Saturday, September 25, 2010

Agung the Great!

This is a picture of my friend Agung. The title is kind of a joke, because "Agung" means "great" in Indonesian. But Agung really is a pretty special person. We met about four years ago at the University. Now he works at the national park where I am doing my research project. Agung makes maps and works on conservation education. I told you a little bit about him yesterday, and today I'm going to tell you about Agung and his birds.

Agung loves birds. His hobby is birdwatching. He likes to go to the forest and find and take pictures of birds. He showed me his record book where he keeps a list of all the different birds he's seen in the wild, and there are dozens of them. Birdwatching is an example of non-consumptive use. When you consume something, you use it up. For example, when you eat food, you are consuming food. That means that it is gone and no one else can use it. Hunting is an example of consumption, because when you take an animal in the forest, no one else can use it. However, when you go birdwatching, the only thing you are taking is a picture, and so other people can enjoy the birds as well.

Sumatra in general and Kerinci Seblat National Park specifically are great places to go birdwatching. As you recall, this is a tropical location, and so there is a lot of biodiversity here, especially in the forest. Kerinci Seblat park is home to a number of endemic species. These are types of creatures that are found in a specific location, but no place else in the world. Hawai'i also has many endemic species (1). But Agung told me that the birds at Kerinci are now under increasing pressure. For a long time Kerinci has been home to the Sumatran Tiger, but there has always been a problem with tiger poaching. Many people believe that parts of the tiger's body are good for medicine. Others want to keep the tiger's beautiful fur for themselves as a decoration or rug. As a result, there are only about 300 Sumatran tigers left! It's almost extinct! But the police are getting better at stopping tiger poaching. However, the poachers are now instead taking rare birds from the forest to sell in the market. According to my friend Agung, as many as 1,000 rare birds per week are taken from the park. If this continues, the birds will be no more!

That's where Agung comes in. Agung started a birdwatching club for young people around the national park. He teaches them about how important the birds are. You see, not only are they beautiful, but they are extremely important in the life cycle of many plants, because they help to pollinate the plants and help with seed dispersal. For example, when a bird eats fruit (like the hornbill in the picture above), the bird also eats the seed of the fruit. Later, after the bird flies away, he/she poops and the seed comes out with a starter kit of fertilizer so the seed can grow into a new plant! Agung also runs training programs for tour guides and other people interested in birds. Now Agung is applying for a grant to expand the activities of his bird club so they can help track the poaching networks that operate around the park. He also wants to train the members of his club to carry out scientific bird censuses. Let's hope Agung gets his grant, because this project is really important. You can check out the blog for the birdclub at Most of the posts are in Indonesian, but there are some great pictures.

That's all for now. I'm going out into the forest tomorrow with Agung to run a training workshop for science teachers.

1) Hawai'i has some amazing endemic birds too, but many of them are endangered. See if you can find some information about Hawaiian Honeycreepers on the web. These are truly wonderful birds. What can you find out about them? What kinds of problems do they face?

2) Can you make a list with descriptions of the types of birds you see on a daily basis? How many of the birds do you see? Where do you see them? Do they seem to have any special habits? Can you find out the names of these birds?

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