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Starlings Play Key Role in Volcano Warning System for Residents Near Indonesia's Mt Merapi

August 30, 2020, 12.25 AM


KLATEN, – For inhabitants of the Deles hamlet in Central Java’s Klaten district, living under the shadow of Mount Merapi is a daily hazard due to its ongoing volcanic activity.

While the nearby Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG] monitoring stations often issue warnings of ash, lava and other signs of an impending volcanic eruption, the locals can also turn to an age-old natural warning system that has long been enshrined in folk belief.

“Flocks of starlings are known to come down from Mount Merapi to the locals’ houses, especially in the late afternoon or evening,” Sukirman, a long-time Deles resident, told on August 28.

Also read: Indonesia's Sinabung Volcano Spews Thick Ash Again

“One notable example was before [Mount Merapi’s] major eruption in 2010, when hundreds of starlings descended on trees and gardens near the locals’ houses before returning up [the mountain] again. We have yet to see them turn out in similar numbers [in 2020].”

Sukirman added that the appearance of other animals is also a warning sign. “If deer and langur are seen heading down Mount Merapi’s slopes along with starlings, that is a high alert.” 

“The same cannot be said of long-tailed monkeys despite media reports to the contrary, because they live in close proximity to humans and are used to them.”

Sukirman said he believed that there is a rational explanation behind these seemingly ominous natural phenomena. “The [abnormal] heat and tremors from [the volcano] might have prompted the animals, particularly starlings, to fly to lower altitudes.” 

“After all, starlings are known to nest on [Mount Merapi’s] craggy slopes and cliffs.”

Also read: Indonesia's Most Active Volcano Erupts, Activity Caught on Camera 

Sukirman added that Merapi’s frequent volcanic activity prompted the continuation of constant watches and other long-time traditions.

“Just as we would pool money to celebrate religious holidays or New Year’s Day, we would ask residents to do the same when Merapi erupts. But while the rest are saved for festive occasions, the ‘Merapi Fund’ goes towards relief efforts,” Sukirman said.

“After all, an eruption on Mount Merapi is a godsend similar to Christmas or Eid-al Fitr,” he added without any trace of irony.

Mount Merapi, whose last major eruption occurred in 2018, literally means 'Mountain of Fire' in Indonesian. The mountain is known as Indonesia’s most active volcano, with its first major eruption recorded over a thousand years earlier in 1006.

Indonesia is situated on the Ring of Fire, an area around the Pacific Basin known for its frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. 

(Writers: Labib Zamani, Solo Contributor | Editor: Teuku Muhammad Valdy Arief)


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