Thoughts and Observations from Project Bird Watch

Thoughts and Observations from Project Bird Watch

Dec 6, 2004

Notes from the Field: Issue 6

by Stewart Metz

The Imperiled Cockatoos and Parrots of Indonesia – Why the Moluccas? Why Papua?

Why it is necessary to work to help cockatoos and parrots in places such as the Moluccas and Papua; why not “Borneo” (now Kalimantan)? Sumatra? Bali? Or Java?

To answer this, and to put our work in context, I think it is critical to provide a simplified outline of the factors which almost divide Indonesia into two countries, geographically, economically and biologically and which put the parrots of one half (along with the its people) in tremendous jeopardy.

Indonesia is a huge archipelago. More details of its geography can be found in a map by clicking on a thumbnail on the homepage of our Website. However, in general, one can split Indonesia into two “halves” which are critical to an understanding of the situation of the cockatoos and parrots of Indonesia. The West (i.e., Jakarta, Bali) holds the wealth and embodies modern Indonesia. Tourists and businesspeople flock there. Birds kept in small cages are symbols of wealth and prestige, and are delivered by middlemen who make most of the profits of the illegal trade.

In contrast, the regions of the East (i.e., the Moluccas, East Papua, and Nusa Tenggara—which includes Sumba, Timor and Tanimbar) are mostly poor and underdeveloped, and the Government does not seem to try very hard to reverse that. For example, in a recent report (summarized in The Jakarta Post, May 26, 2004), the poverty rates in Jakarta and Bali in 2002 were 3.4 and 6.9%, respectively; in the Moluccas and in Papua, they were 34.8 and 41.8 % !! As a result, the villagers in many of these underdeveloped regions are forced into subsistence living.

This often includes the illegal trapping and sale of the very birds desired by the people in Java and other places in West Indonesia and throughout the world. Once again, the East and West are remarkably different, in this case biologically. The explorer Alfred Wallace defined the biogeographical boundaries of what is referred to as the Wallacean line. This line divides the cockatoo- and parrot-rich area of East Indonesia from the parrot-and cockatoo-poor area of West Indonesia: Kalimantan, Java, Sumatra, and Bali. In fact, its southwest boundary stops right at Bali’s doorstep! Note, however, that the Eastern border of Wallacea (as defined by Lydekker’s line) excludes East Papua (and Papua New Guinea) wherein the genera of cockatoos have changed from the sulphurs, goffins, albas, and ‘Seram’ cockatoos to the Tritons and Palms—in other words, have assumed more of the flavor of the Australian Probosciger and galeritas.

So the Eastern villagers HAVE the birds and are economically forced to trap them, even if the resource is non-sustainable. Ironically, they might get paid a mere $ US 5-25 for trapping a Seram** (Salmon-crested ) cockatoo, which is then sold for many times as much at each step of its transport to the West and its eventual sale. The Western Indonesians WANT the birds and are willing to pay the high prices to break the laws to sustain the illegal trade and buy the coveted bird.

The big question then is: What kind of resources can be provided to the villagers in the parrot-rich areas in the way of sustainable income-producing activities which nurture self-sufficiency? Which of these can replace the non-sustainable, poorly paying and increasingly difficult practice of trapping and (illegally) selling birds? These are the questions facing Project Bird Watch. They are challenging questions, but even the smallest steps forward are very gratifying.

Join us and share the adventure!

Maukah anda dikurung seperti burung?

“How would you like to be caged like a bird?”

[BirdLife Indonesia, 2003]

** Note: In my opinion, the term “Moluccan cockatoo” should no longer be used. There are other cockatoos endemic to the Moluccas: the C. goffini on the Tanimbar Islands in Southwest Maluku and C. alba in Northern Maluku, for example. Since C. moluccensis is now found in the wild endemic only to Seram, it is increasingly called solely by the name “the Seram cockatoo.”


Stewart Metz is the President of Project Bird Watch. He is a passionate advocate for the welfare of Indonesian cockatoos and parrots in the wild and in captivity and is an accomplished author in several different disciplines.

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