Rescuing Endangered Wildlife in Bali by Dr Bayu Wirayudha
Live Encounters Magazine thanks Farquhar Stirling for his kind assistance.
Bayu is the founding director of Friends of the National Parks Foundation (fnpf.org), a Bali-based conservation organisation. FNPF was created in 1997, to work in the field of wildlife and habitat preservation, and restoration. FNPF is active in forest rehabilitation and restoration on Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, among other areas, and has established a highly-acclaimed bird sanctuary on the Balinese islands of Nusa Penida, to help bring the endangered Bali Starling back from the brink of extinction in the wild. Bayu has pioneered a successful holistic conservation philosophy emphasising partnering closely with local communities, in areas such as sustainable livelihoods, environmental education, children’s education, and protection of public land. His belief is that local communities are the best protectors of wildlife habitats, and this has been validated by many successful conservation projects. Bayu has worked closely with donor organisations such as Humane Society International (Australia), the Gibbon Foundation, Boeing Aerospace, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and AusAID. Among other awards and recognition, Bayu was awarded the prestigious “Art of Activism” award, in 2012, by the Rainforest Action Network, USA. In addition, Bayu has twice been nominated for Indonesia’s Kalpataru Award, which is the country’s highest recognition of environmental achievements. Bayu is also frequently invited to speak at international conservation and veterinarian conferences. Bayu is a doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
For information on volunteering, donating, or adopting one of our animals, please go to www.fnpf.org
FNPF (Friends of the National Parks Foundation) is a Bali-based non-profit organisation that works in conservation on the Indonesian island of Bali, and in Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. Most of FNPF’s conservation work is focussed on improving the wellbeing of local communities in ways that protect wildlife and habitat. By improving local community options for employment and income generation (through education, agro-forestry, eco-tourism, mixed and organic farming) FNPF reduce the need for communities to work in environmentally destructive sectors such as illegal logging and mining, slash and burn farming, and palm oil cultivation. By helping, and educating local communities, FNPF win their respect, support and participation for conservation objectives.
The work of FNPF is inspired by the ancient Balinese philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world, and nature. These three elements can allow us to achieve a sense of well-being, in ourselves and in the natural world. An example of Tri Hita
Karana is the ancient and vital “subak” cooperative water management system in the Balinese rice fields, which shares irrigation water in an efficient and fair way. This philosophy was born of the cultural exchange between Bali and India over the past 2,000 years and has shaped the landscape of Bali.
The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the Indonesian archipelago, despite the challenges of supporting a dense population.
Unlike many conservation NGO’s, FNPF has, since its founding, believed that working closely with communities is the key to sustainable conservation of endangered species and habitats. The major part of FNPF’s conservation work has been in habitat restoration such as reforestation in Kalimantan, Borneo, and species re-introduction such as the conservation of the very rare Bali Starling on the Nusa Penida islands off Bali’s coast. This has involved close cooperation with local communities, including schools and volunteers.
Several years ago, Dr Bayu Wirayudha, FNPF’s founder, was offered the opportunity to manage a wildlife rescue center to take care of endangered wildlife that had been confiscated from people keeping them illegally, or had been found injured or ill, and to eventually rehabilitate the animals, and if possible, return them to the wild.
In this article, FNPF Founder and Director, veterinarian Dr Bayu Wirayudha, who has dedicated his life to conserving Indonesian wildlife, describes the work of FNPF in the Bali Wildlife Rescue Center in Tabanan, Bali.
Tri Hita Karana
The philosophy of Tri Hita Karana fits perfectly with the conservation philosophy of FNPF (Friends of the National Parks Foundation). In our work we have always believed that the key to successful wildlife conservation is in communities and wildlife habitats working together, within the spiritual framework of Balinese culture.
So, in 2011, when the Humane Society International of Australia (HIS Australia) asked me to consider managing and operating a wildlife rescue centre in Tabanan, Bali, we were more than happy to accept, despite the challenging nature of the task. I should add that HSI Australia continue to support the centre financially, for which we are very grateful.
Wildlife rehabilitation remains essential to our mission, as FNPF was originally founded to rehabilitate and release orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park, in south-central Borneo. While our work has moved on from this original mission, animal rehabilitation and care remains absolutely central to our organization.
At the Bali Wildlife Rescue Center in Tabanan, we care for animals, almost all of which are endangered species or the victims of trafficking (many are both). Our goal is to eventually release them into the Besikalung Wildlife Sanctuary, or other suitable habitat.
While one of our goals is the conservation of rare Indonesian wildlife, the other major goal is to inform and educate the Indonesian public about their own wonderful but fragile, natural heritage.
Wildlife protection is critical in the developing nation of Indonesia. Rapid industrialization threatens the wellbeing of wildlife across the country, especially through the continued degradation of animal habitats in favor of palm oil plantations, industrial and housing complexes, and other urban development. In the face of these challenges, we must continue our work to ensure that Indonesia’s biodiversity and endangered species are preserved.
External threats, such as illegal logging and the slash-and-burn conversion of land for palm oil plantations, continue to threaten the habitat of wildlife, and the livelihood of local communities. Palm oil plantations are powerful organizations who have shown repeated disregard for zoning and property laws. This is why our reforestation and wildlife rehabilitation work is so important.
Bali Wildlife Rescue Center
At the Bali Wildlife Rescue Center, one of just seven animal rehabilitation centers in Indonesia, we believe our mission is to provide support for native endangered wildlife, and also, importantly, to educate the public on the importance of conserving native wildlife. Our work entails caring for, rehabilitating and when possible, releasing animals back into their native habitats.
Most animals at the center are the victims of illegal trading and poaching and many are brought to us by the government-run Bali Biodiversity Conservation Unit. Sadly, some animals are too old or too injured for rehabilitation and must remain at BWRC for the rest of their lives. A case in point being two pig-tailed macaques who have lived in cages for so long that they are now mentally disturbed, and unsuitable for release.
The list of animals and birds that we have cared for reads like a veritable Noah’s Ark of species. We have looked after many cockatoos of different species, parrots, a cassowary, many raptors, including sea eagles, black eagles, brahminy kites, a crested serpent-eagle, a hawk eagle, buzzards, owls, hornbills, peacocks, black-winged starlings, and so on. In terms of animals, we have looked after a pangolin, monkeys, including leaf monkeys and pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques, gibbons, slow loris, a porcupine, crocodiles, and so on.
As you might imagine, the food bill for all of these “guests” is substantial, more than US $2,500 per month, at the last count. This is why we are considering an animal-adoption scheme, to help provide funds for our residents.
One of our most challenging animal adoptions was the case of several very large salt-water crocodiles, which had originally been destined for a crocodile-skin farm in Bali. The owner could not obtain the appropriate permits for this potential business, so we were asked to look after them. We agreed, despite the problems associated with caring for very large, and very dangerous reptiles. We built a large enclosure complete with pools for the crocs to cool down in. Food is also an issue, as they require meat and chicken on a weekly basis.
They can also be quite difficult, and less than grateful, to treat when sick, as our vet, Dr. Rini, found out when she was bitten by one of those monsters! Luckily, she recovered quickly, although she still has the scars to prove it!
It is not an easy thing to release animals back into the wild in Indonesia. Bureaucratic oversight is strict, and permits must be obtained. This is in addition to finding an appropriate habitat for the animals, which must be one where they are to be found in their natural state. After release, animals are carefully monitored by our staff, and local people, to safeguard their adjustment.
Most of the animals arrive in reasonably healthy condition, although there are some exceptions that require extra care. For example, cockatoos, parrots, and other birds can be very tame, which makes release into the wild problematic. Other birds pluck their feathers, indicating anxiety, and possible abuse. We have also had birds with broken legs from being chained, and broken wings from accidents. I recall a beautiful wreathed hornbill which was extremely young and had to be hand-fed by our staff and volunteers, until it was old enough to feed itself.
We don’t know the stories behind every animal that we get at the center. All we know is that some of the animals were kept in cages as pets while others were destined to be sold internationally, or in the animal markets that are all too common in Indonesia’s cities.
One bird species that we feel fortunate to receive is the black-winged starling which is difficult to find now in the wild, and is very expensive on the black market, because of its reputation for having a beautiful song. Changes in agricultural practices have impacted this bird’s wild populations very badly. I’m glad to say that we have released several birds of this species into the Besikalung wildlife refuge, and they are doing well, and forming the basis of a local, wild, population.
Our highly-skilled animal specialist staff, including a full-time vet, are extremely effective in their work and treat all animals with compassion.
For all animals under our care, our staff members’ daily activities include cleaning animal cages, and spraying the cages with disinfectant, feeding the animals, devising life-enrichment activities for the animals, repairing and maintaining enclosures, seeking grass and vegetation as extra food for monkey and gibbons, learning English from volunteers, releasing animals, monitoring animals post-release, educating school children about wildlife, gardening and planting, and collecting material for newsletters and social-media.
In addition to these tasks, our veterinarians routinely provide check-ups for all animals, delivering multivitamins and administering medical treatment for those that are sick.
Return to the wild
While we guarantee an animal’s security and habitat compatibility within the centre, we do constantly look for opportunities to release our rehabilitated animals. The process of preparing animals to return to the wild is an interesting and specialized one. Two important aspects are the ability of animals to find their own food, sometimes after a life-time of captivity, and teaching animals to be wary of humans (unfortunately).
In the first case, we provide food in ways that duplicate the wild situation, which sometimes means providing appropriate prey, for raptors like eagles, for example, and making food harder to find in the animal’s enclosure. In the second case we try to discourage animals from becoming too dependent on human company, by minimizing contact and touching.
When animals are healthy and we have identified an appropriate and protected release site, we hold a ceremony, with a Hindu priest, to return them to the wild.
Typically, this occurs in one of the wildlife sanctuaries throughout Indonesia that are protected from poachers. For example, we released four green peacocks in Baluran National Park, East Java in 2017. We are also now developing our own wildlife refuge in Besikalung, adjacent to the West Bali National Park, and it is our intention to release rehabilitated animals there, if appropriate.
The safety and wellbeing of wildlife post-release relies on the support of the local community, who are the ones who will decide whether or not to make the effort to conserve their environment. This is why it is so important that we only release animals in areas where the local community is committed to protecting wildlife from poachers and other threats. After release, we engage the local community in monitoring the progress of the released animals.
This activity also helps in ensuring local community agreement to having endangered wildlife in their area. I have seen many examples of local people who have become enthusiastic amateur “naturalists” after participating in one of our releases.
The Bali Wildlife Rescue Center also serves as a community center for animal education
in Tabanan. We regularly host visiting groups from schools and colleges. Our staff regularly teach English to young visitors from area schools, as well as visiting and educating children about wildlife at their schools. School visits include a tour of the center, and lessons in animal conservation and rehabilitation. Schoolchildren are also encouraged to create simple enrichment activities for the animals.
Our volunteer program provides a unique experience for students and other people passionate about wildlife to gain experience in animal care and conservation. No veterinary or biology experience is required, though volunteers with specialist skills, whether in animal-related or other fields, are a tremendous help to us. Our center can only host a maximum of three volunteers at a time, but over the years, we have hosted volunteers from across the world, including several countries in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and China.
Volunteers help with cleaning cages, preparing food, feeding the animals and running enrichment activities for them. During their stay, they also teach English to our staff , and help with the visits of school-children and other visitors. Volunteers with background in animal healthcare give us suggestions on improving animal conditions during rehabilitation.
Most volunteers stay between one to two weeks; during the week-ends, we arrange for them to explore Bali. We encourage them not just to visit the common tourist destinations, but to also experience real Balinese life in the villages and family compounds.
We also host students from Indonesia and the US who are studying veterinary science. They have the opportunity to learn about conservation and animal care, but also more hands-on experience such as treating sick animals, and conducting post-mortems on animals that have died.
Besikalung Wildlife Sanctuary
Besikalung Wildlife Sanctuary is one of FNPF’s newest projects, and is a very special place. At Besikalung we have created a forest wildlife sanctuary on the slopes of Mount Batukaru in central Bali, on the edges of the West Bali National Park. The sanctuary covers an area of five kilometers in radius from the sacred and important Besikalung Temple , taking in parts of Bali’s largest remaining forest, and is home to leaf monkeys, macaques, and numerous bird species. This is a beautiful location and easy to get to from other oarts of Bali. It is our hope that this project will benefit the local community by creating income opportunities that are both environmentally friendly and sustainable.
The community at Besikalung asked FNPF to develop and run the sanctuary following the success of FNPF’s Bali Bird Sanctuary, on the island of Nusa Penida. The committee that runs Besikalung Temple, and five villages and nine farmers’ groups who live and work in the area, have introduced traditional regulations which give protection to wildlife within the sanctuary.
Since the sanctuary was created in early 2011 we have released white vented mynahs and peaceful doves into the forest under the protection of the local community. The success of this initiative is obvious, as it is now possible to see many of these birds, formerly almost extinct in this area, around the temple forest.
© Dr Bayu Wirayudha