Rima Agustina: Saving the Bali Starling

Rima Agustina was born and brought up in Bandung, West Java. An avid nature lover, she was a member of bird watching clubs in high school and university. In 2008, Rima earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology and in 2016 her Master of Science Degree in Bio-management at the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology. Rima worked as a lecturer from 2004 to 2008 and a research assistant studying primates in the Mentawai Islands off West Sumatra in 2008. Since 2016, she has served as the Education and Community Development Manager at the Begawan Foundation in Badung that focuses on breeding the critically endangered Bali Starling in the wild.


Where did you get your interest in nature?

It started when I was a kid. I lived in a suburban area where wildlife was not considered “strange.” When I was in high school, I joined an eco-club, which gave me the opportunity to know more about organizations related to the environment. After high school, it was only natural that I chose biology as a career path.


What inspired you to apply for a job at the Begawan Foundation?

Ornithology is one of my favorite subjects. I found the foundation’s breeding and release programs really interesting. In other areas of animal conservation, such as tiger conservation, it often feels abstract as we don’t really have contact with the animals. We have to rely a lot on guesswork about their health, population density, threats to their habitats, and so forth. But this is not the case at the foundation where we are in close proximity to the birds everyday.


What education programs has Begawan Foundation initiated?

 In 2014, we started a 10-week “Learning by Doing” program at the schools in our area of Sibang and Payangan in which the kids learned about avian conservation and the important role that birds play in our eco system. In 2016, we launched the Bali Starling Ambassadors Program. We also began a waste management education program.


What program are you the most proud of?

The Bali Starling Ambassadors Program has created genuine enthusiasm in the kids who study at our Breeding and Release Centre on Friday and Saturday afternoons. This program inspires students to learn independently at their own pace and in their own way. They learn strategies on how to combat poaching and protect the starlings against birds of prey, geckoes and snakes. The kids peer into microscopes to observe feathers and watch birds in the wild with binoculars. Most have become learning machines thirsty for more knowledge!


What’s wrong with owning a Bali Starling?

A common misconception is that if you own a Bali Starling as a pet, it will save the birds from extinction. It’s not illegal to own a Bali Starling as long as it was born in captivity and purchased from legal breeders who have a valid license. However, people must be aware that owning them as pet might save them from genetic extinction, but a high population in captivity while there are no birds living in the wild means it’s essentially extinct. The birds also have psychological needs. They need to have a mate. They need a particular size (minimum 2m3 per pair) socialization enclosure where they can fly comfortably. They need to eat a healthy balanced diet (most bird owners in Indonesia give birds concentrated food/pellets). They need quiet natural surroundings such as tree branches to perch and natural materials to build nests.


Has it been difficult establishing programs to protect the Bali Starling?

Yes and no. On one side is the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, which reinforces the value of harmony with nature in society. This philosophy which helps to conserve and protect the environment (including wildlife) has been a part of traditional culture for more than one thousand yearsBut on the other hand, it is undeniable that poverty and lack of awareness about sustainable development encourage people to poach this valuable bird.


Has the program been a success?

We are still struggling. We released 65 birds in Nusa Penida in 2006, but because the poaching rate was so high and the island was becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination, the population didn’t survive. Between 2012 and 2014, we released 16 Bali Starlings in the Green School area around Sibang village, but unfortunately most of them also did not survive. Predators took some, others might have been poached, but now there are only 5 wild Bali Starlings in the area. Having learned from these experiences, we are trying to get communities to join us in protecting the birds by conducting education and breeding programs.


What is the Community Breeding Program?

Local communities are our last hope in saving the bird from extinction. The fact that there is not much forest left in Bali, and that the national park service still has great difficulty enforcing laws protecting wildlife, the help we get from Balinese villagers is crucial. The program enlists members of the community to breed Bali Starlings in their homes and take care of the birds under Begawan Foundation’s supervision. The idea is to release the offspring after 2 years, then under the protection of the community the birds would reproduce in the wild, eventually creating a flock. The program also supports Sibang Kaja Village’s vision of becoming a heritage village that offers eco-tourism tours to see wild Bali Starlings as the main attraction.


Where can we learn more about the Begawan Foundation?

Website: http://www.begawanfoundation.org,  Facebook: Begawan Foundation; Twitter: @yayasanbegawan; Instagram: @begawanfoundation. Or visit our Breeding and Release Centre, Green School Complex, Banjar Saren, Desa Sibang Kaja, Kec. Abiansemal, Badung. Or Banjar Pengaji 14, Desa Melinggih Kelod, Kec. Payangan, Gianyar, tel. email: info@begawanfoundation.org. No landline in the Sibang Centre, but the Payangan center’s administration office telephone is 0361 900-1326.


How can one help advance the work of the foundation?

By spreading the message that we are trying to deliver so we can get more moral and financial support. We are a non-profit organization. Donations can be made via bank transfer (see our website) or any other payment service (i.e. Paypal). Visitors are also welcome at our Sibang Breeding and Release Centre.


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Copyright  2017 Bill Dalton