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Fledging a Dream

“True conservation means to guard, protect and commit to a single species of bird for years, not because it is rare and saleable.” Rosemary Low, PARROTS Magazine, (January, 2007)

Fertilizing an Idea: a Dream is Conceived

Ten years ago, one could find essentially nothing on the Internet dealing with either the Salmon-crested cockatoo or Seram itself. In fact, any references to “Seram” turned out to be to a French automotive company!. It seemed as if the land and forests from which these magnificent creatures had been plundered so long, and the wild birds themselves–had dropped off the world’s “scope” except in a few hear-to-obtain scientific manuscripts. A Dream was born to make their plight, our plight.

Many a discussion took place about somehow building even a single cage on the shore of Sawai Bay to help care for any parrots which needed help after their trapping, and or after they were confiscated by Government officials. A single pet Green-naped lorikeet named “Lucky” was ransom-rescued and even became our first “Release. However, the logistical difficulties and expense needed to establish an Avian Rescue Center in the middle of the “Spice Islands” were formidable, and the Dream languished.


Then, in October of 2004, a singular opportunity presented itself which catalyzed the alchemy of transforming dreams into motion and energy. A colleague and friend of ours on Seram reported to Authorities that a number of poached cockatoos and parrots were in the hands of a middleman who was still on the island. As a result, the parrots were confiscated. These included five Seram cockatoos later determined by DNA testing to be comprised of three femal and two males). Through the efforts of our colleagues Drh. Wahyu Widyayandani (“Wita”) and Resit Sozer from the Wild Animal Rescue Centers of Indonesia, these birds were suddenly turned over to us for care. In an amazing bit of luck, Bonnie Zimmermann and Barbara Bailey were leading an ecotour on Seram that very week and , with the help of our eco-guests and the amazing men of Masihulan village, Kembali Bebas (“Return to Freedom”) Avian Rehabilitation Center spread its wings , literally overnight. The first few cages were built solely of forest materials, and by the next morning housed the first avian “guests” at Kembali Bebas (Indonesian for “Return to Freedom”).

Fledging the Dream

Like that of a cockatoo, the fledging process for “KB” is very long–and ongoing. Today KB houses over 130 psittacines.

Eighteen months after their confiscation, three of the intial five Salmon-crested cockatoos C. moluccensis were released back into the Seram forest from which they had initially been seized. Prior to release, they were screened for latent diseases, including Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, polyoma virus; herpesvirus; salmonellosis,and chlamydiosis. For purposes of identification, they were fitted with stainless steel legbands and micro-chips were placed; for short term monitoring, colored plastic legbands were also placed and the distal tail feathers were colored using permanent marker. School children from the neighboring village were brought to see the “pelepasan” (or “act of liberating”) in order to foster pride in the special nature of “their” cockatoo, and basic knowledge about conservation.

“Soft-release” procedures to give the cockatoos their freedom:

the exit door on top of the large pre-release cage was opened and cockatoos were allowed to leave but were not taken from the cage. Forest foods were placed on the release cage as a “safety net” to supplement foods collected by the birds in the forest, if needed. Former parrot trappers monitored the area intensively for two weeks, and then more casually for since.

All three cockatoos were seen together on at least two occasions following the release. Thereafter, follow-up was lost on the third, but two seemed to be flying as a pair (based on visual detection of steel legbands) and in March of 2007, a fledgling was sighted at a nest believed to be that of one of the three released cockatoos. Additional confirmation of this finding is required, however, since at least two other (wild) cockatoos were observed near the same tree.

The New Challenges of “Adolescence”

There are many challenges facing the Rehabilitation Center. One is the logistical complexity of providing adequate veterinary facilities and support in a location that is as remote as north Seram Island and which lacks fixed electrical power–and therefore, refrigeration, modern lighting, incubators, computers, Internet, e-mail, and adequate on-site laboratory testing. One of our next steps will be to try to provide the power for these via non-polluting solar panels (both fixed and portable), with a concomitant decrease in the necessity for the use of polluting and expensive generators.

Simultaneously, we are just beginning the task of establishing collaborations and setting up PCR assays for key psittacine diseases in Indonesia ; these tests will likely be run in an urban setting in the Western part of the archipelago, most likely Bali.

Another is the difficulty lies in obtaining permanent, on-site veterinary staffing. In part related to the problems cited above, it is difficult to attract someone to move to remote Seram Island from the much-more affluent and modern areas of Java and Bali (where most veterinary training occurs). We hope to supplement our current veterinary staff with veterinarians from other countries who might be interested in spending a “sabbatical” on Seram for three or more months, helping to care for the birds and improve our facilities. They in turn would receive not only totally unique access to, and experience with, a wide variety of psittacines representing all three subfamilies, but also the opportunity to immerse oneself in the peoples, forest, and unparalleled outdoor habitat and activities of a true Eden.

Interested parties should contact Dr. Stewart Metz at

The Future for Parrots in Maluku and Papua, and Indonesia: Avoiding Predators and Building the Flock

In its paper “Guidelines for the Placement of Confiscated Animals (2002)“, the World Conservation Union IUCN and the Species Survival Commission state that “there are benefits of returning confiscated animals to the wild, providing the pre-requisite veterinary, genetic, and other screening is undertaken and post-release monitoring programmes are established (as per IUCN 1998).

a) In situations where the existing population is severely threatened, re-introduction might improve the long-term conservation potential of the species as a whole, or of a local population of the species

b) Return to the wild makes a strong political/educational statement concerning the fate of animals and may serve to promote local conservation values. However, as part of any education or public awareness programmes, the costs and difficulties associated with the return to the wild must be emphasized.

c) Species returned to the wild have the possibility of continuing to fulfill their biological and ecological roles.”

For our Program, The most important reason for releasing confiscated parrots back into the wild, is not so much to increase their numbers as it is to foster pride and conservation values on Seram and Ambon. It is true Indonesia and Papua, and that in the short-term, any reduction of smuggling is an important (and humane) goal.

However, interdiction of trapping and smuggling are only limited and short-term “band-aids” which do not get at the roots of the problem– economic, social, and moral. A long-term solution to the pillaging of Indonesia’s treasures will require changes in attitudes –a true paradigm shift in the value placed on these national treasures. This will require introduction of such concepts through the educational process in school (and other venues). Towards this goal, the Indonesian Parrot Project and Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia have begun its CAP Program–which stands for “Conservation-Awareness-and Pride ” Program.

For more information on the CAP Program, the interested reader is referred to the About Us section.

Staff of Kembali Bebas (many of them ex-trappers) and Bonnie Zimmermann at the forest entrance to KB. Photo by S. Metz.

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