Press Releases

Saving the World’s Rarest Cockatoo

October 1, 2008 (San Francisco, CA)– The world’s rarest cockatoo has been re-discovered in Indonesia. The Yellow-crested Abbott’s Cockatoo is found in the wild only on a single island (tiny Masakambing Island; 500 ha) in the Masalembu Archipelago. This island is in the remote Java Sea, north of the cities of Surabaya and Bali, and east of southern Sumatra. This archipelago also contains Masalembu Island [2000 ha] and Keramaian Island [300 ha].

Yellow-crested Abbott’s cockatoo at nest site

Yellow-crested Abbott’s cockatoo at nest site

Parrots are the most endangered bird family. A number of the parrots threatened with extinction are found only in Indonesia. Four of the five cockatoo species listed on the highest category of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are found in Indonesia. Of these, the Yellow-crested cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) are the most imperiled. This species contains four subspecies. Three of these are fairly well studied. However, one (C. sulphurea abbotti) has remained largely a mystery until now, but is known to be at great risk.

There are no cockatoos in the other two islands in the archipelago, with the bird having been extirpated from Masalembu and not known to have ever populated Keramaian. Studies in the 1990’s, which remain largely unpublished, found that only 5-10 individuals remained on Masakambing. However, there are essentially no extant data since that time, and intervening extinction was a distinct possibility.

Two cockatoos feeding on the male fruit of the Sukun tree (Artocarpus communis)

Two cockatoos feeding on the male fruit of the Sukun tree (Artocarpus communis)

Therefore, the Indonesian Parrot Project (IPP, a U.S. all-volunteer, non-profit Non-Governmental Organization or NGO) working with Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia (KKI; Cockatoo Conservation Indonesia, its allied NGO) launched an expedition to the Masalembu Archipelago in June and July of 2008 . The field work was led by Dudi Nandika and Dwi Agustina (both from Jakarta, Indonesia and co-founders of KKI) working under the guidance of Dr. Stewart Metz, President and Director of the Indonesian Parrot Project.

Due to the small size of Masakambing, Nandika and Agustina were able to make detailed surveys of the entire island. Once the skies had been filled with flocks of these cockatoos; now a total of only ten cockatoos was identified—four males, four females, and two juveniles—making them the most threatened cockatoo in the wild and one of the world’s rarest birds. Like other members of the C. sulphurea species, these beautiful birds have a largely white body with a brilliant yellow, forward-curving crest, and slight yellow on their ear covert feathers. They may be the largest of the four subspecies. The first photographs of these birds in the wild outside of Indonesia were acquired, as was some videotape footage of the birds mating, preening, eating, playing with twigs, examining nest holes, and similar natural behaviors.

Two major threats to the survival of the Masakambing cockatoo were identified. One is their capture for the illegal pet bird trade. It is usually nestlings, rather than adult birds, which are taken. Formerly, they were trapped in large numbers by outside visitors who took them to Bali and Sumbawa Islands. Now, with the marked decline in their numbers, the birds are only sought by government officials, who keep them as pets due to the prestige of owning such a rare bird. A second risk factor has been the logging of trees which had been suitable to provide food and nest holes for these cockatoos. This area has been planted, especially with coconut palms, with almost total destruction of previously favored habitat flora such a kapuk trees (Ceiba pentandra) and mangrove (Avicennia apiculata).

Coconut palms being cut down for building materials

Coconut palms being cut down for building materials

Due to the extreme gravity of the situation, an intensive conservation program was initiated on behalf of these cockatoos. Visits were made to Junior and Senior High Schools to teach students the principles of conservation, increase their awareness of the plight of the birds, and foster pride in their rare and unique bird. T-shirts are being made to reinforce this message. Laws to protect these birds had been passed but only in the distant “kabupatan” (district) of Madura and these decrees are out of date; there are plans to update these and extend them locally to the islands of the Masalembu Archipelago themselves, where they are more likely to be enacted. Officers from the armed forces and police locally were taught about the protections already in place nationally and internationally and were encouraged to conserve the birds. [See photo below] Stickers reminding villagers of the plight of their cockatoo will be placed at suitable locations.

Dudi Nandika presenting information to government and military officials

Dudi Nandika presenting information to government and military officials

Other measures under consideration include: paying the villagers for each cockatoo which is allowed to successfully fledge (leave the nest); hiring local villagers as “wardens” to protect the nests from disturbances; protection of remaining habitat; increasing knowledge about the biology of the bird through ecological research studies; holding town meetings for informational and awareness purposes; and providing artificial nestboxes for breeding. The most aggressive and complex approach might be to initiate a captive breeding program. For the latter, attempts would be made to locate and breed any C. sulphurea abbotti outside the island or in local zoological parks. Their chicks could then be used to repopulate Masakambing (unfortunately, the other two islands are too deforested to consider for this approach).

It is hoped that, in view of the gravity of the situation, international assistance and funding can be found to save this magnificent but rapidly vanishing cockatoo.

For more information, interviews with Dr. Metz, photographs or video please contact Bonnie Zimmermann, Indonesian Parrot Project, (707) 227-5155, (707) 965-2538 or or Dr. Stewart Metz at (425-830-5295) or

Indiscriminate Slaughter of Rare Parrots and Cockatoos:

The ‘Collateral Damage’ of the War on “Bird Flu”

Pope Valley, California, April 2, 2006– The deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza (AI) is chiefly propagated by commercial fowl living in close quarters; the role of migratory birds is less clear and still evolving. There is a documented species-selectivity in the sensitivity to the H5N1 virus; however, in the panic over a possible pandemic of AI, the indiscriminate culling of wild and pet birds is being increasingly practiced. These include some spectacular and endangered species of parrots rarely or never affected by the virus, providing an unnecessary further pressure for their decline towards extinction.Not a single, well-documented case has been reported of H5N1 influenza occurring in a large parrot or cockatoo. The single case in the UK claimed to be that, turned out to be, in all likelihood, merely a misinterpretation of shoddy laboratory data, as reported in The Independent (UK) – Online Edition, on November 15 of last year.

Despite this scientific fact, both Indonesia and the Philippines have recently taken to culling large numbers of these beloved but vanishing birds, even in the absence of any solid medical justification. In the Philippines (as reported in a Philippines Information Agency Press Release; March 1, 2006), 339 smuggled parrots were killed following confiscation, merely out of an imagined fear that they might carry AI.

Although quarantine with testing for the virus could have excluded this possibility, these simple steps apparently were not carried out. Last year, a similar fate befell 500 parrots in the same country . (In 2004, more than 300 lovebirds were culled there merely because they had passed through Thailand in transit). Since these first 839 or so birds had all been smuggled from Indonesia, the shipments probably contained many parrots and especially cockatoos now endangered in the wild.

Indeed, four of the world’s five cockatoos which have been given the highest level of protection by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) are native only to Indonesia. In Taiwan, 28 magnificent Palm and Moluccan cockatoos were slain at CKS Airport merely out of a similar fear that they might harbor the H5N1 variant of AI. However, test results returning only 24 h. later revealed that none of the 24 was infected (Taipei Times; November 4, 2004). These birds, which are protected by both Indonesian and international law, can sell for between $1500 and $15000 each in pet stores. Recently, Taiwan has hinted that it might cull imported birds only if they are infected (Korea Times; November 18, 2005); if enforced, this policy would be an important step in the right direction. In Indonesia itself, Agriculture officials recently announced in The Jakarta Post that all birds–including pet birds–within a given radius of chickens found to be infected with AI–would also be culled. This policy is inconsistent with the Department’s own approach which it recently employed when the highly pathogenic strain of AI was discovered in the largest zoo. When avian influenza struck Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, parrots and cockatoos were sparedunless they were proven to have the disease. An additional advantage of testing prior to culling is that one thereby gains valuable new knowledge about the epizootiology (the factors determining the spread among animals) of this disease. The people suffer from this approach as well as the birds. The compensation paid to the bird owners for the loss of their property is paltry– for example, Rp 10,000 (slightly more than $US 1) has been paid for the seizure of a Palm cockatoo.

For more info contact: Stewart Metz, M.D.,
Bonnie Zimmermann:

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Trading Medical Clinics for Rainforest:

Project Bird Watch and Seacology Collaborate to Create 370 Acre Rainforest Preservation Zone in Moluccas

San Francisco, California, (November 6, 2005) The Indonesian Parrot Project – Project Bird Watch ( <> ), in collaboration with Seacology ( <> ), announces the creation of a 370 Acre Rainforest Heritage zone on Seram Island in the Moluccan (“Spice”) Islands of Indonesia. This site, in pristine lowland forest, was set aside by the King of the District of Sawai on North Seram, with the agreement of a wadah or council of village leaders from the two principal villages involved (Masihulan and Sawai) as well as neighboring villages. The site, along with its indigenous fauna and flora, will be protected from all human intervention in order to be enjoyed and appreciated by future generations.

In return, Project Bird Watch (with partial funding from Seacology) enacted a series of initiatives to improve the quality of medical care in this economically-disadvantaged region. These included the building of two new medical clinics; provision of non-polluting, solar-powered generator systems coupled both to water purification systems and refrigerators  (to help maintain the shelf- life of pharmaceuticals under tropical conditions); providing advanced medical training for the village mantri (nurse practitioners); and the writing of a small manual detailing basic hygiene and sanitary procedures for children and adults. These projects, like all others of Project Bird Watch in Indonesia, were collaborative efforts with the Indonesian NGO Yayasan Wallacea, which is based on nearby Ambon Island and directed by Ceisar Riupassa ( <> ).

Stewart Metz, Director of Project Bird Watch commented, “Some wildlife conservation programs focus mostly on ways to bring new sources of sustainable income to local peoples to replace their dependence on trapping. We felt that Project Bird Watch could go deeper and earn both the lasting trust and friendship of the Seramese people in bringing some improvements to the village’s entire quality of life. That is important to us; these are very wonderful people. At the same time we are making some progress changing their cultural attitudes about the intrinsic value of their spectacular forest and avifauna . In Indonesia, it’s called “ganti-rugi“– a Win-Win situation.”

The initial grant contribution from Seacology was for $19,384, but due in part to recent large increases in the cost of materials in nearby Ambon Island following sectarian violence, PBW will likely contribute a similar amount to bring the project to fruition.

Bonnie Zimmermann, Vice President of Project Bird Watch was recently in Seram and witnessed the installation of the solar generators and water purification systems. She said, During the installation of the solar generator in Masihulan it became obvious how excited the people are about the clinic the entire village came out to watch us.

Seacology is the worlds premier nonprofit, nongovernmental organization with the sole and unique purpose of preserving the environments and cultures of islands throughout the globe. Their programs are successful because they are locally managed. Seacologys motto is Saving the world one island village at a time.

The Indonesian Parrot Project/Project Bird Watch is an all- volunteer, non-profit organization with projects on Seram Island in the province of Maluku, and the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua. Its mission is to:

—Help conserve endangered Indonesian cockatoos and parrots through collaborative work with the Forestry Department in Manusela National park on Seram Island; the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; local police; the network of Wild Animal Rescue Centers throughout Indonesia; but above all, the major stakeholders, the local peoples of the regions

—Oversee the management of Kembali Bebas (“Return to Freedom”), a Parrot Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Center and Sanctuary on the Island of Seram receiving birds confiscated from smugglers, trappers and the illegal pet trade.

—Help to provide sustainable income for local villages to reduce trapping and smuggling through its “trappers to wardens program”, medical initiatives, eco-tourism, organic farming, and education in the schools.

—Serve as a source of information about Indonesian parrots and cockatoos

—Conduct scientific research to increase knowledge about the wild parrots of Indonesia. Apply this knowledge both to help conserve endangered parrots and to improve the welfare of parrots in captivity using lessons learned from their life in the wild.

For media or other information on Project Bird Watch, contact Bonnie Zimmermann at (707) 965-3480 or

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58 Nations Petition President Yudhoyono to Stop the Illegal Trade in Indonesian Wild Parrots and Cockatoos

Bellevue, WA, (November 5, 2005) 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.

For more information, please contact Bonnie Zimmermann, Vice President of Project Bird Watch and the Indonesian Parrot Project at:

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