Barn owl: Farmer´s friends
The use of barn owls (Tyto alba javanica) in the fauna control in Indonesian rice paddies.
Exclusive interview with Bobby Suhartanto, conservation director of Indonesian falconry club RCI (Raptor Club Indonesia), and RCI article about the project.
By Kátia Boroni 2017, for the sites Diário de Falcoaria e Corujando por aí.
The site DIário de Falcoaria (Falconry journal) and Corujando por aí (Owldering around) support those dedicated to the preservation of birds of prey all over the world. We know that there are many falconers who are developing breeding projects for the reintroduction of endangered birds, rehabilitating birds arriving at environmental agencies, and doing environmental education. I was very pleased to be invited to join a group of Indonesian falconers on Facebook, called "Burung Hantu Sahabat Petani" which literally means "owls are farmer´s friends". This group was created by the Indonesia falconry club RCI (Raptor Club Indonesia), which develops a project called Barn owl, where they use them as natural rodent control in rice paddies in Cancangan, Indonesia. I got in touch with Bobby Suhartanto, the conservation director of the club, and he sent me an article and gave me an interview about the project.
It is very sad to realize that the situation of barn owls is the same in different countries, always associated with legends of bad omen, thousands are killed by fear or prejudice. But the RCI club effort was able to overcome pessimism about the project and today barn owls are not only seen as farmer´s friends, but are also protected by them. This change of attitude has been through education, showing the population the important role that owls have in controlling rodents, and how living with them can be beneficial to all.
I believe that we only love what we know, and we only protect what we love, and the main objective of the Diário de Falcoaria and its environmental education project Corujando poa aí is to promote falconry and its important role, not only in the survival of this art of more than four thousand years, but in showing how it allows us to help rebalance nature, to preserve the birds of prey and their game, and to reduce the enormous damage caused to nature by ourselves.
Congratulations to all involved in the project Barn owl and in the RCI club, you can always count on me!
Diário de Falcoaria - www.diariodefalcoaria.com
Corujando por aí - http://corujandoporaiea.blogspot.com.br
Jornalista responsável: Kátia Boroni – MTB: 002.0435/MG
The Barn owl project : Natural Pest Control Project using barn owls (Tyto alba javanica) from RAPTOR CLUB INDONESIA.
Author: Raptor Club Indonesia
Indonesia is known for its agriculture products since the ancient time. Geographical location has made Indonesia to have fertile soil which enhanced its agricultural. Without doubt, Indonesia rely much of its economy on agricultural industries.
Among the agriculture products that have become the major commodities in Indonesia is paddy. It is also one of the mostly produced agriculture product in Indonesia because it has become one of the main diets of Indonesian people.
Paddy is an aquatic type of plant which needed a lot of water to support its growth. The place where people plant paddy is called paddy field. The characteristics of paddy field are coincidentally very suitable to support the lives of many wild animals, including rodents. One of the rodents commonly found in paddy field area is Ricefield rats (Rattus argentiventer). Ricefield rats are nocturnal mammals that like to dig burrows along the paddy fields and breed in a rapid cycle, feeding mainly on young paddy plant and paddy seeds. This behavior has become a problem among farmers in Indonesia because they have been known to damage paddy crops continuously and can cause crop production to fail. There has been a never ending battle between farmers and Ricefield rats.
Farmers have been known to use many ways to eradicate Ricefield rats in order to lower the rate of their attack on their paddy crops. Ricefield rats have been known to migrate from field to field in search of food source, especially when food is scarce. As their number getting bigger, their will do more damage to the crops and this is what most farmers try to avoid. Such efforts, like using rodenticides and fogging are proved to be not so effective against rat plagues. Farmers have been known to utilize rat traps and once in a few days they will normally cooperate together during the daylight to kill rodent they can found in the fields. Nevertheless, both techniques seems to be not effective to eliminate Ricefield rats from damaging their crops. Ricefield rats are very agile, even in the daylight and a more natural, thus a more effective way is greatly needed by Indonesian farmers to stop them from damaging their paddy crops.
RCI has been interested in the idea of using Barn Owls as natural pest control. Since 2009, observation and monitoring of Barn Owls population in Yogyakarta has been conducted in the collaboration with Kutilang Foundation Indonesia – a bird watching club. Barn Owls have been known to effectively hunt rodents because rodents are their main diet and their hunting rate will increase during their breeding season as they will need to feed their young. This fact has made Barn Owls as the best candidate of natural rodent control in paddy fields.
In 2013, Margo Mulyo farmer group of Cancangan Village, Yogyakarta, was having the initiative to contact Raptor Club Indonesia because they have been struggling to keep their crop production away from rodents. They were asking RCI for help because they have heard about RCI doing research and observation on Barn Owls as pest control and this was the opportunity for RCI to use Barn Owls for the pest control project in Cancangan. The result was promising enough that RCI was immediately feel the urge to help the farmers of Cancangan.
It started with only a pair of Barn Owl and one nest box, RCI was persistent that the effort will succeed. Once being habituated and released in the paddy field area, the male bird was found dead and did not make it to breeding with the female. However, the female bird was surviving and staying by the nest box that she was attracting the resident male to get close by. It was not long after the two birds were observed come close together, they were breeding and using the nest box set up by RCI and the farmers of Cancangan. The first clutch was a success; they hatched and raised four youngsters. For RCI and farmers of Cancangan it was the moment they have been waiting for together. It was also the time for them to build another nest box and set up in the paddy field area again. There were also T-perch provided as a hunting post for the Barn Owls. T-perch has helped them when hunting during the night and their hunting success rate has increased ever since more T-perch were set up in the fields. As soon they young birds fledged, they were occupying the new nest box.
Once the number of nest box has increased significantly to support the breeding rate of the Barn Owls in Cancangan, the number of Ricefield rats attack has now decreasing significantly as well. This has been a success story many other farmer groups started to hear and they were curious to learn. Raptor Club Indonesia and the farmers of Cancangan have always welcoming others to come and study of how to use Barn Owls as natural pest control. Many biology students from the neighboring universities were also interested and have been doing research with the project. Some of the students were doing observation on the biology of the Barn Owls; their breeding cycle and hunting behavior. They were also doing observation on Barn Owls chicks in each nest box to provide data on the breeding population. Pellets were taken from the nest to identify the prey item of the birds and it was true that they feed mainly on the Ricefield rats. Many have believed Barn Owls are effective as natural rodent control. They are safe, unlike rodenticides which has negative effects. Not only will it kill rodent, but also other wild animals, such as civets, mongooses, squirrels. Sometimes, chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats are also prone to eat the bait and were killed accidentally. If rat traps are being used, sometimes it will also trap unintended animals. Therefore, the use of traps is not environmentally friendly.
In 2014, RCI was invited to Bali to help farmers setting up nest box and also doing introduction of Barn Owls as natural pest control there. While in 2016, RCI was invited by Pertamina - the national oil company, to do presentation of the Barn Owls project as the company has the interest to help Raptor Club Indonesia with the project. Finally, RCI was able to convinced Pertamina to join in the Barn Owls project. The support of Pertamina is beneficial both for RCI and Pertamina. RCI has managed to do more extensive program on Barn Owls project for the farmers of Cancangan ever since.
More nest boxes were built and more T-perch were set-up. The first nest box is now broken down due to weather, but RCI has now been able to improve the durability of the nest box by using stronger materials. Camera traps were set in the nest box to monitor the Barn Owls. RCI, along with the farmers of Cancangan, has also been building several habituation aviaries for Barn Owls. Habituation aviaries are used to make Barn Owls to get used to their surroundings before their final release in the paddy field area. RCI has also been receiving several injured Barn Owls from the local people as well. These birds were handed to RCI for a rescue. Some birds were recovered and been released into the paddy field area of Cancangan.
RCI has managed to join many events, including agricultural events in order to do introduction and education on the use of Barn Owls as natural pest control in paddy field or plantation. Many farmer groups are eager to learn about the technique and the government is very supportive as well.
RCI has also been doing observation on wildlife found in Cancangan. In fact, there many wildlife that are supported by Cancangan. Many bird species has been recorded, like doves, bulbuls, kingfishers, herons, egrets, and moorhens. Mammals can also be found, like mongooses, civets, squirrels. This has made RCI to dedicating Cancangan as a wildlife refuge area in such a way to support wildlife conservation. RCI and the people of Cancangan are determined to protect wildlife. They have put many anti-hunting signs along the area to warn people not to do hunting. Punishment will be sentenced for those who break the rules and farmers will always do a night patrol along the area every day to protect Barn Owls and also other wildlife from being hunted down by irresponsible person.
RAPTOR CLUB INDONESIA
Jl. Kaliurang KM. 5 Gg. Pangkur No. 2
Yogyakarta, Indonesia Contact Person: Bobby Suhartanto
Interview Bobby Suhartanto - RCI
1. How did you get involved in RCI?
My name is Bobby Suhartanto and I live in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia. Salatiga is my hometown and it is located on the slope of Mount Merbabu. It is a small town but famous for its cold climate and Satya Wacana Christian University, which students are coming from different parts of Indonesia. Therefore, Salatiga is sometimes referred as a miniature of Indonesia. Currently, I am running a herbal medicine shop along with my parents. It has been our family business, started in 1950s and now it is the third generations already.
I have always been fascinated by animals since I was a kid and birds of prey are my biggest passion in life. It was in early 2000 that I found out about falconry and I have always been dreaming of being a falconer ever since. I was in my first year of senior high school that falconry has becoming a major life changing for me. I was so eager to learn about falconry that the internet was the main source of learning, because there were no books or any literature in my country that has something to do with falconry. There was no falconers either.
As with the advancement of information technology, online forum and chatting were so helpful that it was later in 2007 I met several persons from Yogyakarta, Central Java who were having the same interest on falconry and most of all, on birds of prey conservation. When we talk about falconry, it has always been about the sustainable use of natural resources, which means the conservation of birds of prey, quarry, and also the preservation of their habitat.
After having several meetings and discussions, we finally decided to collaborate by establishing a non-profit, non-governmental organization. It was in May, 2009, that Raptor Club Indonesia finally got started and being a legal organization working on the conservation of birds of prey and the preservation of their habitat in Indonesia. There are 7 people who became the founders of RCI, including me:
L. Budiprakoso Prawiroatmodjo (President),
Lim Wen Sin (Vice President/ Barn Owl Project Manager),
Josafat Agung Sulistiyo (Funding Officer)
Panji Aria Putra (Secretary),
Bobby Suhartanto (Conservation Officer),
Sobry Aljaidy (Public Relations Officer), and
Teddy Kurniawan (Research and Development Officer).
The Barn Owl Project is currently our primary project.
2. How is the barn owl seen in Indonesia? Are there bad superstitions about them?
Indonesia is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity. In Java island where I live, the Javanese people in particular, they believe in so many superstitious things and animals are their major superstitions object. People believe owls in general are always related to death (bringer of death) and as mysterious creatures of the night because of their 'scary' physical appearance and sound. Some said that when an owl hoots, it is a sign that somebody is going to die. Owl is called as 'Burung Hantu' in Indonesia which literary means Ghost Bird (Burung = Bird, Hantu = Ghost).
I am not sure how owls get that name but I believe it is because of their physical appearance (big round yellow eyes) and also their hooting sound at night.
This kind of story has been passed from generation to generation that it lives among people. Some parents prevent their children to wander around at night by telling scary stories about owls, and that in my opinion must be stopped.
3. How did the idea of using barn owls (instead of other species) as a natural pest control come out?
RCI have always been learning and studying about birds of prey (both diurnal and nocturnal). Mr. Lim is a biologist and he has been doing research and observation on birds of prey. There are many owl species we can find in Indonesia, from the small Sunda Scops Owl (Otus lempiji), the medium Buffy Fish Owl (Bubo ketupu), and the big Barred Eagle Owl (Bubo sumatranus).
However, Barn Owl (Tyto alba javanica) is the one which has been known to hunt rodent as their main diet. It has also been known to widely spread across the country. They are very adaptable to live in urban areas and nest in man-made buildings (even man-made nest box) . It is why it is called as 'Barn' Owl.
It is the basic consideration why the Barn Owl is the best owl species utilized as natural rodent control in paddy field area where so many rodents are becoming problem for the farmers.
4. How did the local population of Cancangan react to the barn owls in the beginning of the project and how do they react to the barn owls now? Is there less prejudice towards barn owls?
It was Mr. Bavit Margo Utomo - the head of farmer group in Cancangan who first came to RCI and asking about the implementation of Barn Owl as natural pest control. Since the superstitions is so strong that at first his people are being persistent and pessimistic. However, I believe it is education that plays an important role in introducing Barn Owl as the natural rodent control to the village.
During the year 2013 to 2017, we have been building more than 10 nest boxes and set them across the rice field. Also numerous T perch as an aid for the owls to hunt. We found out that T perches increase the success rate of their hunt. Some nest boxes are already been replaced with a new one. The number of crops yield are now started to increase, which is getting better year after year. As along with the increase of owl population, now the population of rodent is more in a controllable state. It is what makes the farmers realize how good the owls at hunting rodents and helping them to keep their crops safe. It has proved to change their mindset that the owls are no longer a scary creature for them, but their true friends which the Facebook group name suggested. 'Burung Hantu Sahabat Petani' literally means, 'owls are farmers' friends'. This is the real value of the project, other than to control the rodents population.
The people are now willing to protect not only the owls, but also other wildlife that live by the village from hunters and poachers. They have understand the benefits of a balanced-nature. Hunting is prohibited by making and setting up anti-hunting signs across the area. At night, the area is now under a night patrol done by the people of Cancangan.
5. What was the biggest difficult to start the barn owl Project in Cancangan?
I must say, the biggest part of the project is the funding. Because we are a non-profit organization, therefore we always use our own fund resource to do our projects. During the first and second year, the people of Cancangan have been so supportive and helpful that we managed to build nest box on our own funds, although the material we used was just minimal and not so durable (we use bamboo as the main pole, but now we use welded steel as the pole and nest box frame). The first introduction of the owl to the paddy field area was also a bit unsuccessful because the male of the pair of owl we introduced was found dead after several days of being released. Lucky for us that the female bird was staying by the nest box and she finally mananged to pair with the local male bird. From this very first pair that breed in the nest box, the population of owls started to flourish well until now.
We thank God for so many people supporting our project, that we finally gain more awareness, especially from important people in the country. In May 2016, Pertamina - the national oil company, invited us to do a presentation of our project. They wanted to know how the project is implemented and they want to support the funding. They have a CSR program and they think our project is suitable for their CSR program. It was a great opportunity for us to do the presentation and also a great success that Pertamina decided to funding us with the project. Ever since, we are able to build more durable nest box and also building more infrastructure within the village to support our education program. Right now we are adding more nest box and also building a public building for our team to do educational activities in the future. We always welcoming our guests who are supporting and willing to learn about our project, like government officials, other farmer groups, colleagues, and most importantly student groups who are coming to Cancangan not only to learn and study about the Barn Owls but also to help us with our project.
There are also wildlife photographers who often visit us because they are interested to take photos of our project and some friends coming from the Netherlands and Singapore who support our project.
6. Where is the barn owl project being used, nowadays?
The use of Barn Owls as natural pest control has been implemented in several cities across Java:
Central Java: Batang, Demak, Klaten, and Yogyakarta
East Java: Mojokerto and Malang
In 2015, RCI was invited to Bali to assist one farmer group there in the introduction of Barn Owl.
As far I concerned, there has been so many farmers across Indonesia who are interested to implement the same technique and RCI always welcome them to learn via our Facebook page (Burung Hantu Sahabat Petani).
7. What are your future goals?
I must say RCI may not be the first to use Barn Owls as natural pest control agent in Indonesia. There are other group of farmers who have been using the same technique. However, RCI is hoping to set a new national standard on the Barn Owl project across Indonesia. With the experience and expertise that we have, we are hoping to produce better nest box in terms of design and also material, providing the owl with a nesting box which suits their nature best.
We are also planning to do research and study not only to understand the Barn Owls but also the rodent better by cooperating with local university, especially the biology students to conduct observation on the Barn Owls, studying their life aspects. Doing pellet identification in order to get data on prey items the owls take in the wild. We have now been using camera trap and will put more night vision CCTV in the future to help us having a closer look at their activities during the night.
We will continue educating the people to have a proper understanding towards wildlife, especially the Barn Owl. Greater attention and focus must be given in order for the people to realize the importance of the Barn Owl in controlling rodent population. They should not fear but protect them.
Raptor Club Indonesia with the Barn Owl Project is hoping to be the leading source of information on Barn Owl as natural pest control agent. We will always welcome others if they want to learn about it and we are hoping the implementation of Barn Owl will be nationwide, since it is far cheaper and nature friendly than to use poison which will not only kill rodents but also other wildlife.
We do hope the government will always support us to achieve our goals in the future.
RAPTOR CLUB INDONESIA
Jl. Kaliurang KM. 5 Gg. Pangkur No. 2
Yogyakarta, Indonesia Contact Person: Bobby Suhartanto