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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
City mascot returns to Jakarta
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

High above the local government office in east Jakarta, a massive bird spreads its frozen wings over the flowerbeds and gazes down, with its hard bronzed eyes, on hurrying uniformed officials.

Kites
The kites are making a slow comeback

This is a Brahminy Kite, Jakarta's city mascot - a reminder of the city's native kite population.

But the only place you will catch a glimpse of one nowadays is on a statue, or perhaps on the side of a city bus.

Jakarta's kite population has been hunted to extinction by illegal traders.

Having a caged bird of prey in your house is something of a status symbol here, and one by one all the city's birds have been captured and sold as pets.

But one organisation is trying to bring them back.

Off the coast of the capital, a small team funded by the UK charity International Animal Rescue has been quietly battling the illegal trade to repopulate the area.

Population re-born

Getting to Kotok Island means sailing a couple of hours out into the Java Sea.

As the boat pulls into the wooden landing stage, tiny fish dart away under the clear water, and a sandy shore, thick with coconut palms, opens up.

Jakarta bus
The birds are still more commonly sighted on the sides of buses

Hidden inside the tangle of tropical shrubs, at the heart of the island, sit a series of large wire cages.

This is where Jakarta's new kite population is being born. Or rather, rehabilitated.

Every one of the birds in these cages has been wrested back from illegal traders or from private houses.

All have had their wings clipped, and some will never fly again. But those with a chance spend months here learning again how to survive in the wild.

Social animals

Karmele Llano, a vet with International Animal Rescue, showed me round one of the cages where nine Brahminy Kites are currently waiting to be released.

We are working to stop the illegal market, and investigating how the trade happens from capture to sale
Karmele Llano

"This is the Flying Cage," she said, "it's one of the final steps before the kites are released back into the wild.

"This is where they learn to fly again. The cage gives them a chance to strengthen their wings and practise catching fish."

The Flying Cage - 12m (39ft) long and 8m tall - has a small pond at the centre, into which staff drop fish every night under cover of darkness.

They avoid the cage during daylight hours, to minimise human contact with the kites.

After arriving at the centre, and being checked for medical problems, the birds spend several months in the Flying Cage, practising their skills before being released.

Those whose wings are too badly damaged to heal will spend the rest of their lives on the island.

"For us it's really amazing," Karmele said. "To see these birds ready to be released. They're really social animals, so it makes it easy for us - we can keep them in one cage, and release them altogether."

Bureaucratic 'iceberg'

But rehabilitation takes time. In two years, the team has released just 34 kites. Nine more are due to be freed soon.

It is a drop in the ocean, but Karmele says that what you see on Kotok Island is only the tip of a large and very bureaucratic iceberg.

"We are working to stop the illegal market," she said, "and investigating how the trade happens from capture to sale.

"This is just the last step of a whole process - which includes educating local people, forestry officials, everyone."

But it is never easy to completely erase the damage done by the illegal trade.

Many of the kites that are released have spent most of their lives surrounded by people, and some are too nervous to return to the wild.

Instead they never leave the island at all, but sit in the tree-tops and welcome the occasional boats of tourists with bright rasping cries.




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