You’ve probably never heard of the Maleo – the endangered creature is found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. But it is a fascinating animal.
This New York Times piece calls the maleo a “chickenlike bird,” which, sure, we suppose is a decent enough comparison, in the sense that they’re both egg-laying vertebrates with feathers, beaks and wings. But the juxtaposition seems a strange one once you’ve spent some time getting to the know the maleo.
Consider, for example, that when a maleo chick emerges from its egg (which is about five-times the size of a chicken egg), it is completely flight-ready, taking wing and alighting at once in the canopy of a nearby forest to avoid being eaten by would-be predators. Once safely hidden away, the chicks forage for themselves and even regulate their own body temperatures – they’re remarkably independent creatures.
See, mature maleo pairs do not look after their young once they’ve hatched, let alone while they’re developing in the egg. Rather, the female buries her eggs deep in the ground, like a sea turtle, covers them up and goes on her merry way. For maleos, incubation is presided over not by the mother, but by the geothermal energy of Sulawesi’s volcanic soils.
Your typical maleo also has a helmet-head, blue-grey feet, and black plumage – save for its belly, that is, which looks like it’s been dipped in a vat of peach-colored paint. So yeah, you know, pretty much a chicken.
Outside of Indonesia, the only place to find a maleo is at the Bronx Zoo. There, conservationists are toiling to preserve the endangered species, which is threatened by humans and invasive species in its native habitat. The zoo recently welcomed three new maleo chicks, bringing their total tally to nine.
[Wildlife Conservation Society via Ark in Space]