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Notes From the Field - December 2015

A Note From the Director
Seram Cockatoos at the Rescue Center
Dear Friends, 

We wish to thank you for your support and being the "wind beneath the wings of many wild Indonesian parrots and cockatoos.  

Please watch for a special "Notes from the Field" which will be sent out before the end of the year recapping all the work that has been accomplished in 2015 and what we are hoping to achieve in 2016! 

Wishing your family whether human or feathered a warm and safe holiday season. 

Warm regards,

Bonnie Zimmermann

Photo by Dudi Nandika

New and Unexpected Directions
to Save the Abbotti Cockatoo 
from Extinction
Stewart Metz
Associate Director
Indonesian Parrot Project
As most of you are aware, Abbotti cockatoos (Cacatua  sulphurea abbotti) were and still are, one of the rarest and most threatened cockatoos in the world. They are now only found on Masakambing Island in the Masalembu Archipelago. The non-stop decline in their population reached a low of 5 individuals in 1997 and they seemed on their way to extinction.   
The population of Abbotti cockatoos on Masakambing Island.  Line and dots in black to the left were derived from several, outside reports within Indonesia.  The lines and dots to right represent work of IPP in collaboration with KKI.

Trapping was the major factor in the 1980's and 90's.  Oilmen and trappers from Bali and Sumbawa captured Abbotti cockatoos by the hundreds, leading to precipitous drops in their numbers.  In 2007, the Indonesian Parrot Project began a dedicated program to reverse this trend using multiple approaches previously described in detail in earlier issues of "Notes from the Field."  This first required earning the trust of the village chief and villagers who, in turn, mounted a successful anti-smuggling campaign. 

This fact was to become especially important later on. The Program included passing the first true "perdes" (laws) to protect Abbotti cockatoos; and continuation of the " Conservation-Awareness-and Pride" program for the schoolchildren on Masakambing , led by our colleagues Dudi Nandika and Dwi Agustina, leaders of Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia. 
CAP student
The latter was designed to stir their excitement and participation in the program, and pride in "their" cockatoo-thereby promising their conservation to future generations.

Through our program, the number of birds has increased to over 22 cockatoos.
While these initial results are exciting as a first step,  it is important to keep in mind that they only suggest that the decline might be halted for  longer time periods.  For several reasons, the absolute number of individuals has a very long way to go before a significant step forward in the conservation of these birds can be claimed .  There are many factors that are causing this decline  especially as it relates to habitat and nesting sites.  
Due to heavy winds and the fact that Abbotti nest in dead trees, sadly there have been casualties.  In 2013 a young Abbotti chick fell to the ground from his nest, and survived the fall.  In the past he probably would have been left there to die.  Instead a local villager gently picked the chick up and returned him to his nest.

The local man who found the Abbotti chick and the King

The chick was okay and was able to return to its wild family. So what might this all mean?  That our programs have been successful and conservation of these birds has resonated throughout the local community. 
This suggestion, seen in a single cockatoo, was supported by many other people in the village. In return for their assistance in protecting their cockatoos  we needed to find a program through which the villagers of Masakambing would receive something of value to them, money or otherwise, in a sustainable fashion.

Photo by Dudi Nandika

The Significant Role of Habitat
Another serious threat to the cockatoos which is arguably a worse threat to their survival than trapping is habitat loss. 

On Sumba Island, BirdLife International and Wildlife Conservation Society described a relationship between loss of habitat and the decline in numbers of Citron-crested Cockatoos over long periods: between  the years1970 and 2000 the birds declined by 98%, when the forest cover declined by 69%. 
Masakambing is a tiny island of only 5 sq. km.  Only 5-10% of remaining land is usable habitat-and even that has to be shared by both the people and the cockatoos. Any further loss of habitat would be disastrous-and  weather disasters tend to hit this area. (In fact, the area around Masalembu has actually been called the Masalembo Triangle.

Map with red circle in center sits within an area which in fact, contains an unexpectedly large number of airplane crashes and ferry boat sinking.

What a stroke of good luck that precisely at that time, we were introduced to the critical nature of the problem, as well as the unique approaches to deal with it, largely due to 
the prescience of a scientist from
Jakarta named Adam Miller.
So, who is this Adam Miller ? He is an ecologist and an activist for change  in the science of conservation.   His passion has been helping people with no training but caught in the pit of poverty; and his love of wildlife. 
Adam Miller in Kalimantan

In fact, this brilliant young man has lived and worked in in Kalimantan for the over two years. He had essentially no experience with, or knowledge of, cockatoos. Fortuitously, the cockatoo virus has just infected Adam.  Founder and Executive Director of PlanetIndonesia.org,  Adam introduced us to the fact that we had to-and wanted to seek new directions. Thus it was a 'happening' of significance that he expressed a desire to collaborate with us to help conserve the cockatoos, but by utilizing an approach new to us... saving habitat on Masakambing Island.

Quoting Adam ... 

"We recognize [that] poverty had not only caused old men to seek a livelihood in animal trafficking but it had trickled down to younger generations...Together we can build around us a better world where human-wildlife conflicts are minimal and where livelihoods are no longer dependent  on the exploitation of natural resources.

The mission of Planet Indonesia focuses on providing underprivileged villagers with innovative opportunities to achieve a  self-sustaining 'business' or other type of income under the management of the local people benefiting by it at first, and later, running it.  This 'business' (for lack of a better word at this time) is not an office-structured organization but rather, a nature and ecology-based source of income-one which is more feasible and applicable to the stakeholders. 
What then might be a profitable item of interest to the community of the island of Masakambing?  Mainly, it is mangrove.

Bonnie Zimmermann, Director IPP
 planting mangrove  this past October with students on Masakambing Island.
In this scenario, both the loss and the restoration of mangrove play critical roles in the protection of cockatoos. Mangrove is a shrub or tree mostly growing in tropical coastal swamp, which floods during high tide. Mangroves provide critical foodstuffs and tree limbs for cockatoo nest-building, and simultaneously, bring much needed wood and wood products to the villagers, in addition to protecting critical industries, such as fishing, which would soon die without the protection given by mangroves. The average income for a family on this island is $40 per month.
Inhabitants are poor, being rarely served by supply vessels. Mangrove growth has the potential to promote industries for women, such as their craft making, the products of which are sold on Masalembu as well as has the ability to increase desperately needed wood for structural building and many other uses. As for the cockatoos, increasing the range and quality of mangrove-without damaging nearby forest, provides a critical, if not the only way -to protect the final 5% of habitat which is already becoming inadequate for cutting down by villagers who then are in "conflict" with cockatoos for use of tall forest trees  needed by cockatoos for perching, nest-building, and procreation.

Adam has the experience and knowledge; and dedication-to help us master the ecologic choices, and he, and young scientists from Planet Indonesia, have already visited Masakambing  to evaluate the science and help us to run the Project. Profits would be shared amongst the people of the village and its local leader. This new approach, with its rarity among cockatoo conservation programs, is very exciting for us at IPP because, again, it may prove to be a unique way to conserve these fabulous but critically endangered cockatoos.

From left to right top row, Dwi Agustina and Dudi Nandika of KKI, 
Bonnie Zimmermann, IPP and Adam Miller, PI

There are other ways that our "Triumvirate" of three non-profit organizations can work together, each bringing to the table different talents and knowledge- as Paul McCartney sings -towards "fixing a hole where rain comes in."  We hope that you share our excitement that despite dangers worse than we had planned to face, we do have a strong belief that we have an approach, which added to our previous Programs-still has time to ward off extinction and permit these gifts of Nature to keep flying on this island.


Indonesian Parrot Project