The Plight and Hope of the Bali Myna: A Deep Dive into Its Conservation Status (2023)

The Plight and Hope of the Bali Myna: A Deep Dive into Its Conservation Status (2023)

The Bali starling, a radiant emblem of Indonesia’s famed island of Bali, is renowned not only for its striking white plumage and contrasting blue eye patches but also for its enchanting song that once echoed freely through the island’s forests. Native exclusively to Bali, this charismatic bird, often known as the Bali myna, has over the years become a poignant symbol of nature’s fragility in the face of human encroachment. As it flits and chirps, the Bali starling tells a tale of beauty, decline, and the ongoing fight for conservation.

There are several species of mynas (or starlings) found in different parts of Asia, but the Bali starling is the most prominent one associated with Bali. However, other species of starlings or mynas could potentially be found in Bali due to migration, trade, or accidental introduction, but the Bali starling is the only one that’s native to the island.

The Bali Myna
The Common Myna

Did You Know?
Bali, a paradise island known for its vibrant culture, was once home to the majestic Bali tiger, which roamed its forests until the mid-20th century. Sadly, this unique subspecies went extinct due to hunting and habitat loss, highlighting the challenges faced by many of Bali’s native species, including the critically endangered Bali starling. Conservationists are now working tirelessly to protect and restore the island’s threatened biodiversity.mated that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood due to these and other natural challenges.

The History of the Bali Starling

Historically, the lush forests of Bali resonated with the symphonies of numerous Bali starlings, painting an auditory picture of a thriving ecosystem. The bird wasn’t merely a creature of aesthetic beauty; it held a revered place in local lore and traditions. The Balinese regarded it as a symbol of purity and spirituality, often associating its clear white feathers with the sacred. Legends even spoke of the bird as a messenger between the divine and the earthly realms.

As the 20th century progressed, the narrative began to shift. The once-abundant Bali Starling started facing threats from various fronts. Habitat destruction, due to rapid urbanization and agricultural expansion, reduced its natural homes. Its undeniable beauty became its bane, as poachers trapped them for the illegal pet trade, desiring its exoticism in cages around the world.

Conservationists soon began to recognize the dwindling numbers, and by the latter half of the century, the alarm bells rang louder. The Bali Starling was not merely a bird facing extinction; it was a testament to the fragile balance of biodiversity and the consequences of unchecked human actions.

Why the population got so low

The decline of the Bali starling is a consequence of a combination of factors:

  • Habitat Loss: Rapid urban development and agricultural expansion significantly shrunk its native habitats.
  • Illegal Pet Trade: Its aesthetic appeal made it a target for poachers, who captured it for the exotic pet market.
  • Introduced Predators: New predatory species in Bali further threatened the already declining population.

Population numbers in 2023

The Bali myna faces a dire situation, being critically endangered for years. By 1994, its wild population teetered on the brink of extinction. Fast forward to 2015, and fewer than 100 adult birds were thought to exist in the wild, while an estimated 1,000 lived in captivity. This bird is so protected that it’s featured in Appendix I of CITES, meaning trade—even in those bred in captivity—is heavily restricted. In fact, private individuals rarely can acquire them legally. But, those with aviculture expertise can partner with official captive-breeding programs to care for these birds. Shockingly, it’s believed that twice as many birds are bought illegally compared to those in official breeding programs.

By 2018, wild Bali Mynas could be spotted in just three places on Bali: the West Bali National Park, the islet of Nusa Penida, and the Begawan Foundation’s breeding and release center in Melinggih Kelod, Payangan.

Threat Factors

The Bali myna’s alarming plunge towards extinction in the wild chiefly stems from illegal trapping, driven by the global demand for cage birds. Despite efforts to safeguard them within a national park and targeted conservation projects, challenges like mismanagement and corruption persist.

In a shocking incident from 1999, as the bird’s black-market value skyrocketed (reaching up to US$2,000 in the mid-1990s), a heavily-armed group snatched nearly all of the 39 birds prepped for release from the park. This suggests the continuous presence of trappers within protected boundaries and ongoing nest poaching.

Recent findings have unveiled these birds being traded in Jakarta and Bandung markets for as much as US$752-1,278. Alongside these pressing concerns, habitat destruction—from transforming forests into plantations and settlements —magnifies the crisis.

Given the species’ precariously low numbers, issues like genetic degradation, competition with other species, natural predators, and diseases emerge as threats. Recent indications hint at trapping activities in the reintroduced population on Nusa Penida Island. A 2015 survey by the Begawan Foundation and Wildlife Reserves on Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan located a mere 12 adult birds and a potential two nesting individuals.

A bird market in Indonesia

Did you know?
The wild population of the Bali myna (or Bali starling) reached alarmingly low numbers, with some reports suggesting that the population was down to just a few individuals in the wild at its lowest point. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the number of Bali mynas in the wild was often estimated to be fewer than 10, and in some instances, as low as just 1 to 6 birds. These numbers fluctuated slightly due to various reintroduction efforts, but continued threats from illegal trapping and habitat loss kept the wild population critically low. The precise lowest number might vary slightly between sources, but it’s generally accepted that the wild population was, at one point, down to a mere handful of these and other natural challenges.

The future homes for the Starling

In an effort to diversify the areas where the Bali Starling exists in the wild, there are numerous re-introduction sites, with some others in the planning:

  1. West Bali National Park: This is the natural habitat of the Bali starling and has been a primary site for reintroduction efforts. However, the park has faced challenges like poaching, which has made reintroduction difficult at times.
  2. Nusa Penida: This island, located southeast of Bali, is one of the more successful sites for Bali starling reintroduction. Local communities, with the support of conservation organizations, have declared the island a bird sanctuary, which has helped protect reintroduced populations from poaching.
  3. Melinggih Kelod, Payangan: The Begawan Foundation, a prominent player in Bali starling conservation, has a breeding and release site in this area.
  4. Other Indonesian Islands: There have been discussions and potential plans to reintroduce the Bali starling to other Indonesian islands where they might thrive, though such plans must be approached with caution to ensure that introducing the birds won’t upset local ecosystems or put the starlings at risk.
  5. Zoos and Conservation Centers Worldwide: While these aren’t “reintroduction” sites in the traditional sense, many zoos and conservation centers around the world participate in breeding programs with the aim to increase the Bali starling’s numbers. These captive-bred birds can potentially be reintroduced to the wild in the future.
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Bali Starling Locations in the Wild

Did You Know?
While the Bali starling is native to West Bali National Park, conservation efforts have explored reintroducing them to various other locations to ensure their survival. These include the nearby islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Lembongan. There have also been discussions about potential reintroduction sites as far as Sumba Island and certain regions of Java. Each location is chosen based on habitat suitability, reduced threats, and the potential for local community involvement in conservation.

Effectiveness of the Breeding Programs for the Bali Starling

Breeding programs, both in-situ (within the species’ natural habitat) and ex-situ (outside its natural range, such as in zoos or aviaries), have played a pivotal role in the conservation of the Bali starling (or Bali myna). Given the bird’s critically endangered status and the persistent threats it faces in the wild, these programs have been essential to ensure the species’ survival.

Captive Breeding Success:

  1. Growth in Captive Population: From a handful of birds in captivity during the late 20th century, the number has risen dramatically. By 2015, it was estimated that around 1,000 Bali starlings existed in captivity. This growth is a testament to the expertise and care provided by aviculturalists in zoos, aviaries, and specialized breeding centers.
  2. Genetic Diversity: One of the challenges of breeding a small population is the risk of reduced genetic diversity, leading to inbreeding and associated health issues. Breeding programs have placed emphasis on maintaining and, where possible, enhancing the genetic diversity of the captive population.
  3. Skill Development: Breeding programs have allowed experts to understand better the specific needs and behaviors of the Bali starling. This knowledge is invaluable not just for breeding, but for future reintroduction efforts.

Did You Know?
The Begawan Foundation, spearheaded by Bradley and Debbie Gardner since 1999, has been a beacon of hope for the Bali starling’s conservation. Through their dedicated efforts in Melinggih Kelod, Payangan, they have successfully bred and raised over 200 Bali starlings. This achievement is particularly significant considering the critically endangered status of the bird. Their contribution doesn’t just stop at breeding; many of these captive-bred starlings have been reintroduced into suitable habitats, significantly bolstering wild populations and ensuring a brighter future for the species.

You can visit the Begawan Bird Breeding and Release Centre and experience the conservation efforts first hand. Visit their page here, or contact them via Whatsapp here.

How You Can Help Improve the Bali Starling’s Population

Protecting the enchanting Bali starling requires collective efforts. Here are the top three ways you can make a difference:

  1. Raise Awareness: Begin by educating your circle about the endangered status of the Bali starling. Share information on social media, discuss it within your communities, and engage in conversations. The more awareness there is about the bird’s precarious situation, the greater the momentum for its protection.
  2. Support Conservation Organizations: Financial contributions, even small ones, can make a big difference. Consider donating to established organizations, such as the Begawan Foundation, that are directly involved in the Bali starling’s conservation. Your funds will support breeding programs, habitat preservation, and anti-poaching measures.
  3. Adopt Sustainable Tourism Practices: If you’re traveling to Bali or nearby regions, make ecologically sound choices. Opt for eco-resorts, engage with tour guides committed to responsible practices, and be cautious not to disturb natural habitats. Your conscious decisions as a tourist can have a ripple effect on local communities, encouraging them to prioritize the starling’s well-being.

By taking these steps, you can be an integral part of the journey to safeguard the future of the Bali starling.

The future outlook

The journey of the Bali starling, from being the melody of Bali to facing near silence, is a stark reminder of nature’s fragility. However, with continued conservation efforts, community involvement, and global awareness, there’s cautious optimism. The Bali starling’s song may have dwindled, but it’s far from silenced. With collective resolve, the hope is to see its numbers soar once again, echoing a symphony of resilience and coexistence.

If you’re looking to see the Bali Starling in the wild, the best way is to visit West Bali National Park (Barat National Park) and go on a bird watching tour. Check out the guide to the park here!

FAQs: Bali Starling Conservation

What is the Bali starling?

The Bali starling, also known as the Bali myna or Rothschild’s mynah, is a small, white bird with blue streaks around its eyes and black wingtips. It’s native to the island of Bali, Indonesia, and is known for its captivating beauty and melodious song.

Why is the Bali starling endangered?

The primary threats to the Bali starling include illegal trapping for the cage-bird trade, habitat loss due to conversion of woodlands for development and agriculture, and issues like disease, natural predation, and genetic erosion.

How many Bali starlings are left in the wild?

The exact number fluctuates, but as of the last data available, the wild population has been critically low, with numbers once dropping below 100. Conservation efforts are ongoing to bolster these numbers.

What’s being done to conserve the Bali starling?

Conservation measures include captive breeding programs, reintroduction initiatives to suitable habitats, stricter legal enforcement against poaching, and public awareness campaigns. The Begawan Foundation is among the notable organizations actively working on these efforts.

How can I help?

Raising awareness, supporting conservation organizations financially, and adopting sustainable tourism practices when visiting Bali are some of the key ways to help. Every effort, big or small, contributes to the bird’s conservation.

Where can I see a Bali starling in the wild?

The West Bali National Park is the natural habitat of the Bali starling. Other locations due to reintroduction efforts include Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Lembongan.

Is it legal to own a Bali starling as a pet?

The Bali starling is listed in Appendix I of CITES, meaning trade is strictly regulated. It’s illegal to own this bird without proper authorization, and it’s certainly illegal to buy one from the black market. Supporting the illegal trade only exacerbates the species’ precarious situation.

How does the reintroduction of Bali starlings work?

Birds bred in captivity are released into suitable habitats where threats like poaching are minimized. Before release, they undergo acclimatization periods and are monitored post-release to ensure their survival and adaptation.

Why is the Bali starling significant to Bali?

Apart from its natural beauty, the Bali starling holds spiritual significance for the Balinese people and represents the rich biodiversity of the island. Its conservation is a matter of both ecological and cultural importance.

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