What We Do
Charismatic, yet endangered, the maleo bird, Macrocephalon maleo, is a natural treasure of Sulawesi and the world. Together with local villagers, AlTo works to protect the maleo at its premiere communal nesting ground near Tompotika’s village of Taima.
Working side by side, teams of villagers and AlTo staff guard the nesting ground round the clock, ensuring that adult maleos can lay their eggs in peace, eggs are safe from poaching, and maleo chicks can hatch out undisturbed and free of human intervention in their natural environment.
Since this collaborative effort began in 2006, virtually all poaching has ceased, and maleo numbers at the Taima nesting ground have steadily risen. This area is the only place on earth where maleo numbers are known to be increasing.
The Maleo: Endangered and Protected by Law
The evolutionarily-unique maleo is endemic to – that is, found only on – Indonesia’s island of Sulawesi, and used to be common there. But habitat destruction and excessive taking of maleo eggs by humans have led to the maleo’s steep decline.
The maleo plays an important role in Sulawesi culture and traditions, and its extinction would be a huge loss to Sulawesi’s cultural heritage.
British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace, writing in the 1850’s, described Sulawesi beaches “black with maleos,” but nowadays maleos have disappeared from most of their former range. The maleo is currently listed as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is fully protected under Indonesian law.
Poaching: the Killer Threat
However, maleos still suffer tremendous pressure from poaching: their eggs are generally not needed for subsistence, but are routinely poached for sale as a status or luxury item. This poaching of eggs, coupled with habitat loss, is pushing the maleo toward extinction. It is illegal to kill, take, harass, or trade in maleo eggs or adult birds, but, without enforcement, these practices continue.
A Remarkable Bird
The maleo has a unique life history. Adult maleos pair for life, and spend most of their time in native Sulawesi rainforests. But when ready, a male and female maleo pair will travel on foot many kilometers to a communal nesting ground, usually on a coastal beach or near a hot spring.
There, the maleo pair will spend hours digging a large pit, in which the female will lay one single, enormous egg. The maleo bird is about the size of a domestic chicken, but the maleo egg is six times the size of a chicken egg!
Having laid their egg, the maleo pair will re-bury it, sometimes as much as a meter deep, and then return to their rainforest home, leaving the egg to be incubated by the sun-warmed sand or hot spring heat. If left undisturbed, about 60-80 days later the chick hatches underground and digs its way to the surface. After a short rest, the chick will fly off into the forest to make its way on its own with no parental care at all!
AlTo’s Maleo Conservation Efforts
Protection of the maleo at the nesting ground near Taima village, Bualemo District first began in 2006. Up until then, virtually every maleo egg was taken by poachers.
But on August 1, 2006, a coalition including Taima villagers, a local university group called Iguana Tompotika, Luwuk-based Yayasan Pemerhati Lingkungan, local government officials, a handful of Indonesian and international conservation professionals, and a group of international visitors all came together to launch what began as an experimental, six-month moratorium on the taking of maleo eggs at the Taima nesting ground.
Happily, the experiment was so successful that the coalition–which has since evolved into a formal partnership between villagers, government, and AlTo–has continued the conservation effort at Taima. It also expanded to include a wide-ranging maleo Awareness Campaign and other field activities.
Benefits to the Community
Jobs and Other Tangible Benefits
The job of guarding at the nesting ground rotates among villagers, involving and supporting many families with the salary paid.
In addition, as a kind of “thank you” from the international community for villagers’ commitment to conserving the maleo, AlTo ensures that the people of Taima receive benefits such as eyeglasses, repairs to community buildings, and, currently, a comprehensive project to provide clean water to all village residents.
In addition to the other jobs and tangible benefits, Taima villagers – and indeed residents all over the Tompotika area – have expressed a deep sense of pride and well-being in their efforts to conserve the maleo. This pride was reinforced when Taima was awarded the Maleo Award from the international conservation community in 2010.
What You Can Do
You can help support AlTo’s maleo conservation efforts.
Of course, you can donate to AlTo to help support the cost of guards and keep maleo numbers growing–the only place on earth where this is demonstrated to be occurring.
Perhaps you may be interested in joining one of AlTo’s periodic eco-tours to the Tompotika area. Because the area is remote and somewhat difficult to reach, if you would like to arrange your own visit to the area, we recommend that you work with a local guide, such as Malia Tours. View wild maleos with respect, keep your distance, and do not disturb them.
Most importantly, if you ever encounter maleo eggs for sale, do not buy or consume them! Remember that they are protected by law, and violators are subject to substantial fines or jail.