Posts on Sulawesi

The Nature of Sulawesi: Guided Tour 3-20 August 2013

17 September 2013

During our epic 3-week traverse of Sulawesi and Halmahera the group bravely faced bloodsucking leeches, overgrown trails, and several flooded rivers, but were well rewarded with some incredible sightings of rare flora & fauna. Some highlights of the trip included: close encounters with tarsiers and macaques in Tangkoko, a very rare sighting of a Lowland Anoa, and reaching the summit ridge of Gunung Lumut after several days of hiking to find the remarkable pitcher plant Nepenthes hamata.

A selection of images from the trip:

Macaca nigra nigraNepenthes hamataEurystomus azureusBabyrousa celebensis
Agalmyla sp.Gehyra marginataLitoria sp.Gunung Kiematabu
Nepenthes eymaeLitoria infrafrenata infrafrenataTodiramphus diopsXylotrupes ulysses clinias
Nepenthes glabrataBabalus depressicornisThe Nature of Sulawesi guided tour 2013Turacoena manadensis

Additional photos from the trip can be found at Rainforest Expeditions with Chien Lee on Facebook.

A new tour to Sulawesi has been scheduled for February-March 2014. Please inquire for further details.

New Pitcher Plant Discoveries

2 February 2012

The incredible diversity of Tropical Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes) becomes more evident each year as new species continue to be discovered across Southeast Asia. As recently as 1997, a total of only 82 Nepenthes were recognized, but in the past 15 years new findings and some taxonomic splits bring the world total to nearly 140 species today. Many of these new discoveries not only showcase the fascinating ecological adaptations and trap designs that make these carnivorous plants so successful, but they also help to shed light on their possible evolutionary relationships and biogeographical pathways.

I was fortunate to be able to contribute towards several papers in a recent publication “The New Nepenthes – vol. 1″ (Dec 2011) which compiles work from multiple authors and describes eight new Nepenthes species that have been found in recent years. Two of these, N. undulatifolia (below left) and N. nigra are from Sulawesi, an island with a relatively impoverished Nepenthes flora of only 11 species. The highly unusual N. undulatifolia was an exciting find for botanists because it could not be clearly grouped with any other closely related species.

The remote Hose Mountains in central Sarawak, an area where I had discovered two other endemic Nepenthes in 2001, yielded another new species, N. appendiculata (below right), during a study in 2011. This species was named for the remarkable swollen appendage protruding from the tip of the pitcher lid, a feature unlike any other species in the genus. Presumably an aid in the attraction of insect prey, this appendage is brightly colored and riddled with large nectar glands. Further field work may determine what types of insects this plant specializes in feeding on.

Nepenthes undulatifoliaNepenthes appendiculata


Jebb, M. & M. Cheek (1997) A Skeletal Revision of Nepenthes (Nepenthaceae). Blumea 42: 1-106.

Lee, C.C., G. Bourke, W. Taylor, Y.S. Teck, K. Rembold (2011) Nepenthes appendiculata, a new Pitcher Plant from Sarawak. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 24-35.

Lee, C.C., A. Wistuba, J. Nerz, U. Zimmermann, A.P. Paserang, R. Pitopang (2011) Nepenthes undulatifolia, a new Pitcher Plant from South East Sulawesi. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 492-505.

Nerz, J., A. Wistuba, C.C. Lee, G. Bourke, U. Zimmermann, S. McPherson (2011) Nepenthes nigra, a new Pitcher Plant from Central Sulawesi. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 468-491.

Morowali Nature Reserve

1 January 2007

map of morowaliLocated on the eastern arm of Central Sulawesi, Morowali Nature Reserve consists of a 225,000 ha protected area containing almost completely intact primary forest. The north of the reserve is dominated by steep mountains reaching over 2600 m in height, but the terrain in the south is much less rugged and terminates in a wide coastal plain with natural lakes and swamp forest.

This region, together with much of eastern Central Sulawesi, comprises some of the most extensive formations of ultrabasic rock in the world. This results in soils which have a severe deficiency of important plant nutrients and instead contain toxic concentrations of certain heavy metals. Consequently, ultrabasic forest areas have largely been spared from intensive agriculture and logging due to the poor conditions for planting and lack of valuable timber trees.

The indigenous Wana people live throughout the reserve and consist of about 600 families that follow a traditional lifestyle. Their subsistence is based on swidden and shifting agriculture, hunting, and harvesting of forest products such as rattan and damar.

To view photos taken during my November 2006 trip to Morowali Nature Reserve, click here.

Current Status
This nature reserve was first established in March 1980, but although it is a completely protected area there are no currently maintained facilities or management staff. It is possible that in the near future Morowali may become a national park, which would lead to funding for proper management but also probably result in the majority of lowland areas being subsequently zoned for logging. Due to the relatively intact indigenous culture of the Wana people, Morowali has recently been proposed as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

How to Get There
The reserve is approachable from several directions, but the easiest is to take a 2-hour boat ride from Kolonodale to Tambayoli, which is a settlement at the western end of the park. It is possible to charter your own boat to access other parts of the park, but this is much more expensive.

Kolonodale can be reached by bus from Palu or by a 6-hour boat ride from Baturube. Alternatively, to reach Kolonodale from Macassar or Rantepao it is necessary to first take a bus to Soroako, cross Lake Matano via boat, and then take a small bus from the village of Nuha.

At the time of this writing, there is only a very poor road from Poso passing through Kecematan Tojo to Tambayoli, but it is not recommended since an expensive 4WD vehicle is required, and it is impassable during wet weather. A new road is planned from Baturube but this is not expected to be completed until 2008.

From Mando there are several flights per week to Luwuk, but travellers with more time on their hands can take the overland route to Gorontalo and then board a ferry to Pagaimanan. From Luwuk it is a 6-hour bus ride to Baturube from which it is possible either to take a boat to Kolonodale or enter the eastern end of the park near the Tokala Mountains.

When to Go
The best time to visit is in the dry season (September to November). During the rainy season (May to June) the Tambayoli valley is sometimes prone to flooding, and the rivers are more difficult to cross.

What to See
Despite having a great diversity of wildlife which includes all the larger endemic mammals such as Babirusa (Babyrousa celebensis), Anoa (Bubalus quarlesi), and Sulawesi Civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), spotting animals in the forest is relatively difficult. Most species are very wary of people due to continuous hunting pressure from the local inhabitants.

Over 170 bird species have been recorded from Morowali, including many endemics. Notable species include the Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), Ornate Lory (Trichoglossus ornatus), all five endemic kingfishers, and 18 species of forest pigeons and doves. The Tambayoli valley is a pleasant and easy place to spot numerous raptors, water birds including the Wooly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus), and nightjars at dusk.

Reptiles include the bizarre Sail-fin Lizard (Hydrosaurus amboinensis), and huge 9 meter-long Reticulated Pythons (Python reticulatus).

A wealth of fascinating plants can also be seen in the reserve, ranging from massive Agathis (damar) trees to rare orchids and seven species of Nepenthes pitcher plants, including the rare and beautiful N. hamata (shown below).

Nepenthes hamata

Despite the great potential for nature tourism, Morowali sees few foreign visitors and there are currently no developed facilities available. Guides can be found in Kolonodale, Tambayoli, or Morowali village, but you must be well-versed in Bahasa Indonesia as few of them speak English. Simple accomodation can be obtained at any village or town, usually by making arrangements with the kepala desa (head of the town).

The office of Yayasan Sahabat Morowali (“Friends of Morowali”) in Kolonodale is an invaluable resource of information on various treks and practicalities about the reserve. They also have a small library of excellent books and research papers on Morowali.

It is required to obtain a police permit before entering the reserve, even though the borders are not enforced. The closest police kantor for this is in Kolonodale, but due to the infrequency of visitors they don’t always stock blank forms (I was once told by the officer in charge to travel 2 days by bus to the next nearest office to get a new form). It is thus a better idea to obtain the permit in Palu or Manado beforehand if possible.

Hiking is generally very pleasant if one follows the well-established trails used by the Wana, but can get strenuous on the mountains. When trekking it is most convenient to stay in Wana huts or jungle shelters, but tents must be carried when attempting some of the more remote peaks.

Leeches can only be found on some of the wetter mountains. Malaria is a small probem in the Tambayoli area. If you are concerned, you might want to consider prophylactics.

Yayasan Sahabat Morowali (Friends of Morowali)
Jl. Yos Sudarso No. 36
Kolonodale 94671, Sulawesi Tengah
Mr. Jabar Lahadji
Tel: +62-81354447868
Email: or

Web Links
A study on sustainable harvests by traditional Wana Hunters
United Nations Environment Programme review of Morowali Reserve


Whitten, A.J., Mustafa, M. and Henderson, G.S. (1987). The Ecology of Sulawesi. Gadjah Mada University Press, Yogykarta. 777 pp.

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