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Bali Mynah Birds
Bali mynahs are striking pure white birds, except for dark blue patches around their eyes and black tips on their flight feathers that look like a black stripe lining the bottom of their wings when folded. Their beaks are mostly dark, but yellowish at the tip, and their feet are dark bluish gray. They are common in captivity, but incredibly endangered, if not already extinct in the wild. Little is known about how these birds once lived in their natural habitat, and little can be known since wild populations no longer exist to study, but through the numerous captive populations there remains much to be learned about these unique birds.
Other common names for the Bali mynah include Rothschild's mynah and Bali Starling (Thompson, 2000). The "Rothschild" part of the name refers to Baron Rothschild, a British ornithologist who paid for the bird's collection in 1911 (Cooke and Tilford, 1998). "Mynah" refers to Southeast Asia, the birds' geographical origin, as well as to their ability to mimic human speech (Highpine, 1998; Thompson, 2000). "Starling" is one of the 2 subfailies of the family Sturidae, that consists 28 genres and 104-118 species, one of which is the Bali mynah, scientifically known as Leucopsar rothschildi (Highpine, 1998). The birds are also classified as passerine, meaning they have feet adapted for perching (Thompson, 2000).
Bali mynahs, first described by Erwin Streseman in 1912, are the only animals endemic to the island of Bali in Indonesia, where they have become an important symbol as well as the national bird of Indonesia. Locally, they are known as Jalak Bali. Their preferred habitat includes woodlands, and scrub forests. They weigh between 75 and 95 grams and eat mostly insects, seeds, berries, and fruit. Originally, they gathered in groups of 20 - 30 during the dry season and begin to pair off at the beginning of the rainy season which closely coincides with the breeding season from November to March in the wild, during which a pair could produce up to 3 clutches. In captivity, breeding may occur continuously all year round, but especially from March to September. Reasons for the difference between wild and captive breeding seasons are not clear. Bali mynahs generally nest in pre-formed crevices or cavities and lay clutches of 2-5 eggs. Both males and females participate in the nest building and caring for the young, though females usually do more as far as raising the young in captivity. The nesting pairs usually stay together for several breeding seasons (Thompson, 2000).
Though there were once thought to be upwards of a thousand Bali mynahs along the north and southwest coasts of Bali, as of November 2001, there are only 6 birds left in the wild, all of which can be found within the 65 square kilometers of the Taman Nasional Bali Barat preserve (TNBB), or Bali Barat National Park, in northwest Bali (Hutasoit, 2001; Wirayudha, 2000). As recently as the 1960's, when the birds were first brought to zoos in the west in large numbers, the wild population was estimated to be in the hundreds. In 1967, Bali mynahs were first included in the Red Data Book of endangered species, and since 1970, the bird's status in the wild has gone from rare to endangered, and is now considered critical (Thompson, 2000; Mason, 1989). In 1970, over 100 birds were shipped America alone after being captured during a huge downpour that immobilized them as the flock was feeding in Bali (Mason, 1989).
The factors contributing to this population drop are not known for certain, but habitat destruction, disease, and especially poaching are thought to play a large role. Poaching is still considered the greatest threat to the survival of the species since they are highly valued in the Indonesian pet trade because of their ability to speak (Colins, Smith, and Putra, 1998). Since they have become so rare, their value has also gone up considerably. Individual birds can fetch as much as $1000 to $2000 on the Indonesian black markets, and to own Bali mynahs has become a symbol of wealth and status in some areas of Indonesia. Demand has been high enough to provoke such incidents as the armed robbery of the TNBB in November 1999 where 39 birds were stolen and taken to Java to be sold (Pandaya, 2001).
Despite the fact that TNBB is a protected wildlife preserve and does have a breeding facility and a release site, the government has taken little action to protect or conserve it. In fact, plantation workers have been allowed to settle right in the middle of the Mynah's breeding habitat, and logging of any trees in the park that could be sold, including all of the teak trees, is said to have recently taken place (Cooke and Tilford, 1998; Tilford, 2001). This could significantly reduce the number of nesting sites available to the birds, which require pre-existing holes or crevices, which are usually to be found in old trees. In addition, it seems that tourism is taking priority over conservation for the Indonesian government. Little attention is paid to the fact that the Bali mynah has been legally protected since 1970 (Thompson, 2000).
Conservation attempts have been made, but with limited long- term success. The Bali mynah Species Survival Plan (BMSSP) is a program formed in 1981 by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), dedicated to helping the species. The program has come up with guidelines for the care and maintenance of the birds and, along with the studbook coordinator, arranges breeding pairs and monitors the genetics of the population. Several birds have also been released back into the wild because of the BMSSP and larger releases are being planned (Thompson, 2000). So far, reintroduction attempts have suffered from such things as raptor predation and poaching, although released birds have shown a remarkable ability to develop the necessary flight and foraging skills once they have been released (Colins, Smith, and Putra, 1998). In December 2002, TNBB released 10 birds, 5 or 6 of which were left as of June of that year. It plans to continue releasing 10 birds each December (Ngurah, June 2002).
In captivity, Bali mynahs have done very well. There are an estimated 684 birds in zoos and breeding centers around the world, and probably a very significant number of privately owned and bred birds. In the US alone there are 242 birds (111.119.12) in 58 different institutions, mostly as a result of successful captive breeding (Thompson, 2000).
Bali itself is home to three official Bali mynah breeders and owners: The Bali Barat National Park, the Bali Bird Park, and the Begawan Giri Estate. The Bali Bird Park (Taman Burung) is a zoo-like facility that contains hundreds of exotic birds and caters mostly to tourists in Bali. It also has a Bali mynah breeding program that is intended to build up a population for eventual release. The Bali Starling foundation was created to provide funding for this program, but it doesn't seem to be successfully functioning at the moment, since there have been no successful breedings since 1998 (Tilford, 2001). Still, the
Bali Bird Park is home to 11 Bali mynahs, including two breeding pairs (Wawan, June 2002). The Begawan Giri Estate is actually a world-class, five-star, luxury hotel. As a part of its aim to become a responsible, integral, and contributing part of the surrounding community, a branch of the Estate known as the Begawan Giri Foundation was established. Among other things, the Foundation sponsors its own Bali Staring Recovery Program, thought up and realized by Begawan Giri employee and Bai's leading avian veterinarian, Drh Bayu Wirayudha. The projects vision is to eventually reestablish a wild Bali mynah population in Bali. Breeding at Begawan Giri began in 1999 with two pairs brought back from England, which have successfully bred, giving the Estate the 48 birds it has now (Wirayudha, 2002). The Bali Barat National Park contains within its borders the original home range of Bali mynahs and has been working to protect and reintroduce the species there. Towards that end, it also contains a Bali mynah breeding facility and large release cage. As of June 2002, the breeding facility at TNBB had some 82 Bali mynahs, including 23 breeding pairs and 22 chicks that had been hatched since January of 2002 (Ngurah, June 2002).
Begawan Giri Estate. The Begawan Giri Foundation, 2003. http://www.begawan.com
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Thompson, Steven D. NORTH AMERICAN REGIONAL STUDBOOK FOR THE BALI MYNAH (Leucopsar rothschildi). Department of Conservation and Science, Lincoln Park Zoo, 2000.
Tilford, Tony. To All Those Interested In The Survival Of The Bali Starling In The Wild. February 2001. http://www.btinternet.com/~wileman/Tony.htm
Wawan. Curator of the Bali Bird Park. Conversations and Correspondence, June 2002.
Wirayudha, I Gede Nyoman Bayu. Zoological consultant and Director of the Environmental Division at the Begawan Giri Estate. Conversations and Correspondence, May 2002 - present.
Wirayudha, I Gede Nyoman Bayu. Bali's Star Babies Cry for Recovery. BALI AND BEYOND MAGAZINE, 2000.