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Methods of hunting Birds in Wetland


For centuries, people in Indonesia have hunted birds to satisfy their personal need for food as well as to sell, on a small scale, in the local market place with consequent income for the vendors to enable them to gain the basic necessities of life. Given the huge geographical, cultural and environmental diversity present in Indonesia, it is to be expected that people differ in their attitudes towards, and utilization of, birds across the archipelago. It is also possible that the changing nature of the economy is forcing a change in the nature of the relationship between birds and humans.

Snapshot from Krangkeng, Indramayu, Central Java

In the Krangkeng subdistrict (Indramayu district, Central Java province) systematic hunting of water birds has been occurring for more than sixty years. Initially, bird hunting was primarily for individual subsistence but, with the proliferation of a market economy, birds entered the food trade in the district and nearby cities. With increasing prevalence of birds in the larger markets, bird hunting expanded into chains of hunters, wholesalers, processors (who plucked the birds), vendors and consumers, with numerous families depending upon bird hunting as a major source of income (McCarthy and Noor, 1996). The shift to using wildlife to supplement income was accentuated by increased poverty experienced by the local population whose livelihood also included a combination of fishing and farming (Aminah and Rachmina, 1993).

Large numbers of water birds have been collected. For example, it is estimated that in 1979, approximately one million birds were collected along 60 km of shoreline (5-10 km wide). The estimated catch then declined from about 300,000 between 1984-5, to 200,000 in 1987, and 150,000 in 1992 (Noor, 1987; Milton and Mahardi, 1989; Johnstone et al., 1990; McCarthy and Noor, 1996; Howes et al., 2003). The overall number of hunters also declined from about 300 in 1985-6 to about 20 in 2006-7. It is likely that the decline in the number of hunters was linked to a decline in species being caught. Data were collected during extensive visits that included some time with both the hunters and the middle-men/women.

Many of the birds collected were migratory shorebirds (63 species) originating from the north and using the East Asian-Australasian flyway from September to April each year. For example, in the late 1980s-early 1990s about 45,000 Oriental Pratincoles Glareola maldivarum were caught every year (Johnstone et al., 1990). Resident and endangered birds were also being targeted, including the endangered Milky Stork Mycteria cinerea. In the last two years, however, collection of the Milky Stork has not been recorded, possibly due to intensive conservation measures and education programmes initiated in the 1990s (McCarthy and Noor 1996). The local prices for each bird remained extremely low (Table 2) and prices reflected availability. The Chinese Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis, for example was abundant during the breeding season and relatively easy to catch using nets and call imitations resulting in very low prices during this period. The Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus was caught at all times of year, being relatively abundant and widespread and so attracted mid-range prices. In contrast, the Whistling-ducks Dendrocygna spp. involved more difficult techniques (see below) and fetched relatively high prices.

Various traps and techniques are employed to catch live birds and each hunter has a personal preference and tends to specialize in the use of a particular trap type (see below). The traps used at the Indramayu sites can be differentiated into the following types:

1. Stationary nets. These are elongated snare nets made of strong nylon and set out at night. The species targeted include Chinese Bittern, Oriental Pratincole, and snipes. The nets are typically set out in mudflats, brackish water fishponds and rice fields. Nets are either continuously monitored for approximately ten hours per session or checked every one to three hours. Various tools are employed to imitate the calls to lure the birds directly into the snare net.

2. Clap nets. These target larger water birds such as various Ardeid species. Dimensions of the nets vary but all are composed of strong, light materials and vary from 4-8 m x 2m. Using a system of pulleys, the outsides of two rectangular nets are pulled, raising them up then allowing them to fall and close over a central line (Figure 1). They are used during daylight hours.

3. Torching (lamping or dazzling) Working at night, collectors use a kerosene lamp and a small hand-held net to target more secretive species such as the Rallidae or Anatid ducklings.

4. Gum entrapment Gum, made of the sap of jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus, strengthened by cooking and subsequent water-immersion, is used to target Anatid ducks. Collectors use recorded bird calls as well as shadow decoys made of discarded sandals or shoes set up in a small pool in post harvest rice fields adjacent to pre-harvest paddy fields. Gum-covered sticks are erected and arranged in a dense cluster around the pool. Loud speakers, situated just above the water in the middle of the pool, emit the calls of a flock of birds to attract others. The collector, who has been waiting near the pools, then removes the birds that have become stuck to the sticks. This is the most specialised method of trapping.

Despite being an established centre for waterbird hunting in Java, the Indramayu hunters also subscribe to local customs and beliefs which regulate their own hunting activities. These include taboos, for which the collectors consider there is ample evidence if breached, as well as limitation of the hunting method used.

1. Taboos against catching certain bird species. Several species (for example, terns of the family Laridae) are considered sacred and catching these species is believed to bring bad luck.

2. Taboos against catching birds on certain nights of the month. In the monthly calendar there is a night in which Friday coincides with the ‘kliwon’ chronicle of the Javanese calendar (6 days in a week and 35 days in a month); it is called ‘Jumat Kliwon’. The Thursday night prior to the ‘Jumat Kliwon’ is considered sacred and dangerous because mystic forces are believed to be unleashed. Hunting, and many other activities, are prohibited during this sacred night, once a month, lest mishaps will befall violators of this belief.

3. Specialization in catching method. There is an unwritten agreement that a hunter specialises in only one catching method and hence traps only in the season for which the trap and that method is best suited.

Furthermore, local customs also incorporate the idea of prestige. As a hunter’s reputation depends on the number of birds that he catches, he would feel ashamed to go home with a meagre catch. There was an instance when a request from the research team for assistance (field guiding) was turned down by a local hunter because the target species at the time, Oriental Pratincole and Snipe, were uncommon during the, then, dry season. The team tried to persuade the hunter to use a different method for catching them (such as ‘torching’) but this request was also turned down by the hunter who claimed that torching was not a method within his range of expertise.

Implications for conservation

In the above situation, because the drive to trap birds is an economic one motivated chiefly by the need to provide food for one’s family, it is likely to continue unless there is an alternative method of income generation. Though not necessarily a panacea, ecotourism might provide a partial solution to the conservation of waders landing in the Krangkeng part of the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Combining conservation with the development of an alternative source of income for local people, ecotourism has the potential to reduce pressure on natural resources. Ecotourism might ease pressure on wildlife and habitat while also demonstrating the value of the birds to people of other cultures, but the development of such programmes necessitates a better understanding of the importance of hunting and of local perceptions towards wildlife. Raising the awareness of the value, as a tourist attraction, of diverse species of waders landing on the Krangkeng shore does not necessarily mean that the local villagers understand the connection between conserving these animals and an income. To be successful, ecotourism should not only generate revenue but the revenue should be distributed among local villagers and more than match the income, both in amount and flow, that is generated through trapping for local use and the commercial market. From a different perspective, given the impact of bird pathogens in Indonesia and the correspondingly large investment in surveillance, the hunters at Krangkeng are a source of samples and data that are needed nationally. It is not clear whether the decline in the number of hunters has arisen because of the decline in the number of birds available for harvest but scientists should continue to work with the collectors while they still exist. Hunting of water birds is a seasonal activity influenced by several factors, including harvest yields and the pattern and progression of the migratory season. Indigenous knowledge, including local beliefs, is an important source which can be used to enrich the formally established ‘science’ and is also of crucial importance in understanding the needs for biodiversity conservation in the region.

Throughout Indonesia, the socio-economic dimensions of bird hunting must be realized: conservation needs to be integrated with sustainable development (McCarthy and Noor 1996). Direct change of local mind sets cannot be achieved overnight but neither is it economically realistic to suggest returning to a subsistence level of hunting. Sustainable development measures need collaboration with government and non-government organizations, local government and communities. Multi-pronged measures should include development of micro-finance (credits), participatory land-use and planning, increased agricultural training combined with community organizing, and above all, improvement of overall levels of education.


Aminah, I. M. and Rachmina, I. D. (1993) ‘A socio-economic study of the hunting of water birds in the Indramayu-Cierbon area’, Asian Wetland Bureau, Bogor

Howes, J., Bakewell, D., and Y. Rusila Noor. (2003) Panduan Studi Burung Pantai (Shorebird Studies Manual), Wetlands International, Indonesia Programme, Bogor.

Johnston, R., Lawler, W., Rusila Noor, Y., and Barter, M. (1990) ‘Migratory waterbird survey and bird banding project in the Indramayu-Cirebon region, West Java: The oriental pratincole Glareola maldivarum as a case study’, Directorate General of Forest Protection and Asian Wetland Bureau, Bogor

McCarthy J. and Noor, Y.R. (1996) ‘Bird hunting in Krangkeng, West Java: Linking conservation and development’, Journal of Environment and Development vol 5, no 1, pp87-100

Milton, G. R. and Marhadi, A. (1989), ’An investigation into the market-netting of birds in West Java, Indonesia’, Directorate General of Forest Protection, Bogor

Noor, Y.R. (1987) ‘Studi Populasi Burung Kaitannya dengan Usaha Konservasi di Daerah Pantai Indramayu dan Pantai Cirebon: Laporan Penelitian’, Jurusan Biologi UNPAD, Bandung

Surya Purnama is amateur birdwatcher, who concern on enviromental conservation and education.

Muhammad Indrawan is the Indonesian senior ornithologist’s and IdOU President for 2004 – 2010
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