Finding the Endangered Maleo, Sulawesi, Indonesia

One of the most interesting birds that I have come across lately is the endangered Maleo (Macrocephaion maleo), which is endemic to the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The global population is estimated at 4,000 – 7,000 breeding pairs, declining rapidly, in some places by up to 90% since 1950.  This very large  60 cm/2.0 kg megapode is shy and often silent, as a matter of fact I spend 2 days in the Wartabone National Park at Tambun looking for this elusive species, and only saw it once on the last afternoon.

They reach breeding age at 4 years, and spend all day foraging on the ground eating snails (with the shells for calcium), worms and figs and other fruits.

 

The main breeding season is from October to April, and during this period one pair can lay 10-12 eggs, one at a time, with 2-3 week intervals at selected communal nesting sites, which in Wartabone National Park is close to coastal hot spring areas, with a soil temperature of 30-36 degrees centigrade.

Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) egg

Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) egg

The eggs are buried around three feet underground, and both the male and female do this task, later compacting the sand by ‘dancing’ on top of the nesting hole, after which stones are placed on top.

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The local ranger Max W. Lena explained that the national park’s hatching programme had been very successful, and in the period 2000 to 2012 close to 8,000 chicks have been released, a programme that has been overseen and supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society.  In the wild the hatching success is only 40-60%, whereas in the protected hatching area it is 80%.  The huge eggs, averaging 16% of the female body weight comprise of approx. 60% yolk.

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Interestingly it takes the chick two days to tunnel to the surface after hatching, and when they emerge they are ready to fly, and gets no parental support!

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The main threats are unsustainable harvesting of eggs combined with human disturbance of nesting grounds, particularly coastal, and continued poaching and hunting.   Predators such as monitor lizards and introduced dogs and rats are also a problem.

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During our stay one egg had been laid in the nesting ground the day before, and we had the privilege to observe it being dug out and placed inside the secure hatching area.

I would have loved to see it being released into the wild!

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