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The last time we saw this bird was over 170 years ago

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For the first time in 170 years, researchers have confirmed sightings of a black-browed akarat in Borneo. The rediscovery of the bird solves what a renowned ornithological guide describes as “one of the great puzzles of Indonesian ornithology”.

The black-browed akarat (Malacocincla perspicillata) was first described around 1850, following the collection of the one and only known specimen of the species. Problem, the specimen was first “tagged” as originating from the island of Java, rather than Borneo. In fact, the first attempts to locate some of its congeners naturally failed. That being said, no ornithologist has subsequently managed to find the bird once the geographical confusion has dissipated.

The situation began to change in 2016. At the time, members of the founding of BW Galeatus, a bird watching group in Borneo territory, contacted local people to learn more about bird diversity. of their provinces.

Excitement, disbelief and a lot of happiness

Two locals – Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan – were then curious to know the identity of a black and brown bird that they sometimes saw in the forest of South Kalimantan. Last October, the two curious managed to capture one of these birds to photograph it. They then sent the photos to BW Galeatus member Joko Said Trisiyanto.

“I was confused when we got these images. The bird looked a bit like Horsfield’s bulletin board (Malacocincla sepiaria), but it didn’t really match ”, explains the ornithologist. “The photos more closely matched an illustration of a black-browed bulletin board (or black-browed akarat).”. In his guide, this bird was listed as “possibly extinct”.

Puzzled, Mr. Trisiyanto forwarded the footage to his colleague Panji Gusti Akbar, who confirmed the bird’s identity. And inevitably, it had a funny effect on him. “I started to survey my house, just trying to contain my enthusiasm”, did he declare. “When we got the confirmation of the identification, I said a little prayer and bowed down to celebrate. I felt excitement, disbelief and a lot of happiness ”.

The only black-browed akalat known to date was a specimen captured in the 1840s. Credits: Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Since then, others have confirmed the existence of this bird, including Ding Li Yong, a BirdLife International in Singapore. The latter first thought of a farce. ” It took me a while to figure it out ”, he explained.“Once I realized that the photos were real, I had a tear in my eye”.

With the bird’s identity now confirmed, Mr. Trisiyanto asked Mr. Suranto and Mr. Fauzan to release the animal in the forest, stressing that this rediscovery could boost tourism in the region. The researcher also plans to train them as birding guides, and plans to go directly to the site once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.


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