Adventure at Api Lima (Five Fires)

Adventure at Api Lima (Five Fires)

Jun 6, 2005

Notes from the Field: June 2005

By Bonnie Zimmermann

It’s mid to late afternoon, deep in the rainforests of Seram. It’s hard to tell the time as the canopy above is so dense that it lets in little light, and what sky I can see is cloudy and grey. Using some large leaves as a simple mat, hoping to avoid too many insect bites, I sit and wait. I am surrounded by a sea of green and millions of insects. The insects are unseen, but produce a background whine that never ceases. The Seramese call it “the sound of silence,” and it’s hard to ignore.

It is a surreal moment. To my left, my partner Ceisar (from Yayasan Wallacea) and friends Dores, Ois and Dace are sitting on the forest floor, smoking cigarettes, drinking tea from a thermos, and playing cards using my camera case as an impromptu table. We are waiting for the cockatoos.

I am honored to be the first member of the Project Bird Watch Team to visit Api Lima (Five Fires) located within the Manusela National Park. The site is about a 60 minute hike from PBW’s jungle camp, and provides some incredible viewing of the Seram cockatoo.

The hike to the site is fairly strenuous and our pace is “jalan cepat” a fast walk. This forest seems older than the one near our canopy platform. As we ascend the mountain side it is forest primeval with trees so gigantic that it would take eight men with outstretched arms to span the base, and you can hear near by sounds of hidden streams and waterfalls.

Over the last few years during various eco-tours and expeditions we were regularly invited to visit Api Lima, which is known by the local people as the “stone hut.” We could see the stone out- cropping location with our binoculars from atop our canopy platoform, but we always seemed to contemplate visiting the site at the end of a trip when we were just too physically exhausted.

This past October, as we sat on platform making plans for the next day – it came up again. We decided the next morning while Barbara Bailey and our guests visited the platform, I would do a jalan cepat to the site to check for birds and return to camp mid-morning. Our guests would be returning to Sawai via boat that very afternoon. If the site was not special, I’d go back with the group to Sawai, but if it was a likely spot for future study and observation I would return that afternoon, spend the night in the “stone hut”, hike back to Teapiate for a short rest the next morning, and then hike back the 20+ kilometers to Masihulan. No boat would be available the next day.

I left with Ceisar, Dores, Ois & Dace at 4:00 a.m. and amazingly enough we were back at the jungle camp by mid morning – the trip was a success! In two very large trees, just below the stone out-cropping, we saw at least eight Seram cockatoos. That decided it – the tour would return to Sawai and I would join them there tomorrow afternoon, in time for the dinner with the King of the District. That afternoon, after the tour returned to Sawai, I took a nap and at about 3:00 p.m. we took off for Api Lima. We arrived around 4 p.m. and started waiting for the cockatoos. Prior to settling in to watch for the birds, we climbed the steep incline to the “stone hut” to drop off a few things before darkness descended upon us. It is really not a hut, but a limestone out cropping, with stone floor below, and a great view of the canopy. It is fringed with vegetation which makes a natural blind. You can also climb on top of the out-cropping for an even more impressive view.

I spent the next hour talking with Ois, Dace, & Dores as Ceisar translated. Ois and Dores are former bird trappers and we talked about their trapping days. I was able to get a real sense of what has happened to the parrot and cockatoo population on Seram for over a decade. It is fascinating. (Watch for future articles to be published! They deserve complete focus and we’re happy to do it!)

It grows dark—almost too dark to for our cameras and then we hear the calls. Loud and clear, proud and wild, echoing above us. We see a flash of wings—the first cockatoo lands in the tree directly above us – screams then hops over to a fork in the tree and begins to preen. I can hardly breathe. Sixty or so feet above us, he is oblivious to us. Soon more birds join him in the tree. I can tell by watching the skill and movements of Dores and Ois that they were former bird trappers. They move silently through the forest always seeming to know where the birds have moved. Several times after we thrash around for five or ten minutes, they would shine their flashlight into the trees, directly onto the cockatoos. This is when they would have trapped them. Early evening or dawn would normally be prime trapping time.

We are excited to see them but it is impossible to photograph or videotape them in the fading light. We listen, watch, and as the dark descends, we bump around in the dense forest undergrowth, gather our gear and prepare to climb up to the stone shelter. The men light a small fire and heat water for tea. There is a low wood platform for sleeping and we choose our spots. I take the distant corner.

We have some tea, some rice from camp which we eat with our hands, and the men smoke. As the light of the fire shines on their faces, I see strength, passion and innocence. We line up like sardines in a can, and they all fall asleep immediately, snoring into the night, but I can’t, I’m too overwhelmed by the entire experience. A few hours later, something falls or jumps from the stone face and lands on my stomach. I don’t know what it is – Spider? Frog? Snake? I think for a moment – these new friends of mine have accepted me into their world, I can’t act scared, I’m “one of the guys.” The decision is made. I take my sleeping blanket, flip the unwanted creature off my body and to my disbelief, it lands on one of my neighbors. It’s just not light enough to see what it is. In his sleep, he does the same thing and tosses it into the forest. My honor is saved.
As morning begins, we pack up and head down the slope again in the shadows, to see the birds again. We are rewarded and see four cockatoos in two different trees waking up, preening in the early morning light, and calling to each other. Suddenly they take off in unison, screaming into the forest ready to start another day. Watching those birds touched my heart, and convinced me all the more to do everything I can to protect those creatures.

New Cockatoo Confiscation on Seram

Early in May, there was another raid against smugglers on Seram. This time, poachers tried to get 10 Seram cockatoos by boat off the North shore of the island. This is a little atypical because boats to Ambon, the major shipping port, usually leave from the south of Seram. Boats from the North would have a VERY long trip around the island to get to Ambon, but it used to be the safer route.

WRONG! Our network of villagers reported the smuggling attempt to the Officers from the Conservation and Natural Resources Department, (BKSDA), who were waiting for the smugglers when the boat docked at Ambon. The birds were confiscated and are now at the Kembali Bebas Rehabilitation and Release Center with their cousins.
The coordination with the officers and BKSDA and of the National Park on Seram, as well as all the care of the birds in Kembali Bebas, is made possible through the efforts of our colleagues in Yayasan Wallacea, who are the managers of Kembali Bebas.

“Desperate Housewives” The Secret Lives of the Eclectus Hen

By Stewart Metz, Director IPP

It turns out that the spectacular beauty, and sexual dimorphism (physical differences between male and female birds), are only two of the most obvious features of the Eclectus parrot Eclectus roratus.

In a fascinating and scientifically impressive series of prolonged studies, Robert Heinsohn, Sarah Legge, Stephen Murphy and colleagues from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, unraveled other features of the ethology and biology of the Eclectus. They studied the polychloros race (subspecies) in aviaries or, in the most exciting studies, macgillivrayi race in the Iron Range National Park on Cape York Peninsula, in the far north of Queensland, home also to Palm cockatoos (which were included in some studies). The principal findings can be summarized as follows:

  • The Eclectus displays one of the most dramatic powers of “sex allocation” ever reported in birds—that is, the hen seems capable of somehow controlling the sex of her surviving offspring. One hen (reported elsewhere) produced a run of 30 straight male offspring.
  • Females “breed co-operatively” with as many as 5 male suitors during a given breeding cycle. The males bring food and provide sexual favors, but are not allowed to enter the nest cavity. “Sorry, honey, but I have to be up early in the morning.” Such “polyandry” is only seen with one other species of parrot—the Vasa parrot
  • Each female is attended to by these males during the up-to-8 month period when she does not leave the nest hole: rather, she feeds the nestlings and guards the nest hole against all intruders even to the point of her death. Nonetheless, 10-25% of nests were taken over each year by sulphur-crested cockatoos, leading to Eclectus breeding failure
  • The reproductive success of the Eclectus is extremely low: only 18% of eggs and 27% of clutches produced a fledgling. The success rate strongly favored male Eclectus despite equal fledging rates.

It is important to stress that these findings cannot necessarily be extrapolated to other Eclectus subspecies in other countries, where the habitat, predators, and competing species are likely to be quite different. Thus, E. roratus is common throughout the Moluccas and Papua in Indonesia but highly endangered on Sumba Island (along with the Citron-crested cockatoo and Sumbanese hornbill there) due to decimated and fragmented forest habitat.


  • Heinsohn,R., Legge, S. Breeding biology of the reverse-dichromatic, co-operative parrot Eclectus roratus. J.Zoology. 259: 197-208, 2003
  • Heinsohn, R., Legge,S., Barry,S. Extreme bias in sex allocation in Eclectus parrots Proc.R.Soc.London B. 264: 1325-9, 1997
  • Heinsohn, R, Murphy, S., Legge, S. Overlap and competition for nest holes among eclectus parrots, palm cockatoos and sulphur crested cockatoos Austral J Zoology: 51: 81-94, 2003
  • Legge,S., Heinsohn,R., Garnett,S. Availability of nest hollows and breeding population size of eclectus parrots, Eclectus roratus, on Cape York Peninsula, Australia Wildlife Research 31: 149-161, 2004

Meet “The Team” In Indonesia

When we at PBW refer to the work that “we” have accomplished in Indonesia, we cannot emphasize enough that the word “we” is shorthand for a number of wonderful people, without whom none of this would have happened. In future issues of Notes from the Field, we will feature a number of these people. In this issue, we want to salute Ceisar Riupassa, Leonardo (Naldo) Sahuburua and Pak Ali Letahiit, who literally were present from the very founding of PBW and are all critical collaborators and very special friends.

Ceisar (who lives in Ambon) is the Director of Yayasan Wallacea (The Wallacea Foundation) and runs the field operations of it as well as those of PBW. That means that it is he who interacts with the village chiefs and villagers and assesses their needs; helps to decide the best ways to accomplish projects and ascertain that they fit with village wishes and customs; and then actually sees to the logistics and carrying out of the projects. Ceisar’s bio can be found on the PBW website. That’s Ceisar in the left in the photo; if he looks tired, it’s because he probably was exhausted, since he works unceasingly on behalf of the villagers and the birds. Ceisar was recently married to lovely Maureen and their first child Christofani (“Fani”) was just born.

That’s Pak Ali in the middle. He owns the North Seram guest house and lives in Sawai on Seram’s North coast. Pak Ali has been a wonderful friend and ally of PBW and Yayasan Wallacea, even donating some of his own precious land on which to build Kembali Bebas. Pak Ali’s friendship, generosity, love and famous smile has warmed all our hearts!
It was Pak Ali who first became aware of the activity of the smuggler Samsudin and his information led to the confiscations which provided the very first birds now housed at Kembali Bebas.

That’s Naldo on the right. Naldo (who lives in Bali) is not smiling in the photo, but that’s one of the few times he is not! Naldo is in charge of the Indonesian side of our Eco-tour program as well as running the entire MoluccaNut program. The Eco-MoluccaNut effort is an extremely complicated operation which spans three islands (Seram, Ambon and Bali) plus international transport. Naldo collaborates on all PBW projects requiring English to Indonesian translation (or vice versa). For example, it was Naldo who wrote the Indonesian version of our children’s conservation coloring book “Burung Apakah Itu?” (What Bird is That?). It was Naldo who recently hosted the two nurse practitioners (“mantri”), Pak Andi and Pak Ateng from Seram when they went to Bali for a month for additional training as part of our grant from Seacology. Naldo has become an increasingly experienced photographer and videographer, and has provided us with many “Kodak moments” we would otherwise be unable to get. He also carries out valuable interviews with many government officials to ascertain policies. Naldo and his wife Melgia have a daughter (Meyva) and a son (Kent).

All of these facts fail to capture the most important contributions of these three gentle hearted men, and that is the inspiration they provide to us. Through them, our love of the Seramese villagers has grown immensely and we believe that this, in turn, contributes materially to the success of the projects. What one loves, one seeks to help and preserve. These are the villagers, the forest and the birds. Terimakasih banyak, Ceisar, Naldo, dan Ali!!

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