Rare Birds Get Private Beach

May 13, 2009

WCS helps buy an exclusive stretch of sand on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where the endangered maleo lays its giant eggs. The beach is also a haven for sea turtles.

A private beach is a luxury for most, but for the maleo—an endangered bird found only on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi—it’s a lifesaver. In order to help the population recover, the Wildlife Conservation Society has helped buy an exclusive stretch of sand that maleos use for nesting.

Located on the Binerean Cape in northern Sulawesi, the 36-acre beach is now owned by PALS (Pelestari Alam Liar dan Satwa), a local NGO that works with WCS to conserve wildlife in Sulawesi. The beach was purchased for approximately $12,500 with funds donated by the Lis Hudson Memorial Fund and the Singapore-based company Quvat Management. The Dutch-based Van Tienhoven Foundation also provided support.

“Protecting this beach is just the first step in what will soon be a comprehensive conservation project for the benefit of the maleo,” said Noviar Andayani, Country Director of WCS-Indonesia. “Fewer than 100 nesting sites still exist throughout the bird’s entire home range, so every one counts.”

The maleo is a chicken-sized bird with a blackish back, a pink stomach, yellow facial skin, a red-orange beak, and a black helmet or “casque.” The bird relies on the sun-baked sands of beaches or volcanically heated soils to incubate its oversize egg, which is five times larger than a chicken’s. After burying the egg in the sand or soil, it moves on. When the chick hatches and emerges from the ground, it can fly and fend for itself.

Four maleo chicks were released in a ceremony held by WCS staff members and some 60 participants from local communities to commemorate the beach’s new protected status. The ceremonial party also released 98 green, leatherback, and olive ridley turtle hatchlings into the surf. The beaches of Binerean Cape are an important nesting ground for all three turtle species as well as for the maleos, and WCS staff members are working to safeguard the turtle nests, which have produced some 500 hatchlings this season.

In addition to maleos and sea turtles, the beach supports a coconut farm that produces more than 10,000 coconuts per year. Funds from the harvest will be used to pay local guards to protect the beach’s wildlife.

WCS has been actively protecting maleo nests since 2004, specifically by preventing poachers from illegally harvesting the eggs. This year, WCS staff in Indonesia will celebrate the release of the five-thousandth chick as part of a recovery plan for the species.

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