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New country survey

First surveys of Timor-Leste find globally-threatened species…

Groundbreaking work by BirdLife International and the Government of Timor-Leste, formerly East Timor, has found five globally-threatened bird species in significantly higher densities than previously known. BirdLife International is calling for more resources to be put into conserving Timor-Leste`s biodiversity and ensuring that an effective protected area network is put in place. The discoveries will be made public at the announced at the IUCN Vth World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa.

The Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area (EBA), in which the half-island nation lies, has six globally-threatened bird species. A total of 31 globally restricted-range species are found in Timor-Leste, evidence of the effects of island isolation and a unique evolutionary history. Timor-Leste achieved independence in May 2002 after 24 years under Indonesian occupation and a three-year interim UN administration. BirdLife International has been working with the staff of Timor-Leste`s Departments of Forestry and Environment and with local communities to clarify the status of globally threatened birds and key sites.

BirdLife began work on mapping Important Bird Areas (IBAs) on Timor-Leste in 2002, using existing data. Of the nine potential IBAs identified, the most significant appeared to be the 300 sq. km Monte Paitchau-Iralalara area in the east, a site of extensive closed canopy forest ranging from pristine coasts to low mountain ranges. Surveys carried out there and at other sites recorded five of the six globally-threatened species, all of them in higher densities than previously known. Only the Endangered Wetar Ground-dove, Gallicolumba hoedti, was unrecorded.However, Timor-Leste`s threatened species face increasing pressure, highlighting the importance of establishing effective protected areas. Four of the threatened species are pigeons, which are generally under high pressure from hunting. The Timor Green Pigeon .Treron psittacea, and the Timor Imperial-pigeon Ducula cineracea, are classified as Endangered, and the Black cuckoo-dove Turacoena modesta, is Vulnerable. One of the world`s rarest birds, the Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea, as well as the Vulnerable Timor Sparrow Padda fuscata, are often found feeding on crops, and this is a source of conflict with local subsistence farmers who rely on these corn and rice crops. More field surveys are needed to assess the status of these threatened species, with emphasis on interviewing local people to understand the levels of hunting pressure, said Colin Trainor, a consultant to BirdLife International. Remaining fragments of closed canopy forest need to be mapped to focus further surveys too. BirdLife has been working in collaboration with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service which is playing a lead role providing support to the Timor-Leste Government with the establishment of a protected areas network. Two protected areas have so far been gazetted. The Nino Conis Santana National Park includes the Monte Paitchau-Iralalara IBA and two nearby IBAs, the island of Joco, consisting of 300 sq. km of monsoon forest with a 40 sq. km lake, and a further significant forest fragment in the Lore area, some 15 km to the West.

A second area called Tasitolu (literally three lakes), has been proposed as a Peace Park. This site includes a seven sq. km catchment area covering the culturally and biologically significant Tasitolu wetlands and is located some eight km from the capital, Dili.BirdLife International is pleased to be working with the new government of Timor-Leste, says Michael Rands, BirdLife International`s Director and Chief Executive. The presence of such relatively high densities of five of the island`s six globally threatened species is wonderful news. But work to identify areas in need of protection and to ensure that Timor-Leste`s existing protected areas are effectively managed for conservation is clearly a matter of urgency.

For further information, contact: Ade Long in Durban: tel 082 370 0553; birdlifeatWPC@yahoo.com or Gareth Gardiner-Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; 07779 018 332 (mobile); gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk

4th July 2014