Generally, when one thinks ‘myna’, a dark brown, grey or black bird comes to mind. However, contrary to popular belief, mynas come in more than 50 shades of grey (teehee)!
Mynas are, however starlings and belong to the family Sturnidae. The Bali Myna Leucopsar rothschildi is a stunning bird that is almost entirely white apart from the black edges of its wings and tail. If that is not characteristic enough, the species also possess a long drooping crest, a blue patch of bare skin around its eyes, a yellowish bill and grey legs! Both male and female birds appear similar.
The Bali Myna is endemic to Indonesia and its habitat used to extend across the north-western realm of the island of Bali. However, its range and population has drastically declined, as a result of illegal and unsustainable poaching to satisfy a high global demand for them in the bird trade.
The species is now listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, just one step away from virtual extinction in the wild. This illegal trade of the Bali Myna is recognised to be the primary cause of its decline that is compounded by other factors such as habitat loss, as well as the small population and distribution of the species.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) is working with Begawan Foundation – an organisation dedicated to environmental protection – on the conservation of the Bali Myna. This Bali Starling Conservation Project was established with the major aim of captive breeding the species and reintroducing individuals into the wild. WRS is assisting Begawan Foundation through funding support and providing consultation in veterinary management and field reintroduction of the species. This project is an illustration of where ex situ work through captive management is linked with in situ efforts such as species reintroduction.
It also demonstrates the significance of collaborations in conservation projects through the involvement and cooperation of local villages and governments, as well as international NGOs and zoological institutions. The Bali Myna has been successfully bred in captivity and introduced to a number of release sites on mainland Bali and one of its offshore islands.
In February this year, a team from WRS joined members from Begawan Foundation to perform a survey of the species in the wild. Concurrently, WRS personnel also provided veterinary advice and capacity building to improve the husbandry of captive birds in the breeding centre on the mainland.
A total of 12 sites were covered during the survey, on the offshore island. Searches were also performed along the roads and farms crossed. Surveys were performed mostly in the mid-mornings and late afternoons, and each site was visited for a minimum of 10-15 minutes. At two sites, pairs of birds were observed carrying food and entering their nests frequently, meaning there were chicks in those areas! Over a few days of surveying, at least 10 birds and chicks were recorded. This bird count, when compared to the more than 50 birds released in the past, is unfortunately, considerably low.Video clip showing an adult myna feeding its young. Credit: Begawan Foundation, YouTube.
Ongoing monitoring of released birds has demonstrated successful breeding attempts. However, with the threat of poaching still present in the region, constant patrolling and increased legal protection and enforcement are key to diminishing this threat. This should be coupled with consistent community education at local schools and villages to raise awareness of the plight these birds are facing and to ensure the future survival of wild populations.
Despite the amazing efforts by Begawan Foundation in breeding and releasing individuals back into the wild, the birds are still disappearing. Illegal poaching for the songbird trade was indicated as the major cause behind this decline. Songbird-keeping as a pastime is firmly entrenched in local culture and tradition in many countries in Southeast Asia.
High domestic and international demands make songbirds amongst the most commercially sought-after in the live animal trade. Through our commitment to the conservation of songbirds in Southeast Asia, WRS will be involved in two major strategy meetings this year, addressing the threats and conservation needs of songbird species such as the Bali Myna.