Indonesia foresters hope Garuda poachers turn gamekeepers

Indonesia foresters hope Garuda poachers turn gamekeepers

BANYUMAS, Indonesia — When community foresters ascended one of Java’s most sacred mountains to survey the symbolic Javan hawk-eagle, partnering up with poachers appeared to kill two birds with one stone.

“The bird hunters know the locations — and hopefully in this way they will have awareness,” said Sisworo, who heads the community forestry agency in Karangsalam village, Central Java province.

In early August, residents armed with binoculars began the hike uphill to begin mapping the local biodiversity in areas around Mount Slamet, a volcano that was a prominent holy site during the Mataram Kingdom a thousand years ago.

Midway through the expedition, a group chanced upon one of the birds flying over the volcanic slopes — a sight that’s becoming increasingly rare, local officials said.

“We were very pleased,” said Daryono, chair of the community forestry office in Kemutug Dor village. “The Javan hawk-eagle is currently in the endangered category.”

Javan hawk-eagles (Nisaetus bartelsi) are top predators that typically grow to around 60 centimeters (24 inches) in length. The hawk-eagle is commonly known here as a Garuda, reflecting its likeness with the mythical Buddhist-Hindu bird that’s the country’s national emblem. The hawk-eagle is also Indonesia’s national bird.

It’s found only in Java, the world’s most populous island. Only 300-500 mature individuals remain, according to the most recent assessment, published in late 2016, by the IUCN, the global wildlife conservation authority.

Researchers say the bird’s endangered status reflected natural as well as human changes to forested land on Java, from logging to volcanic eruptions.

Sisworo said other endemic birds, such as the bright-green white-eyes (Zosterops spp.), were also becoming increasingly difficult to spot.

“Back then there were still so many, but it’s hard to come by them now,” he said.

The Indonesian government created village-level community forestry offices — led here by Daryono and Sisworo — as a local platform to marshal community management of local forestry resources. The office’s framework is grounded in three approaches — ecology, economy, and social factors — which in this case informed the decision to bring bird hunters into the conservation effort.

“If you only talk about conservation without strengthening the economy, it will obviously be difficult,” Daryono said. “When we talk about the economy without considering ecology, there will be damage.

“Therefore these three pillars need to be balanced,” he said.

The August biodiversity survey on Mount Slamet will contribute toward an action plan for community management of 27 hectares (67 acres) of forest here under Indonesia’s social forestry scheme. The program, administered by the national government, aims to return around 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of the national forest estate to communities to manage.

Burung Indonesia, the local affiliate of conservation NGO BirdLife International, previously found eight species of endangered birds around Mount Slamet and two nearby volcanoes, Kencana and Masigit.

Officials say they hope the latest fieldwork is the start of a local protection framework to prevent further decline in the birds’ tropical forest habitat.

Local regulations enacted in 2009 and 2018 have reduced illegal logging by as much as 90%, helping to alleviate pressure on the bird’s habitat, according to Sisworo.

But officials noted that some residents who had previously relied on cutting trees for a living have switched to hunting valuable birds, an activity governed by fewer protections.

“We know that they hunt birds to meet their daily needs,” Sisoworo said.

Bringing local hunters under the community forestry office’s wing was also a pragmatic move, officials said.

“Those possessing good knowledge are usually those who frequently hunt birds,” said Adi Widyanto, conservation lead at Burung Indonesia

Local officials say they hope collaboration with bird hunters raises the chances of buy-in from the local community on the issue of conservation, boosting prospects for a more sustainable economy.

“We can’t completely blame them for looking for birds, because it’s about economic demand,” Adi said, adding that bird hunters should be supported to become entrepreneurs in the bird-watching tourism market.

“They will become the guides later on,” Adi said.

This article by L. Darmawan was first published by on 11 October 2022. Lead Image: Javan hawk-eagles (Nisaetus bartelsi) are top predators that typically grow to around 60 centimeters (24 inches) in length. Image by Eko Prastyo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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