Agriculture: friend or foe of the Moluccan cockatoo?

Moluccan cockatoo found to partially depend on the human modified forest inside national park.

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Indonesia - BOGOR, Indonesia (15 August, 2012)_Efforts to totally ban traditional, un-intensive agricultural activity inside an Indonesian national park that is a stronghold for the endangered Moluccan cockatoo could negatively affect the very species the park was created to protect, ongoing research by CIFOR indicates.

“It appears that Moluccan cockatoos depend, to some extent, on the human modified forests such as mixed forest gardens and damar forests which are contained inside the Manusela National Park. If a complete ban on traditional agricultural practices in this park was enforced, this could actually be detrimental to the cockatoo population,” said Masatoshi Sasaoka, a CIFOR postdoctoral research fellow who has been conducting field work in an upland community in central Seram near the park since 2003.

The salmon-crusted cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) is endemic to the central Moluccan islands in east Indonesia. The 60,000-strong wild population can still be found on Seram Island. The puffy, salmon-crested cockatoo, a picture of which appears on the Manusela park’s logo, attracts bird watchers from across the globe.

“As we can see … this parrot is conceived as a species with high conservation value which attracts the attention of a great many people,” said Sasaoka while at the 13th Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology, in Montpellier, in May.

Though ongoing agricultural activities inside the park have been regarded as potential threat to biodiversity and have been banned by Indonesia’s Park Management Authority, the 1,500 villagers that live in the mountain area around the park have long maintained forest gardens, rich in fruiting trees such as durian, jackfruit and water rose apple, and damar forests (Agathis damara), used for sustainable resin production for fuel.

These forest gardens are patchily distributed in mostly old secondary forests (forests which have re-grown after a major disturbance such as agriculture), and have been quite extensively managed by the villagers. Damar forests are patchily distributed in old secondary and primary forests.

The Moluccan cockatoos — listed in the most endangered category of animals on earth by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) — appear to frequently use these human-modified forest patches, said Masatoshi Sasaoka, who has focused on the interrelationships between human and the cockatoo formed through indigenous arboriculture in central Seram since 2010 with his collaborators Yves Laumonier and Ken Sugimura.

Though his research is still awaiting a comparison of the relative abundance of cockatoos in each forest type, of the 78 cockatoo sites spotted by local villagers (sites recognised by the villagers as those where Moluccan cockatoos are frequently and commonly seen or heard), 67 were located in human modified forest gardens. Over a quarter of these were in the park.

“If human modified forests are important habitats for the Moluccan cockatoo, there is a possibility that the current national park management’s measure to strictly exclude any human intervention through agriculture inside the park is inappropriate to promote conservation without damaging the livelihoods of the local people who live in remote forest area,” Sasaoka said ahead of next month’s World Conservation Congress in South Korea, where leading environmental and developmental authorities will discuss ways to protect, manage and govern nature, including the establishment of protected reserves.

“It would be necessary to examine whether it is appropriate to apply conventional ‘zone-based conservation models’ that separate strictly human resource use areas and wildlife habitats on the basis of more objective quantitative data,” he added.

It is still unclear to what extent the cockatoos are dependent on the human modified forests formed through indigenous arboricultural practices.

“We conducted participatory parrot transect surveys in cooperation with local villagers during the durian and jackfruit fruiting season. We are planning to do similar surveys during the non-fruiting season for avoiding seasonal bias. On the basis of data collected by the surveys, we would like to compare the relative abundances of cockatoos between human modified forests and natural forest.”

Sasaoka and his collaborators intend to publish the complete findings in 2013.

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7 responses to “Agriculture: friend or foe of the Moluccan cockatoo?”

  1. Angela Cancilla Herschel says:

    I have been there on Seram with Dr Don Brightsmith with IPP (Indonesian Parrot Project) and we never saw the any wild cockatua close to villages , Masihulon or Sawai ….and in the National park after almost 3 weeks….we finally saw in the far distance on a tree limb ,only one Salmon Crested cockatoo………from all the relentless and ongoing illegal still trapping……sadly the silence is deafening

    • Masatoshi Sasaoka says:

      Dear Angela,

      Thank you for the comments.

      Did you visit the mountain area at that time? I have no idea about the reason why the encounter rates of the cockatoo in the area you visited was fairly low. I’m not sure but I guess it is possibly related to the different conditions in mountain areas.

      According to previous studies, the Molluccan cockatoo is reported to be a lowland, primary forest specialist, rarely occurring above 600 m and absent above 1000 m. In mountain areas, large parts of remote forest area form village settlements located in high altitude areas that are probably not suitable as the parrot habitats(the community we conducted research is located at about 800 m above sea level).

      In addition, several Ficus tree species (the cockatoos like to eat the fruits) and Octmeles sumatrana (the parrot uses this tree as nesting tree) are rare in high altitude areas. According to the villagers, the cockatoos frequently use mixed forest gardens to eat durian Jack fruits etc during fruiting season. It also uses Agatis damara – dominated forests as nesting sites ( almost all of Agatis damara forest patches distributed in forest area in the village territory under study are human modified forests; the local villagers created those forests through protecting seedling and transplanting).

      There is a possibility that these factors lead the parrot in the mountain area to incorporate those human modified forests into their home range and frequent use mixed forest garden and Agatis damara – dominated forests as foraging and nesting sites. But we still need to evaluate the importance of human modified forests as parrot habitats more objectively on the basis of quantitative data.

      Best regards,


  2. hamish says:

    It’s not news that parrots like agricultural crops, after all, so do we! It’s also not sound science to suggest that because parrots are often seen there, that means they’re dependent upon that habitat. People are more likely to see parrots in cultivated areas because 1. they’re easier to see in the open, 2. people spend a lot more time there, and 3. the living is easy. Using this meaningless observation to justify the destruction of intact forest in protected areas is just pro-development hogwash and any scientists worth his stripes would admit that right from the start.

    • Masatoshi Sasaoka says:

      Dear Hamish,

      Thank you for your critical comments. I think your critical view is reasonable. In relation to your comment, please let me explain our research and future plan in a little bit more detail.

      The map on page 10 of my presentation (see the above link embedded in this blog) indicates sites recognized by the villagers as those where Moluccan cockatoos are frequently and commonly seen or heard. In interviews with 26 randomly selected villagers in February 2012, 78 cockatoo sites were identified. I surveyed the locations of the cockatoo sites by using small GPS loggers to determine their geographic coordinates in cooperation with villagers.

      As you pointed out, many readers may think villagers might mention many human modified forests (mixed forest gardens and damar forests) as cockatoo sites because they frequently visit them. In relation to this bias, I would like to emphasize the following points.

      In the village territory under study primary or old secondary forest are divided into more than 250 small forest lots (see a map on page 11 of my presentation above). Dots on the map, which was made through participatory mapping exercise, indicate the divided forest lots. Each forest lot is a unit of hunting and trapping ground. Villagers frequently and widely walk around primary and old secondary forest far from the village for hunting or trapping, and they are very familiar with forest conditions over a wide area including habitation of the cockatoo (in dense natural forest, the cockatoo sometimes cannot seen but villager can know their existence, to some extent, because their noise they make is very loud and distinctive). In addition, villagers do not necessarily frequently visit those human modified forests in comparison to natural forest used as hunting/trapping ground. They visit frequently mixed forest garden distributed patchily in forest areas only during the fruiting season.

      Accordingly I think, TO SOME EXTENT, the bias you mentioned can be avoided. However, as the blog mentioned, our study is still in a preliminary stage. I myself surely realize that it is still needed to evaluate the importance of human modified forests as parrots habitats more objectively on the basis of quantitative data. We conducted participatory parrot transect surveys in cooperation with local villagers during the durian and jackfruit fruiting season this year. We are planning to do similar surveys during the non-fruiting season to avoid seasonal bias. On the basis of data collected by the surveys, we would like to compare the relative abundances of cockatoos between human modified forests and natural forest.

      I do not hope that our study will take part in assisting “pro-developmentalists”. Considering that large-scale development projects (commercial logging since 1980’s, oil palm plantation started in 2009 etc.) have destroyed the habitats of the cockatoo in lowland forest especially the north coastf of central Seram, conservation efforts are needed to stop deforestation caused by such large-scale development and others, and the importance of the park is of no doubt.

      Our research site is located in mountain area of central Seram. There is no roadway to upland communities, and access to the local market is limited. The local people (in Manusela Vally) are conducting agricultural activities for mainly subsistence purpose (not commercial purpose) in un-intensive ways.

      I have been conducting this research with a intention to find out more effective and socially just ways to conserve the parrots and the parrot habitats without damaging the livelihoods of the local people in remote mountain area who are directly dependent on agricultural and forest resources, not to justify the destruction of forest in protected areas.

      I do hope you understand our purpose of the study and would be happy to discuss in further detail if you are interested.


      • Angela Cancilla Herschel says:

        Yes we went especially long and deep into the mountains ( don’t ask!) …as I say “the silence of the rainforest …is deafening.”

        Seram island, which is also called “Nusa Ina or Mother Island”, I learned that it is the only home of the Seram ( Moluccan) cockatoo, and that no other cockatoos are on this island. The island is the ancestral homeland of the pink cockatoo and is an unbelievably gorgeous mountainous rainforest island.

        Prior to my trip with Project Bird Watch, when I had the pleasure of visiting the Tambopata Macaw Project in southeastern Peru. There with Dr. Don Brightsmith I learned that when releasing hand fed babies ( from second laid chicks who would have not survived) . The success rate was very successful when releasing them all together instead of one or a few at a time. Groups make a big difference. The chicks in Tambopata were never caged and always together and started fledging and would come back for feedings on their own while fledging. Years later all lived but one and have mates of their own and many are wild mates ..

        In Seram Indonesia, the birds at Kembali Bebas ( Indonesian for Return to Freedom ) Rehabilitation Center are cared for until perhaps someday a carefully selected few will meet the rigid criteria so that they can be released back into the rainforest once more. Others will be maintained in permanent Sanctuary in a natural forest setting to teach conservation to the local villagers and school children. Prior to the collaboration of Project Bird Watch, Yayasan Wallacea and the Officers of Manusela National Park on Seram, they used to confiscate poached birds and just release some of them directly, (but only birds that were not on CITES I) so it was mostly the small lorikeets which is called a “hard” release. Project Bird Watch does not support or suggest that hard release is a good idea for most species.

        According to Dr. Donald Brightsmith, a group release usually is more successful. At Kembali Bebas Rehabilitation Center all the birds are tested for occult transmissible diseases. Project Bird Watch insists that such tests results must be “clean” before any bird is released. To date no birds have been released.

        How I can remember those birds still at Kembali Bebas… their faces and stories haunt me every day. For example, a very scared (and young) Palm cockatoo who had been trapped and then put in a small cage which was placed in a boat next to the engine. Between the horrible noise and heat he was so frightened. We placed a palm leaf blind over a side of his enclosure for so he could have his corner for privacy and peace.

        And then there were the black capped lories who (when ready) might be returned to the area to which they are endemic (the West Papuan islands of Raja Ampat). …Oh what hysterical clowns they are, everyone fell in love with them …they are an absolute riot … rolling around on the floor of their enclosure with each other they are a hilarious! I also saw the most gorgeous Grand Eclectus I have ever seen endemic to Seram island at Kembali Bebas.

        I learned that rainforest birds on Seram do not ever naturally go on the ground (even drinking water in trees) and the ex – trappers told me only sick ones would go on the ground. Birds that come from Aru in arid dry areas are more grain/grass seed eaters and thus do go on the ground and are an exception to this. Palm cockatoos in the Northern tip of Australia are another exception.
        The birds at Pusat Penyelamatan Satwa (PPS)- Bali (the Wild Animal Rescue Center in Bali), are eventually taken to Kembali Bebas They are fed well with fresh papaya, “kenari nuts (the fruits of the Canarium indicum tree, which PBW now sells in the U.S. as ‘MoluccaNuts)’and other fruits in the AM and again in the early PM. The birds are fed a great deal of natural forest foods that are gathered every day by the staff. It was so heartwarming and fun sharing our knowledge of birds with the staff at the rehabilitation center. Once trappers themselves they understood many things about the birds, but didn’t really know that parrots needed lots of leaves from banana-, palm-, and ginger trees and safe tree branches to play and chew up to keep their intelligent minds busy.

        A factor to take into consideration is that a bird once captured and confined might begin picking it’s feathers…and said this strange behavior is mystifying to the local ex-trappers. We worked directly with the staff to put lots of things in the cages for the birds to play with and to chew in the enclosures to help keep these intelligent minds busy ( especially the poor new quarantined ones). We taught them how very smart birds are and that if they themselves were locked up in a jail they might start pulling their own hair out…..LOL!

        When visiting the canopy platform at Masihulan it was astounding. We were literally up in the clouds in the giant tall Masilhulan ironwood tree canopy (trees grow incredibly huge here.. !) …we saw Great bills and Grand Eclectus and lories flying by us. Such wonderful and great flyers they are.
        But nothing prepared me for when I finally saw my first wild Seram Cockatoo at last… is was a moment I will never forget. They have this unique flying pattern.. flap.. flap..glide,.

        While I was in tears watching the Seram cockatoo …. all of a sudden a two huge Blythes hornbills flew right over my head and the drumming sound from their huge wing beats was so loud it was incredible!

        Project Bird Watch (with partial funding from Seacology) built two medical clinics with non polluting solar powered generator systems for power and clean water, in 370 Hectare rainforest Heritage zone on Seram which will be available for future generations. And PBW soon will be distributing a coloring book with drawings of a Seram cockatoo “talking” and teaching to the children all about hygiene. Alas no one knows very much about hygiene and germs and I observed from the community spring a hanging drinking cup that everyone in the village shared.

        The people are wonderful…and the day before we were to leave the villages of Sawai, and Masihulan we gave farewell gifts for the l children. It was painfully obvious that only a few were teenagers….. so many just never make it past their very early years. Hopefully, this will change with the new clinics.

        Helping teach the people that animals are indeed sentient and intelligent beings ( a concept new and not fully understood before) was to me my greatest joy of all …and .. to see the “light go off “ in their heads ….was magic!

        Project Bird Watch is everything I thought it was and much more …. giving hope to indigenous peoples and providing an income they never before had , and so much more than smuggling birds ever would give…. if there is only one organization you want to help … think Project Bird Watch….think of the dirty smuggled confiscated birds found stuck in PVC pipes , some with broken wings , saved because of PBW .. now at Kembali Bebas … waiting for some time in the future when they might be freed and returned to their rainforest homes . They are the faces who forever haunt me….and why I will always be there to help PBW in their work to save them!

        PBW even has educated them so well that some of the guards at one of the Entry Gates to Manusela National Forest were wearing T-shirts they had made up all by themselves and the T-shirts had cockatoos on them that said in Indonesian ” Better in the wild”……and seeing those made our hearts sing!

  3. allison says:

    parrots/cockatoo’s adapt to diets that they see, even when the food supply will kill them, developers seek profit, cockatoo’s seek food shelter and breeding areas, observation of the cockatoo’s breeding areas, and food source, and shelter areas is very important, and a sound knowledge of the species will benefit both cockatoo and human, emotion will not benefit the fauna and fauna of a diverse habitat as a rain forest.

  4. Walt Frey says:

    I am delighted to see a regard for local people as well as animals. Limited arboriculture, spread out thinly over a large area of forest, should just increase the availability of fruit in season and habitat out of season.Data from the very effective conservation efforts of the Katala Foundation on Rasa Island, Palawan, Philippines showed that maintaining a small area of local Coconut plantations on the island helped the conservation of the Cockatoos by creating good will for the project and limiting expansion of the plantations.
    Keep up the good work. Looking forward to next years results .

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