Bali Starling Conservation Project
Carolyn Kenwrick – Begawan Foundation, Gianyar, Indonesia
The Bali Starling Conservation Project, one of Begawan Foundation's first initiatives, commenced in 2001 with the objective to rescue this endangered bird from the edge of extinction and to restore healthy populations of the bird to the wild. The major problem facing the bird's repopulation is theft, both from official breeding facilities and from the wild. The key to the success of the project is conservation and environmental awareness – formal and informal education programmes in both the student and the adult local communities. Living in small numbers in a small area of northwest Bali, and regularly poached for the black market pet trade, the Bali starling was registered as an endangered bird species in 1970. Famed for its beauty, its status as Bali's only endemic bird species and its endangered status, the Bali starling became the official mascot of Bali in 1991.
The founders of Begawan Foundation, Bradley and Debora Gardner, were determined to breed the birds and restore them to the wild. Poaching is a direct threat to the continued existence of the Bali starling. After failed attempts by a number of organisations, it was clear that the birds would not be adequately protected at the national park in west Bali and a different restoration site would be necessary. Between 1999 and 2005, 97 birds were bred at a resort near Ubud, belonging to the founders. In 2006 and 2007, several releases were undertaken on Nusa Penida, a small island southeast of mainland Bali. In 2010, Begawan Foundation moved its birds and all enclosures back to mainland Bali to start a new breeding and release programme.
Begawan Foundation's current site is in a small village in central Bali, adjacent to an international school with a focus on green studies. Local villages are divided into smaller banjar (smallest unit of traditional village organisation in Bali) to which all members of the community belong. The kepala desa (village chief) and the king of this area are also responsible for ensuring that local village law is adhered to. Since 2012, there have been four local releases of Bali starlings, and a programme of education and awareness is being undertaken in the schools and community. Begawan Foundation has the support of the local community. In fact, it cannot undertake releases to the wild without the local priesthood deciding the day, and the local community taking part in the necessary ceremonies that bless the birds and send them to freedom into the hands of the gods.
Staff and management, at the request of the local community, have commenced education programmes in local community schools, and will continue to work with the local banjar to give them the necessary awareness and further build their sense of ownership for the increase in numbers of the wild population of Bali starlings. Awareness by means of education programmes is a "must". It is essential that any education programme be experiential, where the children are assisted to find solutions to problems rather than being given answers. The key to the success of the project is the involvement and the participation of the local community, beginning with the children.
Releases of Bali starlings in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2014 show that Begawan Foundation has kept to its goal of bringing back the Bali starling from the edge of extinction. If there are hindrances and obstacles, solutions are found and the programme goes forward. The most recent releases by Jane Goodall in June and Ban Ki Moon in August 2014 are a vindication that we are on the right track, that our goals are achievable.