Saving the Maleo in Sulawesi

Project Cost: $197,000

Funding Raised: $197,000

$2.08 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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The world’s 11th largest island, Sulawesi in Indonesia is situated entirely within Wallacea, an archipelago straddling the boundaries of Asia and Australia.

As a result, Sulawesi contains a mix of both continents’ biodiversity, as well as many entirely unique species found nowhere else in the world, such as the Maleo, one of Asia’s most iconic birds. Endemic to Sulawesi, the Maleo is a mound builder that uses volcanic and solar-heated sand to incubate its eggs in large colonial nesting grounds. This colonial nesting behavior is one of nature’s spectacles, but it has left the species exceptionally vulnerable to egg harvesting.

In 1859, when the great naturalist-explorer Alfred Russel Wallace visited Sulawesi, then called Celebes, he made an ominous observation about Maleo eggs: “When quite fresh, they are delicious eating, as delicate as a fowl’s egg, but much richer, and the natives come from more than fifty miles round to search for them.” Harvesting Maleo eggs has a long history in Sulawesi. While Maleos breed in localized colonies, they spend the rest of the year in lowland rainforest foothills away from the colonies. Since Wallace’s time, deforestation has isolated many of these nesting sites. As a result of overexploitation and habitat loss, half the nesting grounds in North Sulawesi have been abandoned. The species has declined by over 90 percent since 1950 across the island, and the global population is now estimated at fewer than 5,000 birds.

Since 2001, Rainforest Trust’s local partner, Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia, has been pioneering efforts to conserve nesting grounds and forests in northern Sulawesi through community awareness campaigns and by purchasing properties that contain nesting colonies. Through this partnership, Rainforest Trust will expand conservation efforts by purchasing additional nesting sites and leasing adjacent lands to Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park for Maleo dispersal. Protecting Maleo beach nesting sites and securing adjacent lands as a wildlife corridor will greatly help Maleos as well as a number of other threatened endemic species, such as the Spectral Tarsier, Anoa, Gorontalo Macaque and Blue-faced Rail. Additionally, endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles and Green Turtles nest on the beaches that will be protected in the proposed reserve.

Fast Facts

North Sulawesi, Indonesia

47,328 acres

Key Species
Maleo (EN), Lowland Anoa (EN), Spectral Tarsier (VU), Green Turtle (EN), Leatherback Turtle (VU)

Tropical rainforest and coastal beaches

Deforestation, agricultural expansion, poaching

Protecting Maleo nesting sites and dispersal corridors in north Sulawesi

Local Partners
Wildlife Conservation Society

Total Project Cost

Financial Need

Cost Per Acre


The forests of North Sulawesi are exceptionally important for biodiversity and home to a huge number of strange and unusual species found nowhere else. Of 127 mammals found in Sulawesi, 62 percent are endemic to the island, while among 233 birds, 36 percent are endemic, including the Maleo, a flagship species for Sulawesi.

These black and white, turkey-sized birds build mounds of volcanic and solar-heated sand to incubate their eggs in large colonial nesting grounds. However ingenious, their nesting strategy leaves them incredibly vulnerable to egg collecting by people. Spanning 709,477 acres adjacent to the project area, Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park (TNBNW) is the largest nature reserve in Sulawesi, supporting over 65 percent of the mammal species and 38 percent of the bird species present on the island. The lowland rainforests in this area provide habitat connectivity between the national park and the coastline and are vital corridors for many species, including the Vulnerable Gorontalo Macaque and the Spectral Tarsier, a small furry marmoset-like animal with huge eyes that hunts insects at night in the rainforest canopy. Additionally, the beaches adjoining these forests are used as nesting grounds for Vulnerable Leatherback Sea Turtles and Endangered Green Turtles. Many other threatened endemics are found in this area’s forests, including the Endangered Lowland Anoa, a small forest buffalo, and the Vulnerable Blue-faced Rail.


Deforestation for the production of crops like cloves, palm oil, and coffee form the greatest threats toward habitat loss in North Sulawesi.

These activities are predominantly driven by small farmers who produce commodity crops to sell to large traders and exporters. Although forest clearance is occurring at every elevation, even on extremely steep slopes with poor soil quality, the lowland forest habitat close to coastal settlements is at most risk from degradation and deforestation. In addition, hunting poses a considerable threat to a wide number of species. Hunting for subsistence is common around forested areas and includes the collection of Maleo eggs for food. There is also a thriving bushmeat market for many wildlife species. Hunters who operate ‘to order’ are often equipped and paid by buyers and traders from villages in the north to procure desired species for sale. With the drastic reduction of available species in north Sulawesi from this trade, there is now increasing hunting pressure on species in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park to supply these markets. North Sulawesi is a major hub for the illegal trafficking of wildlife within Indonesia and internationally. Sulawesi’s many endemic bird species are particularly threatened by this trade, and the biodiversity in Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and its surrounding forests is particularly vulnerable.


The nearby communities of Mataindo and Torosik are ethnically indigenous to the region and are predominantly Islamic, with an economy focused on fisheries and small-scale agriculture. Rainforest Trust’s local partner has maintained strong relationships with these communities and others in the area since 2008.

The establishment of the conservation area will ultimately mean that some smallholder coconut and spice plantations are lost. Rainforest Trust’s local partner is working to compensate farmers by allowing limited production of crops in buffer zones surrounding the reserve while creating jobs to cultivate and harvest these crops. Additionally, research is underway to improve crop yields as well as overall commodity prices for communities to help offset the potential loss of land taken out of production.


To ensure a future for Sulawesi’s remarkable biodiversity, Rainforest Trust is working with its local partner, Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia, to protect 47,328 acres of critical Maleo habitat.

This conservation strategy will be implemented in three ways: firstly, by leasing a new forest conservation area surrounded by a mixed agroforestry buffer zone. This buffer area will be co-managed with local communities, using the sale of commodity crops like spices and cloves grown there for ongoing management costs. Secondly, important beach nesting grounds and coastal habitat corridors will be purchased from local farmers, who will then be employed to guard the nest sites. Simultaneously, farmers will pursue only low-intensity agroforestry of coconuts and spices, which will provide them a sustainable income while providing cover habitat for Maleos. The sale of these commodity crops will be used for ongoing site protection and already has proven extremely popular with the community. Lastly, a large Ecosystem Restoration Concession north of the core conservation area will be protected and restored, securing vital forest habitat for Maleos and other species while providing an important wildlife corridor between the project area and Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park. Creating this new conservation area with the support of local communities will ensure a future for the Maleo and for a host of truly remarkable Sulawesi endemic species found nowhere else on the planet.