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Field Studies and Aviculture
Jan Roger van Oosten
About five years ago I was able to begin a program of visiting countries in order to find out more about the wild lives of the birds I maintained. Because my main interest lay in fig parrots and lories I decided to visit the nations of the South Pacific. So far I have visited Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. Seeing some of these beautiful birds in the wild made me even more aware that something had to be done in these various countries to ensure future generations would be able see these birds in their native habitat.
After my first year I decided to direct my efforts towards the Solomon Islands because they still have a great deal of forest left. I was also amazed to find that there were no people in the Solomons that knew much about their birds let alone their flora and fauna. The next step was to check with people in the conservation area to see what would be needed. From that I began to formulate a plan of 6 proposals which could be implemented over a ten year period. These proposals were finally approved by the Solomon Islands Government in April 1995. I must admit however that it took a change in the government to have this accomplished. In fact it was even more interesting to note that during the three year period of visiting Ministries, Ministers, and other people, the only non-profit organization was not interested in my proposals and now they are a little upset that the proposals have been approved. At any rate, now that all the ground work has been done we officially start next year with the field work. The proposals consist of the following:
1. Selection and approval of a National Bird.
This will be completed before the end of the year. The government has set up a Committee to make the selection based on a set of criteria which I drew up for them. In addition, I presented them a list of ten species which met the criteria and which would make an excellent choice for the National Bird. Once the selection has been completed the Avian Ark Foundation (AAF) will commission a painting of the birds which will be presented to the Prime Minister in April 1997. The painting will be hung in the National Parliament. A limited edition print series will be made of the painting and these will be given to each Ministry of the government with the balance being held and given out for meritorious service dealing with our projects.
With this project in place we will then be in a position to begin a national eduction program which will be very similar to Paul Butler's "Pride through Conservation" program. Over the next few years we will assist each of the nine provinces in selecting a Provincial Bird, the price we had to pay for getting approval of the National Bird.
2. The setting up of cottage industries for small villages and extended families which own large parcels of land.
It is important to note that all the property is owned by people/families in the Solomon Islands. The government owns less than 3% of the country. Hence, although the government is actively supporting our projects it is through the villages/families that we will be able to save the major portion of the primary forests of the Solomon Islands. Over the last four years we have met with many families and villages and they are very interested in working on many of the programs as they want to save their forests IF they can earn income by utilizing renewable forest resources.
The project will include the following programs:
1. Walk About Saw Mills
2. Butterfly Farming and Beetle Collecting
3. Orchid Propagation
4. Orchid Cut Flower Trade
5. Other Cut Flower Trade
6. Captive Bird Breeding (mainly parrot species)
7. Fruit Tree Cultivation for Fruit Export
8. Others yet to be determined
Funds from these programs will allow the villages to build and maintain clinics and schools. For the families it will supply them the seed money for other businesses and small eco-tourism projects, several of which are already on the drawing board.
3. Surveying areas for proposed National Parks and Reserves.
This project has been expanded to survey all the major islands as well as the majority of the smaller islands in the Solomons. We begin next year with surveying an area in western Guadalcanal which will become a recreation area and a water catchment basin. The following year we will begin at the southern end of Choiseul and do the entire island which has never been completely surveyed. It is also possible that we might find a small pocket of the Choiseul Pigeon which has not been seen in 50 some years and is believed to be extinct. It is anticipated the surveys will take about ten years to complete.
On this project we have been joined by the School of Natural Resources of the Solomon Islands College of Higher Education. They will be our prime sponsors and will actively work with us in the field. We will be training their students as well as their lecturers. In addition the School will begin a program which will include biology, zoology and conservation, subjects previously not included in the curriculum. We will guest lecture at the School as well. In addition we will be actively seeking a university either in the United States or in Canada which would like to join this program whereby some of their students can participate in the field work over the next ten years.
Also we will be collecting specimens for the National Museum which up until last year had no specimens of any of their birds, animals, reptiles or insects. We will establish a small working collection. Last year Price Webb and Mary LeCory (American Museum of Natural History) collected some specimens to start the National Museum's collection on its way. Price Webb is presently authoring the first field guide of the birds of the Solomon Islands. This will be a great asset for birders who visit the island as well as for the Solomon Islanders themselves.
4. Life History studies of the six lory species found in the Solomon Islands.
This program will go hand in hand with Project #3 and will also involve more detailed studies with these parrots during the ten year period. We hope that students from the School of Natural Resources will, as soon as they are trained, do the bulk of the work for these studies.
5. Captive breeding of various parrot species outside the Solomon Islands.
This project is designed for aviculturists who will be breeding wild caught parrots from the Solomon Islands. Through a special program we have set up a fund whereby the monies from the sale of half the young reared (over multiple generations) will be returned to the Solomon Islands to be used on various conservation projects. These projects will be developed over the life of the overall program and the funds will go to the Solomon Islands Parrot Consortium, an independent body that will select the projects and disburse the funds. Three Americans will be on the Board along with three Solomon Islanders and the representative in the Solomons of the International Loriinae Society (ILS) and AAF.
This will be the first program of this kind where birds from one country will be bred in another country and the funds from half the offspring reared will be returned to the country of origin.
6. Avian display in the National Botanical Gardens.
This project has been expanded to include the upgrading of the Botanical Gardens to international standards coupled with a small zoo featuring native fauna. This will be a long term project and we are looking for a strong Garden Club to take this project on.
All funding for these projects has so far come from the ILS and AAF. However both organizations are looking for additional funds from both individuals and granting foundations. These projects are exciting because they are assisting a country which, since the second world war has been lost in the progress of the rush of modern society. If they are to retain the largest part of their forests the Solomon Islands will need all the assistance that they obtain because they do not have the funds at this point in time to carry out programs like this.
We also made a proposal to the Solomon Islands Postal Authority to issue a set of stamps featuring the 6 species of lories endemic to the Solomon islands. They thought the idea was excellent, and on April 11th, 1996 they issued such a series. In addition, they issued a limited edition print series of each of the stamps which are numbered and signed by the artist. 150 sets each were issued in English, French and Japanese. ILS has made an offer to the Solomon Islands Postal Authority to purchase the original paintings to auction them off with the monies going to the Solomon Islands Parrot Consortium (SIPC). In addition we have requested a special price on 100 of the limited edition print series for sale to lory breeders, again, with the funds going to SIPC.
Because of the success of this project the Solomon Islands Postal Authority (SIPA) has asked us to suggest a definitive stamp series of 36 stamps to be issued over a four year period featuring other bird species of the Solomon Islands. This we are presently doing with the assistance of Price Webb. The SIPA has further asked us that as we proceed with the surveys to keep them informed and to make suggestions as to stamps that could be issued.
In Fiji we are still working on a program similar to #5 above. We presently have a sponsor and like most countries in the Pacific it will take time to have it approved. The government is interested and most likely will approve a similar program.
The government of Papua New Guinea does not allow the exportation of their wild-caught flora or fauna except to zoos and botanical gardens and only with special permits. I have held discussions with the government as well as three recognized conservation organizations concerning the implementation of a similar program. Although the government has not as yet formally approved the idea they have taken the matter under serious consideration. ILS/AAF will, prior to the end of 1996, sign Memorandums of Agreement with the three conservation organizations to set up test captive breeding facilities. Each test facility will consist of eight individual suspended breeding cages to test the captive breeding of various parrot species. The young reared as part of the test will be sold under the same terms as between the ILS/AAF and the Solomon Islands. If all goes well we should be receiving some captive bred parrot species within three years.
In addition, ILS assisted in providing some funds toward the University of York Talaud-Sangihe Expedition both last year and this year. These islands are located half-way between the northern end of the Celebes and the southern Philippine island of Mindenao. It is the home of the Red & Blue Lory species. It was felt that the nominate race Eos histrio histrio found on Sangihe was extinct. But last year 1 flock of six lories of this species was seen. This year I will be going back to Sangihe to see if we can observe and find more specimens of this species and where their habitat is. In the Talauds last year we were able to observe the sub-species E. h. talautensis. This species we found was still being trapped for the domestic pet trade. We also discovered a type of fruit eaten by the lory, found an active nest hole, and were able to estimate a higher population than had previously been reported. We were unable to visit the Nenusa Islands to check if the sub-species E. h. challengeri was still present. Maybe this year we will have the opportunity to do so. Last year we were told by some Nenusa Islanders, with whom we had caught a boat ride, that there were no Red & Blue Lories on the islands. This will have to be confirmed one way of the other, hopefully this year.
Jim Murphy from the AMAZONA Society joined me last year on the trip and this year Désirée Wyant joined the group as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist to see if GIS would be of assistance in field surveys.
All of the above has been accomplished by working with the governments and the people of the various countries to offer some means for them to raise funds for their needs by utilizing creative ideas. Needless to say, education will play a big part in all of the programs. We feel that through a program such as outlined above, aviculturists can and will play a serious part in assisting to conserve these birds in the wild while at the same time obtaining birds to maintain in captivity. We hope that many of you will become part of these exciting programs in the next few years and join the ILS/AAF in making conservation work in new and exciting ways.
Jan Roger van Oosten
The author has been involved with birds since the age of nine. He began with pigeons, then went on to lovebirds, finches, Australian parakeets and cockatoos, doves, quail, pheasants, and finally into "softbills". He has reared honey-creepers, tanagers, white-eyes, chats, touracos, jays, hummingbirds, and others. He moved on to parrots in the early 80's and specializes now in lories and fig parrots. He has achieved three AFA first breeding awards. He co-founded the AMAZONA society over ten years ago with James Murphy and co-founded the International LORIINAE Society with Joe and Margie Longo and Fred Bauer. He served as editor for the Amazona Bulletin and the Loriinae bulletin for many years. At the present time he is Conservation Chairman for the International LORIINAE Society and Chairman of Special Projects for the AMAZONA Society. The ILS has collected over US$12,000 which has been used to assist a number of projects dealing with lories. In addition he founded and is President of the Avian Ark Foundation which receives funds from a number of projects such as limited edition print series and grants from other foundations to be used, with no administrative charges, on avian projects such as field work, research, and conservation programs dealing with all avian species, especially in the Pacific area. He is currently leading field teams to survey the bird life in the Solomon Islands and to set up test breeding facilities in Papua New Guinea.
If anyone is interested in participating in the various projects in the Solomon Islands, please contact:
Jan Roger van Oosten
8023 17th N.E.
Seattle, WA 98115-4419
Phone/FAX: (206) 527-3592 -- FAX anytime -- phone after 7:00PM Pacific Standard (Daylight) Time.