Amazing Stories from Amazing People: Saving the Bali Starling

Friday, August 1, 2014 - 11:27am
I wrote “Hope for Animals and Their World” in order to share the stories of some of the many scientists and naturalists who are working tirelessly to save animal species from becoming extinct. These people are found in all corners of our planet, from China to the United States, from Europe to Australia. And they are working with all kinds of animals, from mammals to insects, from birds to reptiles.
There were many stories which could not be included in my book because it was getting longer and longer. One by one I am trying to share these stories on this blog.  And I am continually coming across other amazing stories.
Today, I want to introduce you to the Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi) and Bradley and Debbie Gardner who in 1999 started the Begawan Foundation and the Bali Starling Conservation Project.
The Bali Starling was registered as an endangered bird species by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 1970 after their numbers had been severely reduced by habitat destruction and poachers feeding the demand for rare caged birds. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the wild population in the West Bali National Park never exceeded more than around 200 to 300 birds. During the 1990s there was a major effort to increase numbers in the park,  which cost millions of dollars and saw the release of hundreds of captive bred birds.  But this was not successful due to poachers, most of them from villages surrounding the Park, so that by 1999 there were estimated to be less than six Bali starlings remaining.
The approach of the Begawan Foundation was different. They chose three small islands off the Bali coast, but before releasing any birds, spent two years meeting members of the communities and introducing conservation education and community support programs. In 2006, the first 64 captive bred starlings from the Begawan Foundation were released onto one of the islands. These birds were bred from just two pairs imported by the Gardeners from the United Kingdom in 1999. The villagers were eager to protect the starlings and the Begawan Foundation continues to introduce tourists and bird watchers who wish to see birds as well as visit local communities.
By 2010 there were more than 100 individuals living and breeding there, and today they have spread to the other two islands. It is interesting to note that the approach of the Foundation is very similar to the Jane Goodall Institute’s holistic TACARE approach – in which we seek to improve the lives of people from the villages surrounding Gombe National Park, and other villages situated near chimpanzee habitat with the hope of bringing these communities on as partners in conservation. And it works!
In 2010, the Bali Starling project returned to mainland Bali. This summer, when I was invited to lecture at the Green School in Bali, I met Bradley and Debbie and also Mehd Halaouate, manager of their Bali Starling breeding program. And I not only saw the beautiful birds themselves but was privileged to take part in the release of two of them into the protected habitat around the school where they could join other released birds. These two birds have become known as my “God children” and the female is Jane Starling! When Mehd put her into my hands she was instantly calm and relaxed prior to flying to her freedom.
I had a letter from Mehd telling me that the two birds, after spending time the following morning with their friends who were still in the aviary, “started exploring the area with long flights. We could easily see that they were enjoying the feeling of the wind beneath their wings.” Within a couple of weeks Jane Starling paired up with a previously released male, named Lucky by Mehd. The pair quickly began building a nest and I hope to get news of chicks before too long.
Mehd commented that these birds are quick to adapt to living in the wild and, “if the humans let them be they will save their own species with ease. Adaptation to living close to humans may well be their saviour now that most of Bali forests have long disappeared.”  Farmers and friends in the location of this nest are helping keep an eye on Jane and Lucky Starling.
Bradley and Debs are about to start a new program to restore another endangered indigenous bird, Mitchell's Lorikeet. It was found only on Lombok and Bali, and is now thought to be extinct. Mehd showed me the one female and four males that they have, and it is hoped that it will be possible to import additional birds from European zoos.  Eventually they hope the program will be as successful as the Bali starling restoration.
The Gardners and Mehd are keen to help introduce our Roots & Shoots program for young people into the area. In this way they will be able to encourage local children to learn about the starlings and the efforts to save them. Indeed, the only way to save the natural world for future generations is to get our youth to care about their animals and the environment we all share. They are my greatest source of hope.
A huge thank you to Carolyn Kenwrick with the Begawan Foundation for fact checking this blog post for us. For more details about the program visit their website.

About Hope for Animals and Their World

Interweaving her own first-hand experiences in the field with the compelling research of premier scientists, Goodall illuminates the heroic efforts of dedicated environmentalists and the truly critical need to protect the habitats of these beloved species. At once a celebration of the animal kingdom and a passionate call to arms, “Hope for Animals and Their World” presents an uplifting, hopeful message for the future of animal-human coexistence.
To learn more about Dr. Goodall’s book, please visit the webpage for  “Hope for Animals and Their World”.

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