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Yogyakarta, or short Yogya is one of the two still excisting traditional royal cities of Central Jawa; the other is Solo. The city is in the centre of a wide belt of fertile ricefields, which are dominated in the north by the smouldering Gunung Merapi ('Mount Merapi'), and in the south is limited because of the rough Indian Ocean.

Protecting a black hawk chick
On the slope of Mount Merapi

The news about a pair of black hawks (Ictinaetus malayensis) rearing a chick in a forest on the slope of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, finally reached Yayasan Kutilang Indonesia.

Activists from a bird protection foundation in the city had every reason to rejoice because the young creature is a new member of a flock of rare raptors, raising hopes for the conservation of this species, with only dozens of them left on the southern hill.

Several bird lovers from Kutilang set out to the location, trekking three kilometers uphill from Cangkringan, with local villager Badiman as a guide. As they reached the forest, which is part of Mount Merapi National Park (TNGM), they were surprised and delighted to find easy access to the birds' natural abode.

The birds were nesting on a branch in the middle of a dadap tree (Erithrina variegata) on the lower slope, visible from a distance of about 20 meters when approached from the nearest hillside. With no other trees concealing the nest, they could clearly see, using cameras and binoculars, a young black hawk chick about a month old. "It's very beautiful," said Gunawan, a bird-watcher from Muntilan, Central Java.

However, the ease of access poses a dilemma. On the one hand, "the exposed nest allows us to observe the behavior of black hawks," said Lim Wen Sin, Kutilang's senior bird-watcher. On the other hand, the open view means there is a high risk of the chick being snatched by bird hunters to sell.

Badiman said that in 1999, hawk fledglings nesting near the present location were stolen by hunters. "The poachers were not local people but came from Klangon, Klaten," he said, asserting that natives of Cangkringan had never grabbed any of the chicks and would even warn those trying to do so. "But control by locals alone of course is not enough," Badiman added.

In fact, Government Regulation No. 7/1999 on the conservation of flora and fauna has declared black hawks a protected species. Globally, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has included the species in Appendix II, meaning that it is not yet threatened by extinction but will soon cease to exist unless trading in it is strictly regulated.

In their natural habitat, black hawks are slow to reproduce. Ornithologists believe that a female hawk will lay only one egg every two years. Hawk chicks usually perish before they can fly. According to Kutilang's records, three young hawks were stolen from their nests on the southern slopes since 2000, which explains the small population. A chick can fetch hundreds of thousands of rupiah on the market.

With such vulnerability, Badiman regretted the absence of forest rangers from the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) of Yogyakarta to maintain control. "We shall be keeping an eye on the area," said Kuspriyadi, head of Yogyakarta's BKSDA, adding that his field officers might not yet be aware of the existence of young hawks in Cangkringan.

As the bird-watchers observed the nest, the female parent was soaring in the sky, with a wingspan of one meter to 1.5 meters. Its eyes, eight times as sharp as those of humans, were scanning the area below in search of prey, particularly rats and squirrels. "Now is the most dangerous time for the young bird, so safeguarding it is essential," stressed Badiman. The fledgling, with its brown and black fluff is strong enough for weaning but cannot fly yet, making it vulnerable to poachers.

"Jogja Bird Rescue (JBR) should thus redirect its focus here," proposed JBR coordinator Lim Wen Sin. JBR is a Kutilang project for the protection of birds in their habitat, with active public participation. Originally, JBR planned to conduct surveillance of another pair of black hawks building their nest around Turgo hill also located within TNGM, from morning until evening, while observing their pattern of behavior.

Ig. Kristanto, director of the Kutilang foundation, said that, as already done before, this hawk chick would be safeguarded until it was capable of flying so that hunters would find it hard to catch it. In Indonesia, hawks live in Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi and Kalimantan. They live in forests in low-lying and hilly areas up to an altitude of 1,400 meters. Elsewhere, the birds are found in India, Southeast Asia and Southeasten China.

In its nest, it was noticed that the young hawk mostly remained seated in a hatching position, now and again walking around its fairly big dwelling place while its mother was away. By instinct, it would discharge droppings outside the clean nest, because of the high acidity of its excrement.

By noon, one of its parents brought a rat clenched in its claws. In their research, Sidik Purnomo and Dewi Soleha from Yayasan Kanopi Indonesia found that during reproduction, the male hawk had to kill three or four rats for its mate and chicks, as one of the ecological functions of black hawks is to control the population of rodents.

Sadly, though, the male was reluctant to return to its nest "because our presence scared it away," said Lim Wen Sin, even when the female was also perched on a nearby tree. Then they were only diving low round the nest, frightening flocks of parrots (Psittacula alexandri), which also nested in the area. "The parrots are terrified as sometimes they become the prey of black hawks," added Lim.

Some time later, as thick fog began to limit the bird-watchers' view, the hawk pair were still not ready to return home. "Now we've got to leave. Pity the chick, starving and waiting for so long," said Lim, packing his equipment.

The bird lovers descended that noon, but starting the following morning JBR volunteers would be watching over the young hawk until early evening, to make sure that it grows into a new adult hawk and thus preserve the species - at least on Mount. Merapi. The bird has been nominated as a symbol of the national park.

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