Saving Indonesia’s birds-of-paradise one village at a time

Above, a bird-of-paradise, known locally as a cendrawasih bird, in Sorong’s Malagufuk village. Environmentalists also worry a centuries-old trade in the birds could be contributing to dwindling numbers in the wild. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2017

Saving Indonesia’s birds-of-paradise one village at a time

SORONG, Indonesia: Deep in Indonesia’s easternmost province, a group of birdwatchers wait in earnest hoping to glimpse the renowned birds-of-paradise. Once plentiful in Papua’s jungles, rampant poaching and deforestation have devastated populations.
The tourists are in luck, their patience is rewarded: perched on the branch of a tall tree near the remote village of Malagufuk, a red king bird-of-paradise can be seen darting between the leaves.
Agricultural plantations, touted as a means to improve economic opportunities, are rapidly expanding in Papua. But some villagers and conservationists warn this will result in forests being destroyed and the birds that inhabit them driven to the brink of extinction.
Birds-of-paradise numbers were already dwindling in Papua as they are poached, killed and used for decoration. Authorities have banned the sale of birds-of-paradise, but this has not done much to dent the illegal trade, because demand is high.
“Nowadays the threat is not just wildlife hunting, but illegal logging. The conversion of forests to palm oil and cocoa plantations is the biggest threat,” bird guide Charles Roring said.
Indonesia’s rainforests are home to 41 birds-of-paradise species, according to Roring, 37 of which can be found in the jungles of Papua.
They range from the lesser bird-of-paradise, known for its yellow and white flank plumes, to the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise, recognizable by the filaments that extend from its tail.
Admired for their striking colors and elaborate courtship rituals, the birds have a long history of being trapped and traded as ornaments.
They captivated Europeans after 16th century explorers returned with skins that had been dried, truncated of their legs and mounted to sticks; while their colorful feathers are still popular additions to traditional Papuan tribal decorations, such as headdresses.
Serene Chng, a program officer at environmental NGO Traffic, said the wild birds are smuggled to other parts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.
“Law enforcement capacity is very limited,” she explained.
“Challenges include demand from consumers, corruption, poor surveillance, as well as lack of support from non-enforcement agencies that could help like airlines, shippers, courier services and airports,” Chng added.
In Sorong, one of the largest cities in Indonesia’s West Papua province, a souvenir vendor said traditional headbands made with feathers could fetch as much as 1.5 million rupiah ($112).
Papua is home to one-third of Indonesia’s remaining rainforests but they are being chopped down at a rapid rate.
Palm oil companies started operating near Malagufuk village about three years ago, according to environmentalist Max Binur, from NGO Belantara Sorong.
Binur, who knew residents were worried the companies would destroy the surrounding forests and their traditional village life, proposed a solution he believed would protect the birds and forest.
He helped turn Malagufuk into an ecovillage where residents now work as guides or provide accommodation for visitors.
Up to 20 tourists visit each month to see the birds-of-paradise, as well as other bird species such as the Cassowary and Hornbill.
Visitors must trek two hours through the jungle to reach a remote settlement of stilt houses that has limited electricity.
“It sounded like a good ecotourism tour we could do. My mother is into birds and we were familiar with the birds-of-paradise from watching documentaries,” German tourist Lisa von Rabenau said.
Binur is planning to launch similar ecovillage ventures across Papua and hopes tourism will lead to conservation of the world-famous birds and benefit locals.
He explained: “Tourists can bring in a bit of their money so the villagers can afford to nurture their families, send their kids to school, buy clothes and with this they will be conscious to save the nature.”


Tulips from Amsterdam? A blooming scam, says new probe

This file photo taken on March 6, 2003 shows bulbs at the flower market in Amsterdam. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

Tulips from Amsterdam? A blooming scam, says new probe

  • Tulip bulbs should only be sold between August to December and planted before the start of the (northern hemisphere) winter, in order for the flowers to bloom in spring

THE HAGUE: Tourists are being ripped off at Amsterdam’s famous flower market, with just one percent of all bulbs sold at the floating bazaar ever producing a blossom, investigators said Tuesday.
A probe commissioned by the Dutch capital’s municipality and tulip growers also found that often only one flower resembled the pictures on the packaging like color, and that there were fewer bulbs than advertised.
“The probe showed that there is chronic deception of consumers,” at the sale of tulip bulbs at the flower market, the Royal General Bulb Growers’ Association (KAVB) said.
“Millions of tourists and day-trippers are being duped,” KAVB chairman Rene le Clercq said in a statement.
Amsterdam and the KAVB have now referred the matter to the Dutch consumer watchdog.
The Amsterdam flower market is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and dates from around 1862, when flower sellers sailed their barges up the Amstel River and moored them in the “Singel” to sell their goods.
Its fame inspired the popular song “Tulips from Amsterdam,” best known for a 1958 version by British entertainer Max Bygraves.
Today the market comprises of a number of fixed barges with little greenhouses on top. Vendors not only sell tulip bulbs but also narcissus, snowdrops, carnations, violets, peonies and orchids.
But of 1,363 bulbs bought from the Singel and then planted, just 14 actually bloomed, the investigation said.
Investigators found a similar problem along the so-called “flower bulb boulevard” in Lisse, a bulb-field town south of Amsterdam where the famous Keukenhof gardens are also situated.
Since first imported from the Ottoman Empire 400 years ago, tulips “have become our national symbol and the bulb industry a main player in the Dutch economy,” said Le Clercq.
But the “deception about the tulip bulbs is a problem that has been existing for the past 20 years,” he added.

The victims are often tourists, KAVB director Andre Hoogendijk said.
“A tourist who buys a bad bulb is not likely to come back,” he told Amsterdam’s local AT5 news channel.
Vendors at the market told AT5 that complaints were known.
“There are indeed stalls here that sell rubbish. That is to everyone’s disadvantage, because it portrays the whole flower market in a bad light,” one unidentified vendor said.
But a spokesperson for the City of Amsterdam said that all vendors were being investigated “and that the results are shocking.”
“So to say that it is only a few stalls is not true,” the spokesperson told AFP in an email.
The probe took place earlier in the year during springtime, the spokesperson said.
“The issue is that you shouldn’t even sell tulip bulbs during the spring. No decent florist shop in Holland does that.”
Tulip bulbs should only be sold between August to December and planted before the start of the (northern hemisphere) winter, in order for the flowers to bloom in spring.