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Planet Indonesia’s integrated approach has been successful at tackling some of the biggest regional conservation challenges. Read more about their methodology in the article they’ve kindly penned for us below.

Check out their website to find out more about their songbird trade work!

Article by Planet Indonesia

“A real man has a wife, a horse, a house, a dagger and a songbird.”

A Javanese saying that highlights the cultural value of songbirds in Indonesia, where they’re used in competitions and as a mark of status.

Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus © Chiok Wen Xuan

Protecting Songbird in their natural habitats

Despite high rates of deforestation, Kalimantan (Indonesian- Borneo) still retains some of the largest intact forest landscapes in Southeast Asia today. While what remains of these forests is still rich with wildlife, the threat of poaching is equally rife, with hundreds of thousands of songbirds caught for trade each year.

We target the issue from the root of the problem by working with rural communities who live in tandem with protected areas and biodiverse ecosystems.

Our model at Planet Indonesia recognises the cultural and financial pressures that lead people into the trade; participation in the illegal wildlife trade is often catalysed by socio-economic inequalities in rural communities.

Integrated community-based conservation (CBC) and poverty reduction schemes have been criticized for failing to achieve measurable outcomes towards improving conservation or human well-being. Despite this, there have been widespread calls for community-based interventions to combat the illegal wildlife trade, though details on their use and overall effectiveness remain limited.

We have applied new innovations and employed lessons learned from other sectors and applied them to create new solutions to combat the songbird trade in Indonesia.

For example, the Population-Health-Environment (PHE) model is an integrated human health and conservation approach that has been proven effective at restoring fisheries and conserving mangrove forests while improving community health. Planet Indonesia has had success with an integrated PHE approach to provide financial and non-financial benefits to communities engaging in conservation.

We create Conservation Cooperatives (CCs) – community-led organizations that engage in the management of protected areas and at-risk ecosystems. These CCs are platforms from which we administer services to communities through three sectors: business, education, and health.

Our award winning approach has reduced the loss of primary forest by 56% (WRI 2018) in just two years, while reaching over 2,500 individuals, protecting over 40,000 ha of rainforest, and creating a revolving fund to support communities valued at over US$30,000.

This model provides financial and non-financial services to offset the short-term opportunity costs of conservation, improve local well-being, and create a self-sustaining community governance structure to ensure long-lasting change.

The provision of such services and training systems helps empowers local communities to move away from illegal and unsustainable industries and invest in sustainable livelihoods.

Every village we work with establishes a CC and every CC runs community-based patrols using the Spatial, Monitoring, and Reporting (SMART) tool. Each patrol consists of three local community members, a government park ranger, and a Planet Indonesia staff member.

This not only gives them alternative work that incentivises moving away from the illegal wildlife trade but also gives them ownership over their natural resources. These patrols have been shown to deter poachers in the area. Currently, these patrols are covering approximately 45,000 ha of rainforest and 7,000 ha of mangrove forests in West Kalimantan.

Middlemen and Traders: Breaking down the supply chain

Planet Indonesia also utilizes two approaches to address songbird trade among open wildlife markets, middlemen, and online traders.

We help law enforcement agencies by monitoring online and offline trade. This means we monitor Facebook and WhatsApp groups as well as visit actual markets in the area. This information is used through on-the-job capacity development with local law enforcement officers. To date over 50 individuals have been trained and 28 bird markets in West Kalimantan have been shut down.

We have conducted annual market monitoring since 2015. Data shows the trade peaked in 2017 with 118 markets selling over 7000 individuals from over 100 species. The same year we began working with law enforcement agencies, conducting outreach events, and in 2018 just 95 markets were open with 4,000 individuals traded.

To engage the Judiciary system, we work with judges and state prosecutors to increase prosecution rates such as jail time and fines to better fit the crime.

Our advocacy oversaw the first songbird case ever to be processed that was not a surrender in 2018 and the prosecution rate was 500% higher than the average rate for all cases between 2013-2016.

Middlemen and Traders: Moving Beyond Traditional Law Enforcement

A major obstacle to the trade is that the majority of songbirds are not protected under Indonesian law. This means that while law enforcement can be a powerful tool but it cannot be used in all instances.

In 2018 we conducted a survey of the 95 open markets to better understand the socio-economic dynamics and motivations of bird market owners in the region (Miller et. al. in prep). The majority of shop owners (62%) noted that they first entered the trade because of their interest in songbirds as a hobby, not for economic reasons, which supports the finding that nearly half (40%) of respondents also noted that it was not their only source of income.

Interestingly, 16% said their business was losing money and 54% of all shops noted that they would be open to changing businesses because it was no longer lucrative and too risky. Nearly all (90%) of the shops wishing to change businesses indicated they wanted to leave the pet trade all together, while seven shops (10%) wanted to sell domestic animals and songbird accessories such as cages and food.

These findings help us inform our strategies to combat the caged-bird trade by realizing an opportunity for an alternative business program that targets shop owners.

Of these the 95 shops operating, 19 shop owners’ have been identified as candidates, and are interested in surrendering all their birds and joining our alternative business program. This is done in tandem with the Department of Natural Resources who provides a letter stating that if the shop owners attempt to start selling wildlife again, they will be arrested.

© Planet Indonesia

Reducing Demand: Behavior Change Opportunities for Buyers

When looking at the national trade in Songbirds there is no doubt that Kalimantan sits on the supply side of the trade. The islands large forested landscapes, although in decline, represent some of the last intact ecosystems within Sundaland. Therefore, our interventions have focused on the first two links of the supply chain: trappers, and middlemen. Nonetheless, there is still local demand as indicated by our previous market surveys (see Rentschlar et. al. 2017).

In 2017 we kicked off our interventions with a workshop where all participants were hobbyists, traders, and trappers. Over 50 participants gathered for a three day workshop where we discussed solutions to the trade. Overall the participants found this extremely helpful (98% extremely satisfied in post-workshop survey), and requested we replicate this workshop in 9 districts.

From there we conducted mini-workshops in 9 different districts with approximately 1000 hobbyists and traders. These workshops were to foster collaboration, explain the risks of songbird trading, and encourage individuals to move towards trading domestics (canaries, lovebirds, cockatiels) and away from wild caught birds.

Over the next two years we are in  discussions with partners at BirdLife and the Wildlife Conservation Society about the possibility of a joint behavioral change campaign, but have yet to finalize the plans.

For now, we have a few simple goals. Shut down all open songbird markets, and stop the trapping of songbirds at priority protected areas.

Cross-cutting: Responding to the Confiscations

As law enforcement improves, markets shut down, and inter-island shipments are stopped, the whereabouts of songbirds already in the trade remains poorly known.

Finally, earlier this year we began the final piece of our holistic approach puzzle with our Songbirds Rescue Centre (Pusat Penyelamatan Burung Berkicau, or  P2B2) project.

Like we mentioned earlier, we have been conducting annual songbird shop surveys since 2015, in an attempt to understand the size of the trade, the species being traded and the health status of these birds.

It was painfully obvious from the beginning that when bird-shop keepers move into other business ventures, there would be hundreds and perhaps thousands of birds that would need care.

Therefore the collection of this information has always meant to support the first-of-its-kind songbird rehabilitation center.

We will receive songbirds from surrenders and confiscations from the Indonesian Forestry Department. The center will quarantine and rehabilitate the songbirds with the intent to release them into their natural habitat or place them in sanctuaries.

We’ve only just begun the planning and building of the center and we’ve been working on it for a while now, but we‘re excited to see it finally come to fruition.

© Planet Indonesia

A final word: Remaining Adaptive and Open to Learning

An ongoing issue requires an ongoing solution. Human beings are a part of the ecosystem, and we always will be. If we want any hope for the environment we need to focus on a management system that promotes sustainable coexistence of humans and nature. For a future like that, change needs to come from every level of society, but especially from the grassroots.

We believe in empowering when it is time to empower, but also fighting when it is time to fight. Our approach works to reduce trade among multiple links among the supply chain. In some cases, we leverage law enforcement and judicial processes to combat corrupt individuals who have been warned but continue to trade protected species. In other cases, we recognize the complicated interaction between socio-economic inequalities, rural poverty, and the in-site exploitation of biodiversity. Together with our community, government, and non-profit partners, the songbird trade in West Kalimantan is on the decline. We still have a long way to go, but we do believe hope is now on the horizon.

Featured image Nias Hill Myna Gracula robusta © Gwee Chyiyin

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