Updated September 2014
Program: Conservation of the Maleo and of marine turtles in the Tompotika area of Sulawesi, Indonesia
Background | Map | Purpose | Actions and Results

  In Brief  

Location: Sulawesi, Indonesia
Timeframe: Began August 2010; anticipated long-term involvement
Goal: To achieve the recovery of the endangered maleo bird species (Megacephalon maleo) and conservation of marine turtles and fruit bats in the Tompotika area of Sulawesi.
Threats: Both the endangered maleo (a remarkable bird species that buries its eggs in communal nests) and marine turtles faced population declines resulting from rampant harvesting of eggs by local people. Bat populations, which are critical to pollination of local trees and fruit crops, are also declining as bat hunting is on the increase.
Actions & Results: Community education raised awareness about conservation, and pride in the protection of the maleo and sea turtles. Local conservation staff and villagers ensure that nesting areas are protected, and guarded against poachers.

Over 7000 maleo eggs have been saved, and the number of adult maleos returning to nest in the area has tripled. Poaching has been almost completely eliminated. Thousands of turtle hatchlings and hundreds of adult turtles have been saved since beginning the program. The Bat Conservation Awareness Campaign is beginning to shift perspectives and create social pressure to reduce hunting.

Cost: 2013:  ICFC portion $95,000 (43%) Total: $218,859
Cumulative cost to ICFC (including past years): US$355,414
Size of area
2400 km2Compare with:
half the size of Prince Edward Island


The maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) is a large Megapode that nests communally, burying its large (250 g) eggs in open sandy areas where they are incubated by solar and/or geothermal heat over a 2-3 month period. The young take up to 2 days to tunnel to the surface after hatching, and emerge ready to fly. English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace collected maleo eggs when visiting the area in 1859.

AlTo staff, 2009

In more depth...

Program Partners and Personnel

Our partner for this project is the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo), which is a registered non-profit organization in Indonesia and the USA.

The key personnel for this program are AlTo Director Marcy Summers along with AlTo Conservation Officers and villagers.


Sulawesi offers one of conservation's most valuable but untapped opportunities. AlTo Director Marcy Summers points out that "compared to its neighbors, for example Borneo and Sumatra, which both host charismatic megafauna like orangutans, tigers, and elephants, Sulawesi gets very little research or conservation attention, but the minute you look closely you realize it's a conservation treasure, with nearly half its vertebrate species endemic". In a study of how scarce resources can be optimally allocated for conservation, Sulawesi emerged as the highest priority compared with its regional neighbours, Sumatra, Borneo, Java/Bali and southern peninsular Malaysia.1

The endangered maleo is a megapode bird species endemic to Sulawesi, and represents a priority conservation opportunity in the Tompotika area where ICFC's efforts are focused. Further information on this fascinating species may be found in a Birdlife International fact sheet. Tompotika is also an important nesting area for four species of marine turtle: green, hawksbill, olive ridley and leatherback.

Both the maleo and sea turtles faced threats from rampant harvesting of eggs by local people. Despite the fact that it's illegal, nearly every sea turtle nest that people could discover in Tompotika was dug up, and the eggs were taken for sale or consumption. This has caused a relentless decline in the number of turtles returning to nest. Similarly, the maleo's large eggs were sold as a luxury item (the eggs are not needed for subsistence).

Tompotika also supports high bat diversity at least 72 species, about a third of which are endemic. Bats are essential to pollinating commercial fruit crops and native fruit trees, some of which can only be pollinated by bats (including the Durian fruit tree, which is a local favourite). Bats are also more important than birds for seed dispersal in this area, they help control insect pests, and their guano provides excellent fertilizer.

The recent emergence of commercial bat hunting, driven by demand for bushmeat in North Sulawesi, has very rapidly led to bat population declines and the complete decimation of some local colonies. Recovery is difficult, as they have only one young per year. Our local partner has responded by initiating a bat conservation program, made even more crucial by the current lack of government protection for bats.

The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) uses local staff and local villagers to carry out a modest but effective conservation program. It has grown to support 10 full time staff, who lead conservation activities for the maleo, turtles and bats, and organize conservation awareness campaigns, including an ongoing school-based program. In a short time, AlTo has reversed the decline of the maleo, prevented poaching of thousands of sea turtle adults and eggs, established a new forest preserve, and taken leadership on bat conservation.

Conservation programs that involve local community members have shown that community practices and attitudes can change, as commercial exploitation gives way to protection and stewardship.

1   Wilson, K.A., M.F. McBride, M. Bode, and H.P. Possingham. 2006. Prioritizing global conservation efforts. Nature 440: 337-340.


The project, located in the Tompotika area of Sulawesi's East Peninsula, encompasses:

  • conservation of the endangered maleo bird species (Megacephalon maleo);
  • conservation of marine turtles;
  • conservation of fruit bats;
  • a conservation awareness campaign that engages the local community to build a local foundation for conservation, including training of local staff and villagers and collaboration with government agencies.

Actions and Results

Maleo pair, digging (Scott Newell)

Maleo public awareness and conservation campaign

Key activities (ongoing each year):
  1. Round-the-clock guarding and data-collection by AlTo staff and local villagers at the nesting grounds near Taima village and a new site at Kaumosongi;
  2. Supporting local villagers in establishing protocols for appropriate activities near the nesting grounds, for example, relocating a picnic area to a safe distance from nests, and establishing rules of conduct and information guides for tourists;
  3. Engaging with government authorities at various levels to enforce and strengthen conservation, and providing a voice for conservation in planning and decision-making;
  4. Continuing the popular public education campaign in schools and communities;
  5. Designing and installing signs (in Indonesian and English) near nesting grounds to clearly explain rules, as well as billboards and banners in high-profile areas discouraging consumption or purchase of maleo eggs.

Maleo egg (AlTo)

These efforts have saved over 7000 eggs since 2006-2007 and have almost completely eliminated poaching. In the first four years of the program, the number of adult maleos returning to nest more than tripled (from 1,312 to 4,112). Bird numbers continue to increase each year, and AlTo's is the only site in the world where the maleo population is actually on the rise. Hiring a data analyst and training staff in field data collection and analysis has resulted in excellent quality data, ensuring that AlTo keeps improving its knowledge base, and that the community can take pride in measurable results of protecting their unique natural heritage.

The project experienced a brief setback in 2013 when a small but vocal minority in Taima village began excessive poaching, while instigating other conflicts in the community unrelated to the project. Thankfully, strong support of the villages in general and persistent conflict resolution efforts by AlTo were able to resolve the situation, and local protection is back on track with a new 5-year conservation lease and collaboration contract for the maleo nesting area and improvements to the physical structures at the nesting ground. .

Very interestingly, nesting numbers were record highs in March and April, directly after poaching stopped. These are normally slow months for nesting, and this suggests the maleo has some plasticity in its nesting activity — rather than abandoning the Taima location, they remained nearby, waiting, and resumed nesting once the disturbance stopped.

We continue to advocate for permanent protection of forests and corridors surrounding the Taima nesting ground. These efforts successfully averted the siting of a new coconut factory just south of the grounds in one instance. 2014 marked the official declaration of Taima as a nationwide Essential Ecosystem priority by the Indonesian government. This gives maleos long-term and formal protection, and will introduce new layers of government regulation to the Taima site, which will be facilitated by AlTo. Ultimately, we aim to protect a 100-ha area that maleos use to access their communal nesting ground from the nearby forest.

In 2014 we expanded the maleo project to Kaumosongi, an additional site identified as a suitable Maleo nesting ground. The recently established guarding schedule is going well so far, aiming to reduce disturbances including dogs that pass through the site to access hunting areas (not hunting Maleo) and fisherman who occasionally land on the beach.

Maleo Awareness Campaign (AlTo)

Protection of marine turtle nesting beaches

hatchling olive ridley turtles (AlTo)
Four species benefit from this work: green, hawksbill, olive ridley and leatherback. Key activities to protect important turtle habitat in the Tompotika area include:
  1. Protecting nests and females by patrolling beaches during nesting-season;
  2. In areas where poaching continues, relocating nests either to a safe area in the village or a nearby hatchery.
  3. Monitoring for incidences of captured sea turtles and facilitating their release;
  4. Ongoing engagement with government, village leaders, and police about strategies to enforce laws against turtle-poaching and the destructive practice of bomb fishing;
  5. Reduction of trash, which impedes turtle nesting on beaches, through the development and implementation of new trash management practices and removing turtle nesting hazards.
These efforts have saved hundreds of adult turtles and thousands of hatchlings. It is too early to observe population increases, as it will take many years for the hatchlings to reach maturity and return to nest. However, research shows that the most important factor in population recovery is reducing poaching on turtle-nesting beaches, which has been a major success of this project. A survey carried out in the turtle program area also showed that the number of turtles captured and held illegally in back yards has dramatically decreased.

Four key beaches are patrolled during nesting season (Teku, Lonsom, Libuun, and Bonemantan), and this has been successful through a combination of AlTo staff and villagers' participation. Groups in each village have a friendly competition, with the group with the most hatchlings at the end of the season winning a prize (a good motivator!).

Teku village has seen especially good results, with growing participation, greatly reduced poaching rates and a continual increase each year in the number of successful hatchlings - the number has quadrupled from 510 in 2011 to over 2000 live hatchlings that made it to the ocean in 2014. In 2013, villagers in Teku constructed a second "safe hatchery" site, necessitated by the increasing number of nests. Fewer females have been coming ashore to nest in Taima village, so conservation efforts to ensure nests are not disturbed are even more important there in order to maximize the success of the hatchlings.

Deterring poachers has proved more difficult in areas with close proximity to an egg market. In the higher risk areas, we have a combined approach to relocate some turtle nests to a safe hatchery as well as provide incentives for villagers to protect nests to hatching themselves. We have trained staff and villagers in this process, with protocols for how to safely relocate nests, record data, and care for hatchlings on emergence.

Outreach efforts with government are building toward a mutual understanding and cooperation toward wildlife protection goals. A major focus is developing a plan to enforce existing Indonesian and international turtle-protection laws, and an agreement allowing AlTo to carry out sea turtle conservation activities anywhere in the regency. We continue efforts to train and support village guards in maleo conservation, and to build positive relations with villagers.

In late 2012 and Spring 2013 we held two series of outreach workshops involving law enforcement personnel, to work toward tougher enforcement of anti-poaching laws. The workshops were a great success, with excellent attendance from high-ranking officials, and substantive results in an agreement to implement a new graduated system of enforcement, with harsher treatment of repeat or commercial poachers. We not only gained partnership and endorsement from key government agencies, but also provided a welcome platform for officials to strengthen networks with each other for more effective enforcement of wildlife protection.

With the aim of maintaining ongoing contact each year, AlTo initiated follow-up meetings with the workshop participants to inquire about how implementation of new law enforcement procedures is going. The information gleaned from these individual meetings ranged from many anecdotes about positive results from the program - for example, village heads repeatedly ordering the release of turtles captured by fishermen, or confiscating poached turtle eggs - to suggestions for improvements - such as doing a special inspection of motorbike vendors, who often sell turtle eggs or meat. Feedback and suggestions will be incorporated into future program planning.

Conservation Awareness Campaign

Key activities:
  1. Holding outreach meetings in schools and villages in Tompotika and Luwuk with ongoing theme of forest and coral reef conservation, using maleos and turtles as flagships;
  2. Organizing community events and celebrations that focus on the natural environment and raise awareness about conservation efforts;
  3. Engagement with local and international media to share images, video, and information about maleos and turtles in Sulawesi with a wider audience; Creating and distributing posters, brochures and other AlTo conservation materials in public places throughout Tompotika, as well as installing billboards in high-profile areas.
The awareness campaign has greatly improved local knowledge about conservation in general, and developed a strong sense of pride in the maleo and turtle species. The village has also benefitted from increased interest in the area as an eco-tourist and birder's destination, and we are working to develop partnerships with local eco-tourist enterprises. AlTo's conservation efforts have also attracted attention from Indonesian television and other media, with a 7-minute feature airing on a popular news program, and there has been international interest in a documentary about nature conservation in the area.

In November 2011, AlTo hired a full-time Conservation Education and Outreach Specialist, which has greatly increased capacity for community involvement. In 2012, we carried out a survey of conservation priorities in the community, interviewing 130 households. The results will help us work with the community toward a clear vision for conservation.

Education programs have been consistently reaching about 1000 schoolchildren per month, and now include a travelling library of children's books about sea turtles. This type of education has been combined with more spontaneous outreach to gatherings of children playing near beaches. Immediately following one informal meeting at the beach, two of the boys present ran home and came back with tiny sea turtle hatchlings which they had previously captured and now volunteered to release!

Several successful village-wide events have been organized, , including beach cleanups to remove turtle nesting hazards. Special events have also been held around Earth Day and World Environment Day, and a Mardi-Gras style International Maleo and Sea Turtle Festival celebrates the region's natural heritage, featuring music, dance, and a youth drama production. Two stunning murals (see below) showcase local nature in the Taima and Teku villages, created by volunteer artists.

Outreach has also increasingly focused on wealthier areas where the market for maleo eggs is based. For example, a new, huge billboard at the Luwuk airport discourages the purchase of maleo eggs as high-status souvenirs. We also initiated a partnership with the local travel agencies who issue the air tickets out of the Luwuk airport and printed a notice about maleos at the bottom of all ticket letterhead. An instillation of billboards in 16 villages urging protection of maleos and turtles has been very well received, and there are plans to create a second design for next year. There are signs that our outreach efforts to the general public are having an impact — in one instance, a high-status lady voluntarily sought out the AlTo office in Luwuk wishing to turn over to us four maleo eggs that she'd received as a gift, but wanted AlTo to return to the wild! 2014 marked the first time that authorities confiscated maleo eggs from a passenger attempting to smuggle eggs out of the Luwuk airport. This is significant and indicates that enforcement is being taken more seriously.

Work with authorities at the village and national level has also been a valuable part of this project. Outreach has achieved a much closer working relationship with the main government agency related to our work. AlTo's work is becoming increasingly well known and respected. In 2013, AlTo was even asked to represent Central Sulawesi at an Indonesia-wide government conference where each of the provincial natural resource agencies were asked to showcase their best natural resource management initiatives. In 2014, a group of officials from the forestry department made the 5-hour journey to visit the maleo nesting grounds for the first time, which was a wonderful opportunity to create a personal connection and convey the maleo's uniqueness first-hand.

Bat Conservation Campaign

AlTo has provided key leadership for bat conservation, in response to increasing threats from hunting, and in the absence of government protection. First steps included a preliminary bat survey of the Tompotika area, carried out by AlTo staff with the assistance of an Indonesian bat scientist. The survey located colonies and observed at least 17 different species, including two rare species that have yet to be identified. AlTo is also negotiating with landowners to lease important bat habitat.

Following two years of negotiations, an agreement was reached in late 2013 to put in place a multi-landowner conservation lease of Pulau Tangkuladi, a small bat roost island offshore of Taima. That agreement has now been renewed for five years with enthusiastic support from landowners. Bolstering these efforts, Tangkuladi was officially declared a protected island, adding an important layer of legal security and government protection.

The most important factor in recovery is reducing bat hunting. Rapid progress has been made on this front and efforts are focused on deterring the last of the remaining hunters. Significantly, one of the most notorious bat hunters has joined the bat awareness activities in schools, and is beginning to shift perspectives on hunting, as well as contributing to data collection that will allow us to track patterns in bat species and numbers over time. The latest observations show bats back roosting on the island in huge numbers.

Murals celebrating nature in Taima and Teku villages (AlTo).

Further info

This video from the Wildlife Conservation Society has great film sequences on maleos. ICFC and AlTo are protecting important nesting sites for the species, which has turned around its population decline on Sulawesi's Tompotika peninsula.

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