Tangkoko National Park is located North-east of Manado on the northern tip of Sulawesi. It was here in 1859 that Wallace came to collect the strange maleo bird (Macrocephalon maleo) which used to nest on the black volcanic sand beach there. Maleos are unique amongst birds in that they bury their eggs in a deep hole and leave them to hatch. There is no parental care and the young are able to fly and forage for themselves, soon after they have burrowed their way to the surface of the sand.
The eggs are huge - 5 times the size of a chicken’s egg - and they are (unfortunately) a favorite food of the local people. Egg collecting, together with the hunting of the birds and habitat destruction, accounts for the fact that the maleo is now an endangered species. It is extremely rare at Tangkoko and no longer nests on the beach where Wallace says that many hundreds came to lay their eggs. It was a special experience to stroll along the black sand (image to the left) peppered with white coral fragments and imagine Wallace walking just ahead of us.
Bill, Jan and I spent a few days at Tangkoko to look for some of the other peculiar animals which are endemic to Sulawesi and which are relatively easy to see there. We were very fortunate in having close encounters with the rare Sulawesi black crested macaque (Macaca nigra), only 2,000 of which still survive and which are tragically eaten as bush meat by the locals. Although fearsome-looking with their fiery-coloured eyes and massive teeth, crested macaques are actually rather gentle creatures which are more interested in peering at their reflections in shiny surfaces and checking us out.
Left: Macaque. Right: Bill Bailey and Macaques
(Click images to see them full size)
We were also very keen to see the nocturnal spectral tarsier (Tarsius tarsier). Our guide took us to a tree which is visited by tourists at dusk, in order to view the tarsiers up-close-and-personal. Initially, we were rather skeptical that we would see any animals there, because there was literally a queue of people waiting by the tree, cameras in hand. However, our fears were unfounded because the tarsiers that hang-out there are totally habituated, and are very used to noise and the light from camera flashes and torches. Plus, we had not accounted for their biggest passion in life - tasty, big, fat, green bush crickets. The guide placed the said insect on a branch outside the tarsier’s lair, and in the blink of an eye, a tarsier had leaped out from the inside of the tree and grabbed the poor cricket. It then took it back to the safety of its tree hole home, and greedily gobbled it down with relish!
The diurnal bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) proved to be a much more elusive quarry. We only caught a glimpse of a pair which sleepily gazed down at us from the top of a tree. Sulawesi is the western-most place in the world where marsupials such as cuscuses occur. All the mammals to the west of Sulawesi and Wallace’s Line (which passes between Sulawesi and Borneo) are placental mammals. As mentioned in an earlier post, Sulawesi is part of a biogeographical transition zone named Wallacea after you-know-who, and it contains a confusing mix of both Oriental animals (e.g. tarsiers, macaques) and Australian animals (e.g. cuscuses and maleos).