Pacific's last megapode bird declared saved from extinction
SUVA (AFP) Jun 20, 2003
The Pacific's last megapode -- a bird with large feet that uses hot
volcanic ash to incubate its eggs -- has been rescued from the brink of
extinction, London based BirdLife International said in a statement
Fiji ornithologist Dick Watling found Tonga's Polynesian Megapode or
Malau (Megapodius pritchardii) has doubled its population and is now
likely to be removed from the "critically endangered" list.
Polynesian Megapodes were native to remote Niuafo'ou in Tonga but
became critically endangered due to human harvesting of eggs and
predation by introduced animals.
In 1993 a study of the island revealed only around 200 pairs of the
birds and so Dieter Rinke of the Brehm Fund for International Bird
Conservation in Germany moved the bird eggs to Fonualei Island, 20
hours away by boat.
The two kilometre-wide island was selected because it was uninhabited,
little visited by humans and provided the perfect egg-laying conditions
for the megapode, which does not incubate its own eggs but lays them in
thermally heated soil near volcanic vents.
Watling, writing in the British magazine World Birdwatch, said he had
just conducted the first survey in a decade, revealing Polynesian
Megapode numbers had doubled.
His visit to Fonualei, funded by the Dutch Van Tienhoven Foundation for
International Nature Protection, was the first to gauge the progress of
the translocated megapodse.
In 10 hours, the ornithologist observed 56 Malau on a small fraction of
the island, and estimated a total adult population of 300-500 birds.
"The establishment of a new population of the Malau on Fonualei is a
remarkable conservation success and demonstrates the Tongan Governments
determination to conserve its unique wildlife heritage," says Watling.
"This is a wonderful success story for conservation in a region where
conservation is only beginning to emerge from the era of rhetoric and
paper parks. It is a tribute to vision and action."
Rene Dekker, chair of the World Conservation Union, said the news was
"This means that the Malau now occurs on two instead of one island and
that the population seems to have doubled in size. I am also very happy
that Fonualei is that second island as the species once occurred here
and it is marvellous to repopulate it. With these results we will
re-evaluate the threat status of the species."
The Malau is a medium-sized, brown-and-grey megapode. It is the only
one of several species of megapode originally found in the south west
Pacific to have survived 3,000 years of human colonisation and is the
smallest megapode in the world.
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