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Sulawesi groups recognized for efforts to save endangered wildlife, forests

Two groups working with local communities to conserve forests in Sulawesi have won’s 2010 Conservation Award.

The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) [donate], which works in Central Sulawesi, and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, which operates in North Sulawesi, were recognized for their efforts to protect endangered forests on the Indonesian island, which is known for its high levels of endemic species.

“This year we selected two organizations working in Sulawesi to highlight the conservation significance of the island and the threats it faces,” said Rhett A. Butler, founder of, a site that provides news and information on tropical forests and the environment. “Both AITo and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program rely on strong support from local communities to protect endangered forests and wildlife.”

Sulawesi’s biodiversity is partly the result of its strange geography. Authors of a 2007 study on forest cover called Sulawesi “a large island without an interior” in that no location is more than 100 km from the coast. Map by Rhett A. Butler

“Sulawesi has long been overlooked,” Butler continued. “A lot of people in the United States have never heard of it, yet alone place it on the map.”

Straddling the Wallace line, an area of biological discontinuity between Asia and Australia, Sulawesi is characterized by high levels of endemism–more than 60 percent of its mammals and more than one third of its birds are found nowhere else on the planet. So unusual the island’s biodiversity, it helped inspire Alfred Russel Wallace to independently propose a theory of natural selection that pushed Charles Darwin to publish his masterwork, The Origin of Species, before he was ready to go to press. Nevertheless, despite its storied history and species richness, Sulawesi’s biodiversity is poorly known by scientists. More troubling, the island has long been overlooked conservationists.

Their neglect has been costly–Sulawesi’s forests have fast been converted for agriculture, felled by loggers, and degraded by miners. A 2007 study, found that roughly 80 percent of Sulawesi’s richest forests have been degraded and destroyed.

Sulawesi’s endangered Maleo bird (Macrocephalon maleo)

But pockets of spectacular biodiversity remain in Sulawesi, including Tompotika and Nantu, the sites being protected by AITo and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program.

AlTo, which was founded by Marcy Summers, began with an effort to protect the bizarre maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), an endemic bird that lays its eggs in volcanic soils or beaches that are heated by the sun or geothermal energy. The initiative eventually grew into a program that protects Tompotika’s flora and fauna.

“We now have four major field programs (maleo, sea turtle, fruit bat, and forest conservation) plus ongoing outreach, awareness, and Art for Conservation programs, and we also sponsor annual eco-service trips to the area,” Summers told during an interview.

The babirusa or pig-deer (Babyrousa babyrussa) is one of Sulawesi’s best known and most charismatic animals. Belonging to the big family, the babirusa is endemic to the tropical forests of the island. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The Nantu Forest Conservation Program was founded by Lynn Clayton to protect another charismatic species, the babirusa, an odd-looking pig endemic to Sulawesi. The project has since grown to protect forests and foster forest-friendly community development in nearby areas.

“The line between Nantu and the degraded land that surrounds is stark – sometimes literally a clear line beyond which trees and vegetation are scarce,” she told during an interview.

AITo and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program are the fourth winners of the annual mongabay conservation award. The award includes a cash grant and prominent placement on the web site and newsletter for the month of December.

If you’d like to support the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, please contact Lynn Clayton

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