The Togian hawk-owl (Ninox burhani) has just been described as a new species endemic to the Togean (or Togian) Islands, north-east of Sulawesi, in the Autumn edition of the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club by two Indonesian scientists. Much prior work, such as a Marine RAP survey in 1998, has highlighted the marine wealth of the area, but there has been little previous evidence of vertebrate endemism on the islands themselves.
The discovery of a new species of cryptic nocturnal bird in a little-studied part of the tropics is hardly remarkable in itself. However, this newly described species shares the Togeans with the closely-related ochre-bellied hawk-owl (Ninox ochracea
), which is endemic to the greater Sulawesi region. Moreover, the Togeans are only around 25 kilometers from Sulawesi, with numerous stepping-stone islands inbetween. The unexpected discovery of this new owl raises the intriguing possibility that a number of other endemic species remain to be found in these islands.
Almost as unexpected was the concurrent sweeping declaration of a 3,600-square-kilometer Togean Islands National Park by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry on 19 October.
, with support from the Global Conservation Fund, has been working for eight years to try to establish community-based marine protected areas in the Togeans. However, the extent of the newly declared park and inclusion of over 250 square kilometers of terrestrial habitat – including areas in which the new owl is known to occur – exceeded all expectations.
After this success, the challenge ahead will be to break new ground through successful co-management of the national park’s marine resources between the government and local communities.
*This article originally appeared in the Fall 2004 Hotspots eNewsletter.