Liberec Zoo makes astronomical bird clock to help save endangered species

Many songbirds in Southeast Asia are now on the list of threatened bird species, having been decimated largely due to incessant capture for trade. Liberec Zoo in the north of the Czech Republic is coordinating an EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) conservation campaign involving some 200 European zoos which are striving to save these species from extinction. I spoke to the zoo’s spokeswoman Barbara Tesařová and began by asking her to explain why so many songbirds in Southeast Asia are threatened.

Photo: archive of Liberec ZooPhoto: archive of Liberec Zoo “They are losing their natural habitat, but they are being killed as well. The demand for songbirds in Southeast Asia is extremely high and this is affecting hundreds of species and millions of individual birds annually. The trade is often illegal and unchecked. The reason is that Indonesian people love birds. It is a cultural problem. If you travel around Indonesia you can see that every single household has many cages with songbirds.”

What kind of birds are we talking about?

“There are tens of endangered species, but the campaign is focused on six main species : Bali Myna, Nias Hill myna, Javan green magpie, Sumatran laughinghthrush, Straw-headed bulbul and the White-rumped shama.”

You are working on a bird clock that is to be part of the project and raise awareness of the plight of these birds – what will it look like and what inspired the idea?

“The idea of a bird clock which would represent endangered species is older than 10 years and now we think the time has come to make that dream come true. There are two main reasons, the first is that Liberec Zoo will celebrate its 100th birthday next year and we would like to present something new and extraordinary to our visitors, and the second reason is that we are coordinating the campaign to save the most endangered species of birds.”

Why is it a clock and what will it look like?

Nias Hill myna, photo: archive of EAZANias Hill myna, photo: archive of EAZA “There is a small village close to Liberec called Kryštofovo Údolí which has its own astronomical clock. It is really nice, so that inspired us and our astronomical clock will be similar to it. There will be the six flagship species – and every hour one of them will appear in the window and sing its birdsong.”

Why only six birds when you could have had more?

“Because they are the flagship species of the campaign. If we presented 30 or 40 of them to the public it would most likely confuse visitors. So we chose to present the 6 flagship species.”

Who is making the clock – the mechanics, the bird models and so on?

“We are making it in cooperation with the technical university in Liberec, we gave them pictures, photographs and 3-D models and they made beautiful one-meter bird models for the clock. They are made of wood and steel.”

The bird models are a meter tall?

“Yes.”

How big will the clock be?

“It will be huge. It will be part of the tower of the oldest building here at the zoo. It used to house the office of the zoo’s first director.”

So the clock will be on the premises of the zoo?

“Yes, exactly.”

How many other zoos are involved in this project around Europe?

White-rumped shama, photo: archive of EAZAWhite-rumped shama, photo: archive of EAZA “Right now it is about 200 zoos and we have already managed to fundraise around 150,000 euros for conservation projects in Indonesia.”

Does every zoo have a special project? What are they doing?

“Every zoo has a different strategy. Some zoos can’t donate money because as non-profit organizations we are not allowed to donate money to the campaign. So we organize special fundraising activities here at the zoo. For instance here at Liberec Zoo we had a huge screen with a picture of the rainforest and visitors could buy a sticker of the pre-selected birds and could “release” it from the cage and stick it on the screen. Each sticker costs one euro and we managed to fundraise a lot of money from this project.”

And how has the public responded to this campaign?

“To be honest Asian songbirds are not the most “sexy” animals in the world. It would be easier to save pandas, rhinos or gorillas, and it is quite difficult for educators to find some activities that would be interesting and fun for children. But kids are great. We started a singing competition and we asked kindergartens, primary and secondary schools to create their own songs and lyrics, and sing to save the songbirds of Indonesia and people liked that a lot.”

So in what other ways can people help?

“There are many different ways. For instance they can help us to collect binoculars which will be provided to the NGO Green Books which established more than 100 eco-libraries in Indonesia and the local children will use them for bird watching and specially-trained educators will take them on nature trips and show them how to appreciate birds in Nature and not just in a cage.”

How much do you hope to collect and what will the money be used for?

Bali myna, photo: archive of EAZABali myna, photo: archive of EAZA “We would like to fundraise around 250,000 euros and the money will be used for pre-selected projects in Indonesia –for instance we would like to build a new rescue center on Sumatra Island because there are no rescue centers for birds there. The markets are full of endangered birds and the trade is illegal but when the police go to the market and would like to confiscate the birds there is no place where to put them. So there is no law enforcement. That is why we would like to build a rescue center where the birds could be placed and cared for before being released back into the wild.

“Another project concerns a tiny, beautiful tropical island close to Sumatra Island where the last population of the species Nias Hill myna is surviving. It is very important to protect this island from poachers. We would like to provide money for salaries for rangers, a boat that would surveil the island and take other steps to protect the island from poachers.”

For more information about this campaign go to www.silentforest.eu

The campaign is already underway across Europe and people can help in various ways. When will visitors to the Liberec Zoo be able to see this unique bird clock?

“If all goes according to plan we would like to unveil the bird clock in September of this year. ”