Beauty and a lovely singing voice have a price, especially for birds.
This was the plight of the Bali mynah, also known as the Bali starling, whose beautiful white plummage and unique song have been one of the obsessions in the international cage bird trade.
Locals have been taking the birds from the wild and selling them to collectors, a business that’s been going on for more than 100 years.
It’s no wonder, by 2001, that there were only six Bali mynahs left in the wild and thousands in cages around the world.
In partnership with the government, BirdLife International pursued a captive breeding program in the 1980s. It was a unique approach that was designed based on Indonesian culture.
The program allows breeders to apply for licenses to breed Bali mynahs, according to Tom Squires, a Ph.D. candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University who has been studying Bali mynah ecology and other threatened birds endemic to Indonesia. If their applications get approved, the government gives mynahs to the breeders with the privilege of keeping 90 percent of the birds’ offspring for private sale. The rest of the offspring undergo rehabilitation and are released at the West Bali National Park under the watchful eye of park authorities to help boost their survival.
In Indonesia, it’s part of the custom to have cage birds and for the locals to earn money through bird trade, Squires added. “The national park began to understand that and … create the conditions where you could have a wild population that still thrives. Bird keepers can still keep birds and follow their hobby without causing real problems for wild populations — which is, I think, a lot better than species going extinct in the world.”
Of course, there had been serious problems with the early releases at the park. Some people continued their poaching activities, and there was even an instance when 40 birds from the park’s captive breeding facility were taken away at gunpoint.
Some of the released birds had been also infected by parasites, which increased the risk of fledgling death. Others were attacked by natural predators.
But, after years of diligent efforts and cooperation from communities, the Bali mynah’s population in the wild has increased dramatically.
Now, there are more than 400 Bali mynahs at the park who are flying around freely and singing again. The sight of them brings pleasure to a lot of tourists and guests at the park.
But the sweetest satisfaction is felt by the people who have strived to conserve these birds by reaching out to communities and creating a balance between the needs of the locals and the birds.
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