A breeding center for the endangered Bali starling was officially inaugurated by the conservation organization Begawan Foundation in Sibang, Badung regency on Tuesday.
Located inside the Green School area, the breeding center is now accommodating 73 starlings.
Twenty of the birds were collected by Koelner Zoo in Germany from various zoos in Europe, and another three came from Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
Brought to Bali several months ago, the total of 23 birds from Germany and Singapore will be used purely for breeding progeny for a future release program in Bali.
“We aim to breed the birds by combining the birds we brought from Germany and Singapore, with the birds that were already at the breeding center, so that we can improve their genetic diversity,” said Bradley T. Gardner, founder of the Begawan Foundation.
“We will then release the offspring into the wild. We want to see more starlings living in the wild, not in cages, and to educate people to do the same thing.”
The foundation, which just celebrated its 12th anniversary, will return four of the breeding stock to Koelner Zoo, and three to Jurong Bird Park.
“We’ve been entrusted with the future of the Bali starling here in Bali and we take that responsibility very seriously,” Bradley said.
The breeding and release program has come a long way since 1999 when the foundation was launched with two imported pairs of birds provided by a local breeder, Nick Wileman, from the United Kingdom.
“We’ll continue to work toward ensuring that ‘forever’ for the Bali starling means a sustainable wild flock,”Bradley said.
The Bali starling, the official mascot for Bali province, is native to the island of Bali. It was registered as an endangered bird species by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 1970.
Several organizations have tried to help the birds’ survival 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 poaching.
The Bali starling preening its head feathers to attract its lifelong mate, and finding its food in the dry grassland forests, it breeds in hollow trees or holes in coconuts.
With its white body, brilliant blue-framed eyes, and a touch of black on its wingtips and tail feathers, its beauty has turned out to be a cause of its potential demise.
According to Bali’s Forestry Agency head, I Gede Nyoman Wiranatha, 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.
He said there were currently around 500 birds throughout Bali, 287 of them in breeding centers.
“With continuing conservation efforts by various stakeholders, the population has now increased from only around four birds in 2005.”
The foundation and the agency also conduct monitoring of birds released into the wild, including in Nusa Penida.
“Besides breeding, we should also focus on preserving their habitat and empower surrounding local communities to minimize threats against the birds,” Tamen said.
Furthermore, by introducing new gene pools and undertaking new release programs, Bradley said, the foundation hoped to lower the birds’ prices on the black market and increase the starlings’ numbers in the wild, so that future generations could enjoy these birds.
On the black market, the bird can fetch around Rp 15 million (US$1,680) to Rp 20 million each.
The foundation is now expanding its bird conservation program to include other species, such as Javan Peacocks, Mitchell’s Lorikeet and Wreathed Hornbills.