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Critically Endangered Megapode Pulls Back from Brink of Extinction

Cambridge, UK, 19th June 2003 ? The first survey for 10 years of a remote Polynesian island by BirdLife International`s Fiji Affiliate, Dick Watling, has uncovered a doubling of the estimated population of the Polynesian Megapode, Megapodius pritchardii, which until recently had only been found on one tiny island. Watling`s visit to the remote island of Fonualei in the Kingdom of Tonga means that estimates of the megapode`s population have been doubled, with an estimated 300?500 on the island, possibly now surpassing the number found on its last native island, Niuafo`ou, where a 1993 survey had revealed a population of only 188?235 pairs. Until now, the Polynesian Megapode, also known as the Niuafo`ou Megapode, or locally as the Malau, has been teetering on the brink of extinction and classified as Critically Endangered, which means it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future. [The Polynesian Megapode, Niuafo`ou Megapode, or Malau, scientific name Megapodius pritchardii, 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. Megapodes are distinctive for having large feet and for using hot volcanic ash to incubate their eggs and are found in Australasia and South East Asia].The revelation, which has been reported first in June`s issue of BirdLife`s award?winning quarterly magazine, World Birdwatch, vindicates the translocation of megapode eggs from Niuafo`ou to Fonualei in 1993/4 by Dr Dieter Rinke of the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation in Germany.Following 1993`s survey, Rinke took eggs and chicks from Niuafo`ou, where the south west Pacific`s last megapode faced extinction from over?harvesting by humans and predation by introduced animals, to Fonualei. This 2?km?wide island, some 20 hours journey by boat from Niuafo`ou, was selected for being uninhabited, little?visited and providing 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`s visit to Fonualei, initiated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission/ BirdLife International/ WPA Megapode Specialist Group and funded by the Dutch Van Tienhoven Foundation for International Nature Protection, is the first to gauge the progress of the translocated megapodes. 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 Government`s 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.The news is spectacular. 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, comments Ren? Dekker, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission/ BirdLife International / WPA Megapode Specialist Group. For further information, please contact Gareth Gardiner?Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; (0)7779 018 332 (mobile); gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk

4th July 2014