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Saving the World's Rarest Cockatoo
October 1, 2008 Â (San Francisco, CA) Â Â The worldâ€™s rarest cockatoo has been re-discovered in Indonesia.Â The Yellow-crested Abbottâ€™s Cockatoo is found in the wild only on a single island (tiny Masakambing Island; 500 ha) in the Masalembu Archipelago. This island is in the remote Java Sea, north of the cities of Surabaya and Bali, and east of southern Sumatra.Â This archipelago also contains Masalembu Island [2000 ha] and Keramaian Island [300 ha].
Parrots are the most endangered bird family. A number of the parrots threatened with extinction are found only in Indonesia. Four of the five cockatoo species listed on the highest category of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are found in Indonesia. Of these, the Yellow-crested cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) are the most imperiled. This species contains four subspecies. Three of these are fairly well studied. However, one (C. sulphurea abbotti) has remained largely a mystery until now, but is known to be at great risk.
There are no cockatoos in the other two islands in the archipelago, with the bird having been extirpated from Masalembu and not known to have ever populated Keramaian. Studies in the 1990â€™s, which remain largely unpublished, found that only 5-10 individuals remained on Masakambing. However, there are essentially no extant data since that time, and intervening extinction was a distinct possibility.
Due to the small size of Masakambing, Nandika and Agustina were able to make detailed surveys of the entire island. Once the skies had been filled with flocks of these cockatoos; now a total of only ten cockatoos was identifiedâ€”four males, four females, and two juvenilesâ€”making them the most threatened cockatoo in the wild and one of the worldâ€™s rarest birds. Like other members of the C. sulphurea species, these beautiful birds have a largely white body with a brilliant yellow, forward-curving crest, and slight yellow on their ear covert feathers. They may be the largest of the four subspecies. The first photographs of these birds in the wild outside of Indonesia were acquired, as was some videotape footage of the birds mating, preening, eating, playing with twigs, examining nest holes, and similar natural behaviors.
Two major threats to the survival of the Masakambing cockatoo were identified. One is their capture for the illegal pet bird trade. It is usually nestlings, rather than adult birds, which are taken. Formerly, they were trapped in large numbers by outside visitors who took them to Bali and Sumbawa Islands. Now, with the marked decline in their numbers, the birds are only sought by government officials, who keep them as pets due to the prestige of owning such a rare bird.Â A second risk factor has been the logging of trees which had been suitable to provide food and nest holes for these cockatoos. This area has been planted, especially with coconut palms, with almost total destruction of previously favored habitat flora such a kapuk trees (Ceiba pentandra) and mangrove (Avicennia apiculata).
It is hoped that, in view of the gravity of the situation, international assistance and funding can be found to save this magnificent but rapidly vanishing cockatoo.