PULAU KOTOK, Indonesia (Reuters Life!) - Gojele, a Brahminy kite, can often be seen soaring above the tropical getaway of Pulau Kotok, part of the Thousand Islands cluster just north of Jakarta and now a rehabilitation center for kites and other birds.
He was one of eight juvenile kites seized at Jakarta’s international airport in 2004 as traders tried to smuggle them out to a private collector in Saudi Arabia, and was one of the first sea-eagles to be brought to the island, successfully rehabilitated, and released into the wild.
“Their feathers were really damaged when they came in. We were working on that for almost six months,” said Femke den Haas, the co-founder of wildlife conservationists Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) which is committed to reintroducing Brahminy Kites to the area.
JAAN took a run-down resort and transformed it into a sanctuary from which 56 formerly captive birds have now been freed.
The proud mascot of Indonesia’s capital, Brahminy Kites are protected eagles and have been under threat in the Thousand Islands as they were captured and sold illegally as status symbols.
Indonesia’s Forestry Department conducts raids on Jakarta’s notorious Pramuka animal market, but acknowledges there is still work to be done.
“We are aware there are still breaches of this law but we try to continue to stop the problem,” said Forestry Department spokesperson Masyhud, who claims the authority has reduced trade in the last five years.
However, JAAN says activity is on the rise again.
A popular tourist destination, Pulau Kotok boasts a diverse wildlife population, including Barker Deer, Water Monitor lizards and Clown Fish.
A short stroll from the island’s Alam Kotok resort, the squawks of 29 Brahminy Kites, White-bellied Sea Eagles, and a solitary Christmas Island Frigate ring out amongst dilapidated bungalows on the eastern side.
A canteen has been converted into an information center for visitors, and maids’ quarters are now a makeshift clinic. Because of wing and leg injuries sustained in captivity, 19 of the birds can never be released.
The birds are held in large enclosures made of bamboo and fish netting, trained to fly and fish, and in some cases form mating pairs.
Before being released into the wild, the eagles are transferred to a cage hanging over the ocean, 35 meters long, 12 meters wide and eight meters high, where they can dive for fish.
Then each bird is taken to the neighboring islands and set free. Several released eagles have now bred successfully, including Gojele, who has fathered two chicks.
Editing by Sara Webb; Editing by David Fox