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Moluccan or Seram Cockatoo
How much do you really know about the Moluccan Cockatoo?
It is salmon pink in colour, fairly large, very cuddly as a pet, can be very noisy, aggressive when breeding, destructive in an aviary, fairly expensive to buy and is listed on CITES appendix 1. What else is there?
Would you like to know more?
The Moluccan Cockatoo is endemic to Seram and surrounding islands, which are located in the Indonesian archipelago (island chain) also known as the Moluccas, Maluku or Spice Islands. Although breeding populations are now found only on Seram, as development has destroyed breeding populations on the smaller islands
Endemic: restricted or peculiar to a locality or region -an endemic species found nowhere else on earth.
The Indonesian archipelago (island chain) runs between South East Asia and Australia, and is the largest in the world, with a human population of approx 200 million (1997). Much larger than most people imagine
CITES: (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 1 Species which are critically endangered in the wild.
All of the five major religions can be found in Indonesia, the majority of the population being Islam (Muslim) approximately 80%.
Nearly 60% of Indonesia's land is forest. Seram has approximately 220 bird species, and of these, 15 are endemic to Seram and 14 of these are endangered.
All of this seemingly unrelated, unimportant information does however fit together to play a part in just maybe why the Moluccan Cockatoo is critically endangered.
Lets start at the beginning. A Moluccan Cockatoo is worth about US$5 or £3.52p to a trapper. It is estimated that maybe only 50% of these wild caught birds survive the process of trapping and transportation. In the USA Moluccans can sell for up to two thousand dollars each. The USA used to be one of the main importers of this bird when it was legally exported from Seram. Even taking into account the relative size of the USA compared with other countries, it was still by far the biggest importer. With a figure of approximately 56,000 Moluccan Cockatoos imported into the USA from 1981 1990. Germany and Great Britain having the next highest figures of imported birds.Between 1983 and 1989 over 65,000 Moluccan Cockatoos were LEGALLY exported worldwide. You can see by the above figures what percentage of these birds went to the USA. These figures do not take into account birds which died after trapping but prior to export, birds kept for the local pet trade and also ILLEGALLY exported birds.
In the UK today captive bred Moluccans (there should be no others available) sell for around or upwards of £1,000 each.
In the 1970s the prices were (relatively) much lower, wild caught Moluccans were bought/sold for £25.00 - £35.00. In 1991 you would have paid more or less similar to what you would today, around £800-£1,000 per bird, virtually no difference in 10 years.This price increase in the early 90s onwards compared to the prices of the 1970-80 period is fairly obviously due to the fact that the Moluccan was placed on CITES Appendix 1 in late 1989.
When they were exported legally and more birds were available, obviously the prices were lower, as with most things in life, the prices are subject to supply and demand. Rarer being more expensive.The total wild population of Moluccan Cockatoos today is estimated at anything from 2,000 (Project Bird Watch fact sheet figures from 1997), to 8,000 (UNEP-WCMC), to 62,000-195,000 (Birdlife International), although it is thought that 2,000 is far too low and 195,000 far too high. A figure of approximately 110,000 is more realistic. This recent increase is also thought to be due to the locally enforced (also recent) trapping ban, (see right column).
The local people of Seram are very poor and they work for US$0.5 per day or 34p. Compare this to what they get for 1 Moluccan Cockatoo, US$5 or £3.42p.
What land they have (or had), many locals have sold to logging companies in exchange for material goods.
What hope is there for the Moluccan Cockatoo?
A local trapper could collect up to 50 birds in one week. The Moluccan Cockatoos are not legally allowed to be sold under Indonesian law, since as stated, they were placed on CITES Appendix I in 1989.
However, many are still illegally traded via Singapore and they are sold publicly at markets on the streets in Indonesia; for the pet trade by locals; for ceremonial purposes; and in the main to make money. To subsidise their income.
These birds are still being trapped today, despite a 1999 presidential decree that finally put to rest any ambiguity about the illegality of domestic trade in this species.
"Ambiguity" itself can mean an indecision as to what you mean, an intention to mean several things, a probability that one or other or both of two things has been meant, and the fact that a statement has several meanings.
Depending on which way we approach this.
Organisations such as Project Bird Watch is one way, whereby they are trying to educate the local people that preserving these cockatoos for tourism, will in the long run prove more profitable for them, rather than trapping. As trapping will cease because there will eventually be no more birds left to trap if it continues at the present rate; thus their income then ceases.
Eco Tourism however is ongoing. Good idea.There has been since 1998 a locally enforced trapping ban, and according to Project Bird Watch, populations of Moluccan Cockatoos at their project site near Sawai, have increased significantly due to this trapping ban.
This is despite ecotourism grounding to a halt at the end of 1998 due to violence. Trappers turned guides did not return to trapping, but engaged their energies to make a living from other means such as hunting pigs and deer and agriculture. They are now more aware of the cockatoos and other birds and believe that the future will hold better things for them and that ecotourism will return.
In November last year the first signs of ecotourism re-emerging began, as the first birdwatching trip successfully went ahead.
Second to this, there is captive breeding. The aim being to ensure these birds do not become extinct. Also a good idea - however it is at this point that we run into problems.
These cockatoos if they are to be kept in captivity at all, need space and mental stimulation, plus if possible a choice of potential mates. Many bird keepers now think the best way to pair these birds is to have many youngsters together in an extensive large aviary and leave them to pair up themselves. This does not sound like a bad idea, but in reality the majority of people do not have the money or space needed to obtain this goal. Which is why some think that only establishments such as zoos should continue to try to breed the Moluccan Cockatoo. However this view is not popular with ordinary bird keepers. Although the point has to be made that if you do not have the space, you should not be keeping these birds. Whether or not you have the money to keep a large number of Moluccans and leave them to pair up naturally is another matter.If you have only say a 12 x 4 x 6 aviary and live in an urban environment, forewarned is forearmed, do not keep these birds.Moluccans have very strong, powerful beaks, and very loud voices, and they are not easy to pair successfully.
These birds are very intelligent, a small aviary with one perch either end of the flight and maybe one or two blocks of wood for them to chew is not adequate. It is assumed by most that their intelligence is superior to that of many other parrot-like species. A small aviary would be virtual cruelty to these birds.
Loro Parque on Tenerife are part of an EEP (European Endangered Species Programme). Their Moluccan Cockatoos are housed in flights of varying length, newer flights built since 1996 are 40 feet in length. They have had from 1998, two pairs of Moluccan Cockatoos successfully parent rearing their own chicks.
Even assuming that you have the space to accommodate them, and by this I mean minimum 30 foot in length flights, minimum 8 foot in height, and minimum 6 foot wide, you need to be as sure as is possible that you have the correct compatible pairing. Because you have one female and one male, does not mean you have a potential breeding pair, sorry it does not work that way. This set up may work for a while, but you will find out sooner than later if the birds are not happy, and unless you have the stomach to carry on regardless, you will be in for a tough time. Even the experts find themselves with killer males at times, although they do not like to admit this.What do you, or does anyone do with them? It is my opinion that if they have killed or attacked once, they will do so again, and should not be re-paired.
Who is going to look after these odd Moluccans, which are generally not suitable as pets, that is why many of them ended up in an aviary situation originally, and they cannot live with other birds? The next sentence you will without doubt, have heard many times before - generally speaking, ex pet cockatoos do not make for good breeding birds. Just in case you needed reminding of this, and some of you do.
It seems that however, no matter what information is available to some people, they choose to ignore it and inevitably learn the hard way (hard for the birds that is).
In captivity what happens? They are given a mate, usually without choice. Placed in (usually) a far too small aviary with nothing to do except breed. There are no natural predators and their food (a poor substitute for what their natural diet would be) is offered to them, without the necessity to even fly to gather it (if they can fly). No wonder they become bored, excitable, aggressive, unpredictable. Captive bred birds still have natural instincts.Even if you get these birds to produce eggs, what happens then? Eggs are pulled or the chicks themselves are pulled at any early age so they can be hand reared for the pet trade, so the cycle starts again, can you blame these birds for their behaviour? Put yourselves in their feathers?
Of course one of the next major problems concerning the future of this bird is purely the amount of captive bred birds which are taken for hand rearing. Aggressiveness in adult birds is not an excuse for taking eggs/chicks. Many people with experience of these cockatoos will tell you that the Moluccan is no more aggressive than any other cockatoo in captivity, and there are some who think that the smaller cockatoos are actually potentially more aggressive than the Moluccan.
There is an unprecedented demand for hand reared Moluccan Cockatoos, and hand reared cockatoos in general. The calls requesting these birds are fairly often in the have you got any of the pink birds category. Usually these prospective buyers know nothing of Moluccans, cockatoos in general, or even parrots in general. They have the cash without doubt, but the knowledge and dedication are sadly lacking.I have above stated the needs of Moluccan Cockatoos in an aviary situation. But what about the ones which are sold as pets? They need (if they are to be caged at all) a very large cage. Most people probably do not have the space to accommodate this in a normal living area. I have only just seen an article, running in another Parrot publication (December 01) whereby the owner of the mentioned Moluccan Cockatoo, is advising others on how to look after their birds. Yet the photograph clearly shows the bird on a standard size parrot cage, the size you would normally assume to be suitable for an African Grey (58h x 24d x 36w). (As stated by the owner, this cage does belong to the aforementioned Moluccan.)How many times must it be stated, these dimensions are not adequate for Moluccan Cockatoos (or other large cockatoos/macaws) and if you do not have the money or the space to have an adequate size cage, you should not have the bird.
Cockatoos also produce from their feathers a talcum powder type dust, and plenty of it. (If your cockatoo does not have this dust on its feathers, there is probably something wrong with it health wise). This dust can present problems to people with asthma or other allergies. It means you need to dust regularly and if your bird(s) do not have access to rain, you need to spray them regularly to keep these feathers in good condition. Can you also cope with this along with the noise and the mess and the psychological demands?
Another point to bear in mind is that these birds are very long lived. The oldest recorded Moluccan Cockatoo was stated to be 80 years at London Zoo, 85 years at San Diego Zoo, or 125 years (private owner in England).
majority of these pet birds unfortunately end up being passed on, and
on, they do have serious psychological problems, and can become screamers
and/or feather pluckers, but it has to be said not usually biters, I have
found that cockatoos do not generally become biters, particularly the
larger cockatoos, in fact a Moluccan would be hard pushed indeed before
resourcing to having a bite from you. Finally these birds end up in a
rescue (definition of which is debatable) or dead.I can hear
you all now this is OTT surely?Not so, this is just the plain and
simple truth. The only thing OTT is purely the number of unwanted birds
doing the rounds, in particular large cockatoos.You try telling
the person who wants to buy a Moluccan cockatoo that they are not suitable
as owners, even though they have a wad of cash waving in your direction
could you do it?Unfortunately too many people cannot, or will not
Indonesia is also as stated above, 85% Islam (muslim) population, there has been and is at this present time civil unrest in some parts, bearing in mind that the people do not know from day to day what will be happening to themselves, or where their food will come from, what hope is there for the Moluccan Cockatoo?
Indonesia actually has 17% of the worlds birds, reptiles and amphibians, and they have lost to the logging companies since the 1950s, an area nearly the size of Germany.Now that you know the facts, what are you going to do, or what can you do?
Sadly many will do nothing and again carry on regardless. However, if you would like to do something:
Do not buy a hand reared Moluccan cockatoo, without great thought if at all. The majority of people cannot cope with them, in all honesty. They are without doubt the most endearing, cuddly of all the cockatoos and this is their downfall. They are also as stated above, in any case CITES Appendix 1 listed, and if only for this reason should not be sold as pets. This apart from the fact that most people cannot cope with their psychological and physical needs.
Do not buy a hand reared Moluccan Cockatoo with the intent to pair it up down the line. Do not buy odd adult birds without knowing their history. Do not pair up a young female with an older male. Do not place them in anything smaller than the size aviary quoted above. Even these dimensions are really not adequate for these birds and are as stated, minimum size needed.I have come across extremists for want of a better word, who would tell you that they think the whole population of Moluccans the world over would be better off dead rather than live in confinement. I am not one of these, as I do not believe we as human beings have the right to play God and decide on life and death as such, if a life is there to be saved we surely have the obligation to save it. However, having saved the life the next problem steps up, how do you find suitable homes for these birds? not easy.Maybe in some circumstances these birds would have been better off not having been born, such as in situations where they are kept in a dark cupboard, or covered over in the dark in an out of the way room of the house permanently - which does happen.
The owners excuse being that they are too noisy and this action of covering the cage stops the noise (so they can watch the television in peace). These are the very people who should never have even contemplated buying a Moluccan cockatoo, and they are probably the people who never read anything about them or their needs, prior to purchase. Unfortunately these also seem to be the people whom even if they did know, would not bother or care.
The demand for wild caught birds and parrots in the pet trade will reach saturation point, and it is my hope that we will become more aware of what we are doing to our world and what is in it. Before it is too late for them and us.
At this moment in time I do think that the Moluccan Cockatoo should not be bred to supply the pet trade, and probably never should have been, certainly not in the way it has. Breeding this cockatoo with the aim of producing parent reared offspring, is something which I personally have no objection to.
Unfortunately again mentioning this very fact also brings in the extremists who then ask what do you intend to do with the parent reared offspring? As they are not suitable for release back into the wild, and most people do not have suitable aviary accommodation for them. There is not ever going to be an easy solution, and you cannot please all of the people, all of the time - some of the people not at all. The only one thing which I know is certain, is that we as human beings caused the problem in the first place.Project Bird Watch is an organisation whose main aim is to save the Moluccan Cockatoo and other Indonesian bird species. They have developed community based ecotourism. Which in effect is to employ the trappers as guides for tourists; encourage them to reject the logging companies in favour of sustainable ecotourism; to assess and hopefully improve agricultural self sufficiency; plus many other projects (bird watching holidays available)
All figures quoted in good faith as accurate as is possible to obtain at this time, but some figures such as for Loro Parque may now have changed.
It is illegal to trade these cockatoos (buy or sell) without the correct CITES paperwork (Article 10 Certificate) to accompany them.
©This article was published in the February 2002 issue of UK Parrot Society Magazine and is copyrighted.