Evolution of Kembali Bebas

Evolution of Kembali Bebas

Dec 6, 2005

Notes from the Field: Issue 9

Disease in Wild Indonesian Cockatoos and Parrots

by Stewart Metz, Director, Project Bird Watch

When we talk about releasing cockatoos and parrots back into the Indonesian forest, the implication is that they will survive the return to the wild based on health examination and tests, and observation of their behavior while in their “socialization cages” prior to release. Further, they will have been in quarantine for at least 30 days, so any latent (concealed) disease should have revealed itself , right? Wrong!

Two wild Seram cockatoos observe their observers

We know that Amazon parrots imported into this country harbored latent diseases for up to a year before they were clinically visible…and that many avian diseases can remain hidden for weeks, months, even years until some precipitating factor (often a stress) brings them out. Such birds are carriers of disease pathogens ( organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other parasites). And even if the latent pathogen never killed the bird in which it resided, it might spread to other birds in the forest. This is could lead to a catastrophic result, because birds previously exposed to these pathogens might have developed some immune defenses to keep it in check, whereas immunologically “naïve” birds in the forest–which had never before been exposed to these disease agents– might be very susceptible to them. Introduction of a single bird which harbors a latent pathogen might, at least in theory, initiate a disease epidemic which could wipe out the endemic (native) population of birds!

How, then, can we detect these diseases if they are hidden? Many require specialized testing. Let’s take Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) as an example. This dreaded disease is caused by a tiny virus, which is only one of a family of so-called circoviruses; most cases are due to “circovirus 1”. The test usually used in the US and UK is one (DNA assay after amplification using PCR) which measures not the intact virus but only its DNA (intact viruses also contain an outer capsule). This test is very sensitive but requires great skill and expensive equipment; it is not available in Indonesia. In Australia, PBFD ( often called “Psittacine Circoviral Disease” there ) is often detected by a test called hemagglutination agglutination (HA). This test, pioneered by Dr. Shane Raidal, makes use of the fact that the circovirus causes red cells of some parrots to clump, an effect which can be seen under the microscope. However, this test is not as sensitive as the DNA test and requires availability of a supply of circovirus- “sensitive” red cells. Available in Indonesia? Nada!

OK, so we can’t test for PBFD in Indonesia; perhaps it doesn’t exist there in the wild and we don’t need to worry! Even if it exists in pet cockatoos in the cities, all one has to do is to confiscate the smuggled cockatoos before they reach the big cities!

A smuggled Seram cockatoo is released into his socialization cage at Kembali Bebas after removal from quarantine

Noop, again! What about that cage in which the smuggler put the trapped cockatoos–where has IT been? What sick birds has been inside it?

OK, let’s hope that there is no evidence that the disease exists in Indonesia at all. Well, if you were a gamblin’ person, you wouldn’t bet on that After all, PBFD has been reported to exist in wild parrots (mostly cockatoos) in surrounding Old World countries: Australia, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands (the latter is unconfirmed). (It may also exist in wild Cape parrots and lovebirds in Africa). Furthermore, in the 1970’s and 1980’s (before PBFD was even identified by the Australian veterinarian Dr. Ross Perry), Lesser Sulphur-crested cockatoos, which had been legally imported into the United States, were showing up later with PBFD (Rosemary Low; Pers. Communication).These birds originated in the wild and since the trade then was legal, they might not have been exposed to other birds (ie, from other countries) which might have carried the disease. Indeed, breeding facilities in Indonesia are currently still finding PBFD in their avian “stock” coming from the Indonesian forest. So, yes, PBFD probably exists in the wild in Indonesia; at least, we best assume so.

So, the solution that Project Bird Watch has chosen is to fastidiously test (at least at first) for the diseases of the greatest concern, by sending blood, feather, and cloacal/choanal swab samples both to the U.S. (Research Associates Labs; Dallas, Tx) and to Dr. Raidal (Murdoch University, West Australia) to assay for PBFD; Pacheco’s Disease; Polyoma virus; Chlamydophila; and probably Aspergillus (Newcastle’s and END, and other entities will be tested for locally). Such a testing program is very expensive and is currently unfunded with our budget. It is one specific area in which your donations can have a both an important and an identifiable effect.


Comments From EcoTour Team Member, Mandy Andrea

Hi all, I am still collecting my thoughts. The 17-day experience on Seram was at once exhilarating, exhausting, uplifting, devastating, peaceful, reflective, and hopeful.

View from the Masihulan canopy platform

It’s about endangered species of course; it’s about their cousin pet-birds all over the world, and the conservation of the majestic jungles. It’s about cultural understanding amongst Muslims, Hindus, and Christians, in a battle-weary land. It’s about kindling pride in the people, in the villages, and the hope of progress through new ways of living that exalt, not debase, their inherited natural treasures.

You can see it in the eyes of Ceisar, Naldo, Buché, Peter, Komar….. And dear Angki who could not wait to share his new knowledge with his friends after each lession with Teacher Angela. He was astounded to learn that husbands determine the sex of their babies (cor blimey!), or that the lights we see in the night sky are from stars that have moved on (far out!).

Home away from home, come to the jungle!

I will share more anecdotes later. The most important message I want to convey right now is PBW must succeed. And grow. The dear cockatoo that sustained head trauma during its brutal capture, vitreous still seeping from its eyes, is in caring hands. The young ones still doing the bobbing begging behavior will live. The ex-trappers in PBW’s hire are offering their invaluable knowledge, that was learned during their lifetime of trapping, about the behavior of parrots in the wild – such as what they eat to where/ when they forage or roost – and now applied towards scientific research and wildlife conservation. Because of PBW, one of the villages on Seram has a clinic now, painted pink in memory of Dr. Metz’s dearly beloved, China. There at the clinic on this trip, our very own Andrew Bradnan from Seattle helped install a solar-powered water purifier so that more young children may survive childhood.

Please support PBW. You will be preserving the lives of the endangered birds, and supporting a better way of life for the beautiful Seramese people – stewards of the rainforest home of the Mollucan cockatoos.

Mandy Andrea


A Roller Coaster Ride of Emotion: The Evolution of Kembali Bebas

by Bonnie Zimmermann

Stewart and I made a business trip to check on the progress of Kembali Bebas – PPS Seram just a few weeks ago and I’m happy to say that things are going well but are happening very quickly. This was a hectic and rather intense trip that provided us with a much better handle on what we’re doing and where we’re going. Here’s just a few glimpses of what happened on the trip.

Construction of cages at Kembali Bebas

Immediately after getting off the airplane in Ambon, we were requested to be present at the release of several large sea turtles. They had been trapped for food and rescued by the forestry service. It was quite the media event. One by one the turtles were placed in the sand and made their way into the crashing surf. As we were moved by the spectacle we realized that the last turtle was in trouble. He appeared to be drowning and we were overcome with worry – but at the last minute the BKSDA officials ran back into the surf and saved his life. He is recuperating now, for a future release.

Kembali Bebas is much bigger than we ever dreamed. It’s hard to believe that in September 2004 we hoped to have a small facility to take care of 9 rescue birds and now along with 24 Seram cockatoos, we have five different species of lories, sulfur crested, citron and elenora cockatoos, cassowaries, eclectus, some ground birds, a hornbill and one young very scared palm cockatoo (He was in a small cage that was kept on the floor of a boat, right next to the engine before he was rescued). And more birds are waiting to come to the facility including 65 more Seram cockatoos.

We are receiving birds that may never be able to be released and that have gone through some horrible experiences. Seram cockatoos whose wings were broken when they were packed into pipes by smugglers, young birds that are barely weaned that eat on their own, but still beg like babies, and a hornbill which had been pinioned and chained to a perch that is truly mad. Although free and in a much larger cage, he just can’t get past it and just bounces up and down thinking he’s still chained

Residents of Kembali Bebas await freedom

Obviously we will need to build a sanctuary for those birds, and a teaching center for children so they can have pride in their local birds. Plans are underway and we just need to find the funds.

Best news of all is that we’ve got all our permits in place for medical testing, and the samples have been pulled, so soon we’ll be able to move some of the birds into the pre-release stage.

There is a lot of work to do – and it’s very rewarding. Frustrating sometimes trying to work in a culture that is completely different than ours – but we can do it. And we will make this happen thanks to your financial and emotional support, and commitment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


PBW Sends Petition to President of Indonesia

Fifty-eight Nations Petition President Yudhoyono to Stop the Illegal Trade in Indonesian Wild Parrots and Cockatoos

A petition 305 pages long, and signed by citizens of 58 nations, is expected to be delivered to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Minister of Forestry Kaban of Indonesia this week. The petition asks the President to honor his pledge on National Wildlife and Animals Day, exactly one year ago, on November 5, 2004 (shortly after he was elected President of Indonesia), when he promised that the government of Indonesia would take “strong action” against wildlife smugglers and corrupt officials.

The petition focuses upon the spectacular cockatoos (such as the sulphur- and salmon-crested cockatoos), parrots, and lories (such as the purple- naped and red-and-blue lories) which are both unique to Indonesia and at risk of extinction. The petition requests that these birds (which it refers to as “harta karun Indonesia” or hidden treasures of Indonesia) be protected from all trapping, export, and sale at domestic bird markets. Furthermore, the petition requests that members of the Indonesian Military (TNI) no longer be allowed to take these birds as “oleh-oleh” (souvenirs) at the conclusion of tours of duty, and that severe penalties be given to government Conservation Officers who issue illegal permits, ignore quotas, or themselves perpetuate the illegal bird trade. The petition requests that Indonesian airlines be forbidden from transporting any wildlife protected by law (except where needed for veterinary care), a move which would partially cripple illegal trade across the broad archipelago but one previously refused by the airlines. It further asks that confiscated parrots be turned over to the Wild Animal Centers of Indonesia for rehabilitation, since experience has shown that government officials lack the expertise and facilities for such specialized work and that the mortality rate of birds held in government facilities is high.

In the accompanying cover letter to Minister of Forestry MS Kaban, the petitioner writes that “Jika semua burung-burung mati, Indonesia akan menderita kemiskinan hati yang luar biasa, ” “If all the birds were to die, Indonesia would suffer from a great poverty of the heart”

This petition was motivated, in part, by undercover investigations carried out in North and Central Maluku provinces (for example, Ternate and Seram) and West Papua by the non-governmental organization ProFauna Indonesia. These investigations exposed the brutality and high mortality of the trapping methods used to poach these parrots. They also revealed that the illegal trade in birds supposedly protected by both Indonesian and International law was nonetheless rampant, and sometimes was aided and abetted by government officials or the military itself. Indeed, almost exactly one year after President Yudhoyono’s promise to fight the illegal wild animal trade and the corruption within the government which helps to sustain it, three high- ranking officials of the Conservation and Natural Resources Department were reported for alleged involvement in the illegal trade in protected animals by a network of wildlife protection groups following their one-year undercover operation which included videotape evidence [source: Abdul Khalik,The Jakarta Post, Oct. 15, 2005].

The petition was written and circulated by Dr. Stewart Metz, M.D., Director of Project Bird Watch and the Indonesian Parrot Project. This NGO, working with Yayasan Wallacea, receives cockatoos and parrots which have been confiscated by governmental officials from smugglers, for rehabilation on Seram Island in Central Maluku Province, Indonesia.


Progress Towards Potential Release of Birds at Kembali Bebas

A wild Moluccan spreads his wings in the socialization cage: photo Stewart Metz

The road to release of confiscated wild parrots is a long and complicated one, but we think that we have surmounted significant hurdles in the path of release of some cockatoos. A total of 15 Seram (Moluccan) cockatoos have been transferred to large flights called “Socialization Cages” to be observed for their wild behavior; these would be their last cages at Kembali Bebas prior to release.

Thus far, all seem to be healthy, flying well, and avoiding human presence. Permits were finally obtained to ship samples for specialized disease testing via PCR to the US and Australia. The tests in the US are complete on a large sample of birds and we are delighted to say that virtually all tests were negative for a battery of diseases; a single bird will simply need a follow-up test. What remains prior to release now mostly are

  • Banding the birds who do not have bands yet
  • Completion of behavioral observation
  • “Discharge” veterinary examinations and routine tests
  • Final selection of the release site possibly the permission of the Indonesian authorities to release a protected species

Keep your fingers and zygodactyls crossed! We can actually SEE the finish line now!

Stewart Metz & Bonnie Zimmermann

Freedom is a pair of wings aflutter

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