Four pairs of the rare birds, classed by conservation organisations as critically endangered, were released by Begawan Foundation into a carefully selected area in the heart of the Indonesian island.
Illegal poaching reduced numbers to a critically low level in 2001 when the wild population was estimated at just six birds, but conservation breeding efforts have since seen a small recovery to between 50 and 115.
However, this number is still perilously low which is why the release marks a significant step forward for the long-term survival of the species. Begawan Foundation has bred these birds since 1999, and after conducting a feasibility study, and working together with Green School, situated adjacent to its Bali site, and local communities and government, made the decision to release four pairs into the surroundings.
Dr Roger Wilkinson, Chester Zoo’s Head of Field Conservation and Research, said:
“This stunning starling is critically endangered because it has an extremely small range and a tiny population, which is suffering from illegal poaching for the cage-bird trade.
“However, a lot of hard work by dedicated people who care enough to try and save this wonderful species, has now seen us reach this momentous moment where we’ve been able to help release eight birds into the wild.
“The area they were released was specially picked as it was well protected and had staff able to monitor the rare birds. Quite a crowd turned out as most people local to the area had never seen a live Bali starling before.”
Chester Zoo provides skills, expertise and funding for an important breeding centre in Bali and, alongside Begawan Foundation and Jurong Bird Park, assists in the breeding and release programme and monitoring of wild populations.
Andrew Owen, the zoo’s Curator of Birds, added:
“This is really great news but it’s only the start. Whether or not they now go on to reproduce and ensure that youngsters survive and the colony expands is the next significant step. There’s an awful long way to go but things now look a little brighter for the future remarkable species.”