News Release

What Maleos teach us about parenting, trust and the world we live in

16 February 2015
Both Maleo parents work hard to find the best place for their egg
Photo: Kevin Schaffer / ALTO

Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), Sulawesi’s endemic birds, can inspire us about parenting, trust, and the world we live in. Marcy Summers, Project Director with the SOS grantee Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo), writes to SOS about Maleos’ nesting season and their heartening rituals.

“Right now, in the month of December, it is the height of the Maleo nesting season in Tompotika.

Here is how the story goes. The male and female Maleo leave their Tompotika rainforest home and travel many kilometres to reach their nesting ground. It is their natal nesting ground, likely used by generations of their grandparents and great-grandparents ahead of them.

The Maleo mother is heavy with her one gigantic egg, it's six times the size of a chicken egg, for a bird whose body is of similar size. The couple travels slowly, mostly by walking rather than flying.

View from above new Maleo site, Sulawesi. Photo: Marcy SummersWhen they reach the nesting ground, the Maleo parents spend a great amount of hours digging around, trying to find just the right place for their egg. Other couples are doing the same. The males tend to squabble with one another quite a bit, while the females just keep working.

Finally, when they feel that the time and place is just right, the Maleo mother quietly lays her one enormous egg in a deep pit in the sand. After the egg is laid the two parents work again to cover it to a depth of one meter. When the Maleo egg is six times the size of a chicken egg Photo: Marcy Summers / ALTOwork is completed and both parents assured they simply leave the nesting ground and return to the rainforest. The egg will be incubated in the sand warmed by solar heat.

It is the ultimate act of hope and trust. The Maleo parents invest everything they have in this ritual. They give their one huge egg plenty of energy and time.

The chick will take about 80 days to hatch. But when that chick hatches, the parents will be long gone.The chick will After the egg is laid the two parents cover it up to a depth of one meter Photo: Kevin Schaferhatch fully feathered, able to fly and search out its own food and forest home, if such forest and food remains to be found. The parents will never do anything to help it get along in the world. Maleo parents surrender all control, give their eggs the best start they can, and then simply trust the world to be friendly enough for their children to make their way in it on their own. Maleos species legacy rests on that trust.

The egg is incubated for 80 days in the sand warmed by solar heat Photo: Kevin SchaferIt's a profound inspiration for us humans. To us, Maleos offer an invitation and a challenge to fulfill their tremendous trust, to make sure that the world is friendly enough for a future, for Maleos and for all. That is, if we humans can restrain ourselves from clearing the forests, from taking too many Maleo eggs, from destroying the planet's life support systems, as we've been doing for so long, then we are saying to the Maleo: "Yes, your trust is justified. The world is indeed a beautiful, friendly place, and your children will be okay." Isn't that what we all want to believe?

Maleos are living witnesses to the fact that we are not in control of our childrens' future, we must surrender that to the friendliness of the future world. But it is very much within our power to make the world a more friendly place for all, right now.”

Thanks to the SOS funding, Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AITo) for two years has carried out conservation activities raising public awareness and strengthening site-based conservation of nesting Maleos. The AlTo team confirmed the end of poaching and the regained protection of the Maleos of Taima. Today Maleos’ eggs are no longer dug up by humans and sold as a souvenir.

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