7 Nov 2013

Efforts being made to save endemic Tongan megapode

6:24 pm on 7 November 2013

The organiser of a project set up to preserve the endangered Tongan megapode, known locally as the 'malau', say it is going well - but more needs to be done.

The bird, which was once widespread in Polynesia, is now endemic to Tonga and was listed as a critically endangered species.

Ana Loiloi Fekau, who works for the Integrated Island Biodiversity Project administered by the Ministry of Environment, says the malau can only be found naturally on the volcanic mountains of Niuafo'ou.

She says in the early 1990s, eggs and chicks were transferred to the islands of Late and Fonulei in Vava'u, and they have been monitoring them there ever since.

But she told Mary Baines there has been varied success - with about 1,000 now on Fonulei, but none on Late.

ANA LOILOI FEKAU: On Fonulei no-one can access that island because it's a little bit far away from the main island Vava'u. And that is why we think that the megapode survived on that island because of the environment of that island and because the malau, the bird, can survive in that warm environment. Compared to Late, the other one is a little bit colder. The other thing is that we think that the rat is one of the major threats to the extinction of the megapode on Late island. Comparing Late and Fonulei, there was no mice. During our survey on the island of Niuafo'ou there were some predators that would seem to have caused the extinction of the malau in the past, but when we went to Late and Fonulei the survey team think that mice are one of the major threats, too.

MARY BAINES: So what is the number sitting at now? Are they still on the endangered list?

ALF: The megapode is increasing numbers on the island of Fonulei and according to the IUCN list, before it was highlighted as one of the critically endangered species. But after that survey in 2003 it goes down to 'endangered'. If our project finds that the bird is still increasing on the island of Fonulei and there's some on Late, I think it will go down to 'vulnerable'. But after our survey on Late and Fonulei, the number of megapodes is increasing on Fonulei. On Late there's still none because mice are one of the most dangerous predators.

MB: But you're pleased with how it's going so far?

ALF: At the moment I'm very pleased with the result that we've found on Fonulei, except for Late. We are looking at whether there's still more funds to fund the project. We can try and relocate some eggs from the island of Fonulei or Niuafo'ou to any other coral islands or volcanic islands in Tonga for the megapode to survive on that. And I hope that very soon we will have another new location for the megapode.