A refuge for Polly

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 07 Nov 2009

Maluku’s Kembali Bebas Avian Centre is alive with native parrots, cockatoos, cassowaries and even little kangaroos.

I could hear the birds chattering and squawking as soon as I stepped out of the car. There was a welcome banner strung over the entrance path, which said: Welcome to The Kembali Bebas Avian Centre.

Mosquitoes started biting me as soon as I walked through the trees, so I had to stop and apply repellent as there were just too many to ignore.

I found my friends waiting for me at the building, and was invited to sit on a bench and have some sweet tea whilst tour guide Ceisar Riupassa explained about the centre. As he talked, the birds hooted their agreement in the background.

The Kembali Bebas (Return to Freedom) Avian Centre is a sanctuary for parrots. The centre, which was set up in Oct 2004, is near Kampung Masihulan, in north Seram, in Maluku, Indonesia. Seram is the largest island in Maluku province, which is part of Maluku, also known as The Moluccas.

The birds are cared for by Yayasan Wallacea (Wallacea Foundation) and Project Bird Watch. These groups come under the Indonesian Parrot Project, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of wild Indonesian parrots and cockatoos, and to protect these endangered birds, while providing a sustainable alternative means of income for local villagers in order to reduce trapping.

This centre rescues parrots (and some other birds) from hunters and the middle men, and also takes in pet birds. Indonesia has some spectacular birds including parrots, cockatoos and Birds of Paradise. However their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat and birds being trapped for the pet trade. Local people turn to trapping to provide an income to support their families.

The main building operates as a clinic, store and house for the workers. The man in charge is Ceisar Riupassa (head of the Wallacea Foundation), and there are eight staffers working at the centre. The centre is slowly building up equipment such as books, binoculars, telescope etc, as well as the equipment needed for the tree platforms. The place is well maintained and clean.

To enter the area of cages, everyone has to step through a disinfectant footbath and wear face masks, due to the threat of avian flu. There are three areas of cages. The first are the small cages containing the new arrivals. These birds are quarantined and monitored until they are declared fit. They are then moved to the much bigger aviaries which are some distance away. Here, they undergo rehabilitation and preparation for release into the wild. They have to be fed suitable foods so that they can fend for themselves once released.

We were warned not to reply to any birds that tried to talk to us as they have to lose their familiarity with humans. It was quite hard to resist when a bird was peering through the bars and chirping to me.

These cages are large enough for the birds to fly around and they all looked well cared for. A board is hung on each cage giving details about the occupants.

I saw different types of lories, such as Rainbow, Moluccan, Purple Nape, Red and Chattering; cockatoos and eclectus parrots. The eclectus are unusual in that the female is red and the male is green. There was even a Blyth Hornbill from Irian Jaya.

I walked to the next cage and did a double-take when I saw a young cassowary. I thought these birds were from Australia, but as Maluku is east of the Wallace Line, the fauna generally belongs to Australasia and not Asia.

The Wallace Line is the imaginary line which separates Borneo from Sulawesi, and Bali from Lombok, drawn by Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859. Wallace believed that the islands to the west of the line were once part of Asia, whereas those to the east had been linked to the Pacific-Australian continent. This was later proved by geologists. As a result, the fauna is noticeably different on either side of the line.

The centre borders the Manusela National Park. Operation Raleigh had an expedition to the park in 1987 and did surveys on the fauna, especially the birds. There are known to be 117 species of birds, of which 14 are endemic. These include the eclectus parrot, purple-naped lory, salmon-crested cockatoo, and the Moluccan king parrot.

I was then even more surprised to see two kangaroos. They come from the Aru Islands, a group of about 95 low-lying islands in the eastern part of Maluku. These are much smaller than the large roos that bounce across parts of Australia. They were very timid and ran to the back of their cage.

In March 2006, the centre released three endangered Salmon Crested (Seram) cockatoos back into the very forest where they had been trapped 18 months previously. They had been confiscated from smugglers. The decision to release the birds was endorsed by the World Conservation Union and CITES. Many locals from Masihulan came to witness the release as it was a major event for the island.

Next was the fun part of the trip, a climb up to a tree platform. The centre has four tree platforms, from 22m to 45m. I had an easy ride up. I stepped into a harness and was pulled up on a rope and pulley system. The locals, however, climb up metal rungs in the tree trunk.

The platform is situated just at canopy level and provides a bird’s eye view over the surrounding forest and open areas. It’s a great place for bird-watching. Whilst we were there, we were served afternoon tea. It was quite an experience to sip coffee and munch biscuits on a slightly swaying platform above the trees. We were lucky enough to see a cuscus (Phalenger), an Australian tree kangaroo, in a distant tree.

The highest platform is 45m high and can sleep eight people overnight. It is very popular with overseas visitors, especially over Christmas and the New Year.

The parrot centre seemed to be well run, the birds well cared for, and there are regular checks from the centre’s overseas partners. It’s great to know that something is being done to conserve the native fauna.

o For more information on the Parrot Rescue Centre see http://www.indonesian-parrot-project.org/kembali.html or visit Ceisar Riupassa (likestours@yahoo.co.id) and Yayasan Wallacea (wallaceanmans@yahoo.com).

There are daily flights from Jakarta to Ambon. I used Batavia Air via Surabaya. There are daily ferries from Ambon to Seram — the shortest crossing is to the southern port of Amahai, 2 1/2 hrs.

From there, a good road goes all the way to Sawai, through the Manuesla National Park. The parrot centre is located a few kilometres before Sawai.

Ambon is the capital of Maluku. Together with the separate North Maluku province, they are better known to Europeans as The Moluccas.

Seram is a large island northeast of Ambon. Maluku is also known as the Spice Islands and many spices are still grown on all the islands.

I can recommend the services of Spice Islands Tours and Travel, Jl. Batu Kerbau, SK 5/1-48, Ambon 97125, Maluku, Indonesia, tel: +62 911 352914, fax +62 911 347974 and Spice_islands_tt@yahoo.com — LIZ PRICE

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