The First-ever Release of Endangered Salmon-crested Cockatoos Back into the Wild Following Their Confiscation from Smugglers

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On March 16, 2006, history was made on the island of Seram, in the Maluku archipelago, Eastern Indonesia, with the first-known "soft-release" of three Salmon-crested (Seram) cockatoos back to the very forest where they were trapped eighteen months previously.

On March 16, 2006, history was made on the island of Seram, in the Maluku archipelago, Eastern Indonesia, with the first-known "soft-release" of three Salmon-crested (Seram) cockatoos back to the very forest where they were trapped eighteen months previously.

The birds had been confiscated on September 23rd, 2004 when Forestry officers from Manusela National park rescued nine Salmon-crested (Seram) cockatoos C. moluccensis along with seven other parrots and arrested a smuggler from Sulawesi. The birds had been bought from members of Huaulu village (an indigenous people located on the mountains about 20 km from Opin). The subsequent disposition of the birds was relinguished to the Indonesian Wild Animal Rescue Centers ( The birds were subsequently cared for by Yayasan Wallacea and Project Bird Watch at the Kembali Bebas Avian Rehabilitation Center, located in the Sawai district of north Seram Island.

It is well accepted that Indonesia's avifauna rivals that of any country on earth. Unfortunately, that same richness has provoked intense poaching which, in combination with both legal and illegal logging of requisite forest habitat, has endangered many magnificent birds and brought some close to extinction. Four of the five world's cockatoos now listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in the Endangered Species (CITES) are Indonesian. In a country where high-end business salaries amount to less than $2,000 per year, some local villagers participate in the illegal trapping and trading of exotic animals, and parrots in particular, to supplement their livelihood. The result has been a decimation of local wildlife populations, leaving some exotic species such as the Salmon-crested and Sulphur-crested cockatoos endangered and in need of protection.

The decision to release birds confiscated from smugglers, with its attendant risks to the birds and the ecology of the region, received support from the World Conservation Union (2002) as well as CITES (Conf. 10.7, "Disposal of confiscated live specimens of species included in the Appendices", 1997) wherein it is stated that "returning animals to the wild makes a strong political/educational statement concerning the fate of the animals and may serve to promote local conservation values. However, as part of any education or public awareness programme, the costs and difficulties associated with return to the wild must be emphasized.”    

In, fact, many of the people from the nearby village of Masihulan, and the children from several local schools, came to witness the first release, because it was seen as a major event on the island and hopefully a new beginning for more endangered birds to go back to their forest homes. To minimize risks to the animals and the environment, this release followed the principles of both CITES and IUCN. Prior to the release, each bird had been fitted with an open stainless-steel leg band; tagged with an Avid micro-chip; and had its tail feathers marked with a different color of 'indelible' ink for short-term, post-release monitoring.

Ir. M (Theo) Latupeirissa, Head of the Department of Forestry for Manusela National Park (, was the individual chosen to open the release door, situated atop the release cage. In less than fifteen minutes, all birds had left the cage and flew strongly to a nearby copse of trees. Their flying ability, as well as maintenance of a panoply of the wild behaviors needed to survive when back in the forest, had been assured during careful observation for 18 months in a Socialization Cage. Monitoring of the fate of these cockatoos will continue for an indefinite period.

Project Bird Watch/The Indonesian Parrot Project ( is a non-governmental, nonprofit corporation with its primary mission to conserve and protect the endangered wild cockatoos and parrots of Indonesia, while providing sustainable alternate means of income for local villagers in order to reduce trapping and bolster self-esteem. In addition, the NGO serves as a source of information and education about Indonesian parrots, and works to improve the welfare of parrots in captivity.

Yayasan Wallacea is a conservation-directed and socially-minded NGO based in Ambon, directed by Ceisar Riupassa , which manages the Kembali Bebas Avian Rehabilitation Center. Project Bird Watch has worked closely with Yayasan Wallacea in all of its projects since 1999. They bring indispensable knowledge of the people and social customs of Maluku, as well as closeness and communication with the villagers.

The Indonesian Wild Animal Rescue Centers ("Pusat Penyelamatan Satwa" in Indonesian; PPS) manages the nation-wide program for the rehabilitation and release of protected Indonesian animals. A strategic function of PPS is to support the law enforcement effort of conservation of Indonesian protected species. Internationally, Indonesia is a signatory to CITES, and has declared itself to be bound by its provisions.

For more information, photographs or video footage, please contact Bonnie Zimmermann at (707) 965-3480.

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Bonnie Zimmermann
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