Flora & Fauna
Volume 88 | May 2012
insidesumatera.com | tourism & lifestyle magazine - The Prophecy of the Glossy Ibis in Sumatra
Flora & Fauna
The Prophecy of the
Rabu, 16 Februari 2011 | 11:00:11
The Prophecy of the Glossy Ibis in Sumatra
by. Akhmad Junaedi Siregar
Rarity is in the eye of the beholder, including that of things that are seen as antique or special. Something that is rare is must be difficult to obtain, interesting, and special. This is also the case with animals. For conservationists, rarity is a disaster. But for collectors and tourists, rarity is an important selling point. According to the theory of supply and demand, something that is readily available will be relatively cheap, and vice versa. Money controlls the distribution within society as well as the exchange values of commodities.
Now, let’s look at the rich fauna in Sumatra. Sumatra has a number of fauna whose existence in the wild is threatened. Some of them are primadonnas in the pet world. Some have a protected status, so that collectors sometimes have to search high and low because they feel as if they must have one, even though it’s illegal. Some of the species that are threatened by extinction are the Sumatran Tiger (Pantera tigris sumatrae), Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) and Sumatran Rhinocerus (Dicecorhinus sumatrensis). If they can’t get one alive, a dead one will do for their collections. Of course, this kind of collecting is strongly inadvisable.
Well, how about if I invite you to admire rare species without having to own an animal? This is one of the principles of sustainable tourism. Of course, observing animals in the wild is not as cheap or easy as a package tour. Observing animals in the wild is like fishing in the wild, the result is uncertain and unmeasurable. This makes the challenge all the more interesting.
This time, we will attempt to observe the glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). This bird has been registered as the rarest bird in Sumatra. Until this day, its existence in Sumatra is still doubted. This is not the case in the north of Java, as the species has often been sighted here. In Borneo, which at the time was administratively joined with Sumatra, the last sighting of this bird by a bird expert was in South Kalimantan in 1851.
In Sumatra there are two known types of ibis, the black- headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) and the glossy ibis. Sunda has 5 known types of ibis. Ibises (Threskiornithidae) are often mistaken for herons(Ciconiidae), because their shape is very similar. However, the ibis are smaller and much darker, even black in colour. The way they eat is unique too, as they rely on touch rather than sight to catch their prey.
The most recent record of glossy ibis in Sumatra was four birds in total. There haven’t been any other reports of birdwatcher’s sightings on the island. Colleagues from Biopalas Departemen Biologi FMIPA USU and the Sumatran Rainforest Institute were fortunate that they have been able to record a total of 4 birds on 2 seperate occasions from numerous observations in the last two months. The site of these sightings was on the east coast of Sumatra, to be precise, Percut Sei Tuan, Deli Serdang, North Sumatra.
But this is not the case for the local inhabitants in this area, where the ibis chooses to take a rest. In fact, local people are always a step ahead of birdwatchers, a number of whom have dedicated their life to watching fauna. A number of locals have seen the glossy ibis and even make weather predictions based on its behaviour. It is said that if this black fowl circles for a few hours near its resting place, it is a good sign for farmers; it will rain soon.
Other water birds that usually socialise with the glossy ibis seem not to be as special as the ibis. Apart from being a useful barometer for changes in weather, ibis have other uses. In fact a fish farmer is happy to spare two thirds of his fish pools for the ibis to rest. Fortunately the fishfarmer doesn’t have to think of how to feed the fish as the bird’s faeces are a plentiful supply of nutrition for the payau, or brackish- water, fish.
I’m sure that you too would be very pleased to meet this 60 cm tall bird. In particular as this protected species can’t be found in any zoos in Sumatra. So there is no other way to meet one than to strike out into the wild. It is even easier to meet a Sumatran Tiger than a glossy ibis. To give a rough estimate- it’s 4 to 400, the number of indivual animals i sumatra according to experts. If you understand this, than being able to observe one of these is is equal to seeing a rare, precious metal.
Documenting the birds is even harder. Besides being rare, protected and flying fast, its black colour makes it difficult for the camera to read the correct lighting. If one tries to take a picture of the glossy ibis on the move, you will get a silhouette. If you are able to borrow the kind of camera usually used by football photographers, the result will be much better, it’s up to you. If you are crazy enough to try it, bird watchers might be singing your praises in the future.
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