Working on a remote and protected beach in Indonesia, conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and PALS—a local partner organization—recently celebrated the release of rare animal hatchlings into the wild, part of a plan to save the olive ridley sea turtle and an extraordinary bird called the maleo.
On February 23 on Sulawesi’s Binerean Cape, conservation managers released two newly hatched maleo chicks, which quickly flew into the forest, and 34 newly hatched olive ridley sea turtles, which crawled into the sea. All hatchlings emerged from protected nests on a 950-meter beach that is now owned and managed by PALS (Pelestari Alam Liar dan Satwa, or Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation).
“The joint release of maleos and olive ridleys on the same day is a boost to the conservation of both species in Sulawesi,” said Noviar Andayani, Country Director for WCS’s Indonesia Program and participant in the Maleo Conservation Project. “The protection of the beachfront lands which are critical nesting grounds for both species will help safeguard this part of Indonesia’s natural heritage.”
The hatchling release comes soon after the October 2013 purchase of the Binerean beach site from various land owners by PALs with the assistance of WCS and donors. The goal of the acquisition: to protect nesting grounds for threatened species and a wider range of species sharing the same habitat. In addition to land purchases, the project recruits both local rangers and even former maleo hunters to guard nests from egg poachers.
The most threatened of the beach nesters—the maleo—is a chicken-sized bird with a black helmet (or casque), yellow facial skin, a red-orange beak and a nesting strategy more reptilian than avian. After burying their eggs in sun-baked beaches or, in some instances, volcanically heated soil, the maleo parents abandon their nest. After an incubation period of approximately 70 days, the chicks emerge fully feathered, able to fly and fend for themselves.
The maleo’s entire range is limited to the islands of Sulawesi and Buton, and the estimated population numbers 8,000-14,000 mature individual birds (4,000-7,000 breeding pairs). The bird is listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List and is threatened by egg harvesting and habitat loss.
Nest abandonment is normal for sea turtles such as the olive ridley, one of three threatened sea turtle species known to nest on the Binerean Cape area. Weighing up to 100 pounds, the olive ridley is one of the smallest sea turtle species. Although widely distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical seas of the world, the olive ridley turtle is still listed as Vulnerable on IUCN’s Red List. The species is threatened by egg harvesting and direct hunting.
“The round-the-clock monitoring of maleo and sea turtle nests on this protected beach prevents the exploitation of these species, a threat that still frequently occurs at other sites,” said Dr. Peter Clyne, Deputy Director of WCS’s Asia Program. “We hope to extend the program to adjacent coastal areas and perhaps other sites where these species still persist.”
In addition to conservation efforts in the field, WCS also works to conserve maleos at its Bronx Zoo headquarters, where curators have successfully reared maleo chicks by recreating the specialized conditions needed for successful reproduction and incubation.
The project managers thank the following contributors: Heidi and Harvey Bookman, and the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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