Wetar Ground-dove Project

Organisation: Columbidae Conservation
Project started: 2009
Project ended: 2009
Location: Wetar, Lesser Sundas

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Finding and protecting an endangered dove

The Wetar Ground-dove project was a collaborative project between Columbidae Conservation; Charles Darwin University, Australia; and the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program.

The Wetar Ground-dove Gallicolumba hoedii is an endangered species of dove that has not been recorded on the Indonesian island of Wetar since 1902. It is only known from a handful of sightings on Timor – the only other island on which it occurs and was only photographed for the first time in 2004 with these of a bird confiscated from a bird seller on Timor. Currently it thought to be rare on Timor and is not known to occur in any of the islands protected areas. Wetar, where the type specimen was collected from which the species was described might offer the species best chance of future survival, however, it is completely unknown whether the species still exists on the island. Wetar is a large island (3600 km2) and biologically very important island – it is home to a number of globally threatened and endemic bird species – but there are currently no protected areas on the island. Systematic surveys of the island have never really been undertaken, certainly not within the last 100 years. As such, the status of all the islands’ wildlife is unknown. The establishment of a protected area on the island is a high priority and, based on what little information is available, the highest mountain on the island is ranked as one of 25 outstanding Important Bird Areas in Wallacea.

A small team of International and Indonesian scientists ‘rediscovered’ the endangered Wetar Ground-dove on Wetar. During three months fieldwork they assessed the importance of Wetar for the species’ future survival and determine the status of the Wetar Ground-dove and the islands’ other threatened and near threatened birds and the status of key forest habitats. They also assessed the effectiveness of the boundary of the islands’ first protected area.

Initial results:

Wetar is among the most biologically intact islands in Indonesia for its size, with perhaps 95% natural vegetation cover – as a result of low population density, remoteness and low level of development with few roads and barely any industry. The Endangered Wetar Ground-dove was rediscovered on Wetar Island. It was recorded from 6 of 11 sites visited and was commonly recorded along the Naumatang gorge (perhaps >100 birds). The Endangered Timor Imperial Pigeon Ducula cineracea was recorded at seven of 11 forest sites and 22 of 70 point counts and was generally fairly common. This pigeon is typically considered to prefer montane habitat, but on Wetar it was recorded down to 30 m where it was common in the Naumatang gorge. Total population is crudely estimated in the low tens of thousands of birds, perhaps 10-20,000 birds. All 10 pigeon species known from Wetar were recorded and most were common to abundant in suitable habitat. The small-island Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon Ducula rosacea was the most frequently recorded bird on point counts, and was recorded from all mainland Wetar sites. We recorded 24 globally restricted-range birds, including two that are new island records.A total of 133 bird species were recorded including a remarkable 52 new island records, seven were new island forest bird records.

There are a number of threats facing the island that will have both indirect and direct threat to the wildlife of Wetar; the most pressing of these is infrastructure development from current (north-south island road) and potential projects (a trans- Wetar road). Additional threats are the potential expansion or creation of new mining operations and its associated indirect affects (increased immigration, hunting). On Wetar we assess hunting to historically have been low and localised. This has led to a level of tameness among the wildfire of Wetar, including the Wetar Ground-dove that potentially will mean they are easy targets for hunters. The Bekau Huhun Nature Reserve in the west of Wetar covers a large area of high quality habitat, but the boundary was drawn remotely (there has never been a survey by Indonesian Forestry staff in the area and there is no Indonesian Forestry Department presence on Wetar) and it excludes extensive high quality habitat including the Naumatang Gorge area and possibly other high quality, but unsurveyed, lowland forest. The results from our fieldwork suggest that the current Nature Reserve is unlikely to contain a substantial population of the Wetar Ground-dove.

View final technical report:
Click here to download the technical report: Trainor, C.R, Imanuddin, Firmann, A, and Walker, J.S. (2009) The status and conservation of the Endangered Wetar Ground-dove (Gallicolumba hoedtii) and other wildlife on Wetar Island, Indonesia, 2008. Technical Report No. 1. Columbidae Conservation, Manchester, UK.

Further Information

To support this project, or to seek further information, visit www.columbidae.org.uk or email info@columbidae.org.uk

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