair supplied by the Foundation. The local breeders have created a network amongst themselves to share information, leading to the formation of the Madhusuara Breeders Association Melinggih Kelod.
The involvement of the local community will benefit both conservation and community development. It is hoped that the soft releases will give the offspring the chance to reproduce in the wild, creating a wild flock of Bali Starlings, protected by the community, and that a program of eco-tourism can be developed to provide income for the village. Following releases during the end of 2018, community support has been established. As demonstrated by a comment from local village resident, I Nyoman Sukadana, “I like to see the Bali Starlings flying around and especially when they come to my house! I don’t need to buy a bird myself to be put in a cage when I can see them fly.” This demonstrates a shift in mindset whereby locals can see that birds can also be enjoyed in the wild, not that they have to be kept as pets. Local residents have also sent in photos and videos of the released Bali Starlings to the Foundation.
Along with the community-based conservation program in Melinggih Kelod Village, the Foundation’s Breeding and Release Centre has been relocated and is now centred in Banjar Begawan, one of the districts in the Village. This centre is open to all breeders, the local community, and the general public.
Involvement with the local student community is just as significant as the contact with the adults in the community, and the breeding and release program is complemented by 10-week programs in local schools in Payangan and after-school programs in our own Learning Centre in Banjar Pengaji, Melinggih Kelod. These programs aim to educate students on the importance of conservation and environmental protection. With a motto of ‘Learning by Doing’, the Foundation encourages students to express their own ideas and opinions and take an active part in tackling local environmental issues, one of which is tackling the problem of waste. From reaching one class in one school in one village in 2015, the Foundation have taught around 50 classes in 25 schools in 6 villages, reaching more than 1,500 students.
With the presence of the breeding centre, the community-based conservation program, and the education programs, support and awareness from locals may assist all those involved to reach the mutual goal of conserving and strengthening the endangered bird’s population in the wild.
Begawan Foundation’s work highlights how, despite all the negative spotlight on Bali’s wildlife tourism industry, there is a glimmer of hope in local wildlife conservation efforts. It is evident that tourists will be making their own ethical travel choices by visiting Melinggih Kelod, a non-exploitative village where Bali Starlings live in standards that would satisfy international visitors. It is also a place in which all stakeholders, including Begawan Foundation and the local community that encompasses both adults and children, work together and play their own part in protecting endangered birds as well as participating in the protection of the environment.
Seruni Soewondo (Marketing and Media Officer)
Begawan Foundation was launched with a mission to give back to the people of Bali through conservation, education, and health. The Bali Starling Conservation project, which commenced in 1999, was the foundation’s first initiative. The project aims to reintroduce the highly endangered bird species back into its wild habitat.
The Foundation relies on the support from its donors. If you are interested to assist us, please visit our website at www.begawanfoundation.org. We can also be found in social media channels such as Facebook at www.facebook.com/BegawanFoundation, Instagram at @begawanfoundation, or Twitter at @yayasanbegawan.