The beautiful voices of various birds in Southwest Sumba and in the Mbeliling forest in West Manggarai, Flores, fascinated the man and later prompted him to delve into bird life and engage in the preservation of species of birds in the province.
The man is Samuel Rabenak, 42, who worked for three years as a local guide at the Merlin Hotel and Sandalwood Hotel in Waingapu, East Sumba, starting in 1995 and became the assistant manager at the Sandalwood Hotel thereafter, spurring his interest in Southwest Sumba’s tourist areas, particularly those with endemic birds.
His determination to help promote the least developed province through developing its tourism potential encouraged Samuel to immerse himself in learning everything about local birds from books, experts and through practical experience in different forests.
“Now with a lot more knowledge of bird life and behavior in the forests I have greater pride as many local and foreign visitors, even professionals, invite me to serve as a bird-watching guide, notably in Southwest Sumba and western Flores’s Mbeliling zone,” he said.
“Bird watching needs patience and perseverance in order to observe their movements from one branch or tree to another, which can be done in the morning, afternoon and evening,” Samuel told The Jakarta Post at his office at Burung Indonesia, a bird preservation organization in Werang in Sano Nggoang district, West Manggarai.
Born in Southwest Sumba on July 15, 1970, Samuel is the fifth child of Yohanis Ringge Bani and Maria Leghe, both farmers. Finishing high school in Waitabula in 1994, he joined the BirdLife International Indonesia Program in 1998, now called Burung Indonesia. Since 2007 he has been the institute’s Sumba Field Office Administration Assistant, cooperating with people in Mbeliling in preserving birds and their habitats.
Active as a bird lover along with professional birdwatchers from other countries since 2000, Samuel received an award from the forestry minister for his efforts to preserve endemic birds and their habitats together with locals.
Besides his office job, he also conducts local wildlife investigations and inventory. His familiarity with birds enables him to guide birdwatchers on Sumba and other islands.
The areas where Samuel has guided visitors are Sumba’s Laiwanggi Wanggameti and Manupeu Tanadaru national parks; Flores’ Kisol in Tanah Rata subdistrict; the Lake Ranamese forest in East Manggarai; the Pagal, Poco Ranaka and Golo Lusang forests in Manggarai; Mbeliling and Labuan Bajo in West Manggarai; and even west Bali.
Samuel is also a photographer and guide trainer for local Mbeliling people and several travel agents in Flores.
Samuel mentioned four major endemic birds in Mbeliling: the kehicap (monarch bird), serindit (parrot), crow and celepuk (scops owl). Flores also has parrot species, including the red-cheeked nuri, perkici pelangi (rainbow lorikeet), great-billed betet, and yellow-crested cockatoo. Non-endemic birds with limited distribution include the kancilan flores (babbler), kancilan emas (golden whistler), cekakak tunggir putih (white-collared kingfisher), walik putih, walik kembang (doves) and pergam punggung hitam (black-naped pigeon).
Birds, according to Samuel, are an indicator due to their high sensitiveness to any change in nature, such as whether the forests are in good condition or not. If no birds can be found, forests are definitely damaged as the birds have lost their habitat, forcing them to migrate. Crop failures are also attributable to the loss of birds of prey so that rats and other pests prevail, causing imbalances in nature.
In Mbeliling, especially the Puarlolo forest, he has observed 127 bird species for the last five years. Having the most complete endemic birds of Flores, Mbeliling also sees several endangered species due to illegal hunting in the 1990s being sought after by buyers like the punglor, anis kembang and anis nusantara (thrushes), and serindit.
Samuel’s biggest challenge in guiding birdwatchers is when they want to see birds at night. “I always try to guarantee the safety of my guests and prevent accidents, and there’s also the threat of attacks by snakes,” he said.
Yet he claimed to enjoy his work, which has taken him to various national parks in East Nusa Tenggara, Bali and Java. “I also often record the voices of birds in the forests and in this way I can gather them by means of the recordings. I can also identify the birds by listening to their calls,” added Samuel.