Dr. Malcolm Coulter, the lead scientist in SAVE International’s battles to bring the Black-faced Spoonbill back from the brink of extinction, died on January 2, 2013.  SAVE has known no other scientists who could work so seamlessly with planners and community designers in so many cultures to create scientifically based land-use plans. Dr. Coulter will be missed.

SAVE International co-founder, Randy Hester, paid tribute to Malcom’s unique character and his profound contributions to SAVE’s efforts in the Fall newsletter:

Malcolm Coulter, the lead scientist in SAVE International’s battles to bring the Black-faced Spoonbill back from the brink of extinction, died on January 2, 2013. Dr. Coulter was co-chair of the IUCN Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group and from 1997 until his death a SAVE Advisory Committee member. For over a decade Malcolm worked with environmental planners and landscape architects to develop plans for habitat expansion throughout the bird’s flyway.  He applied his singular accumulated knowledge to the spoonbill habitat conservation plan jointly developed by the University of California, Berkeley and National Taiwan University.  When other scientists concluded that the Binnan Industrial Complex would have no impact on the spoonbill’s primary wintering habitat, Dr. Coulter challenged them with precise spatial metrics that showed undeniable detrimental effects. On the basis of Coulter’s science Binnan was defeated.  In Taiwan alone he contributed the spatial ornithology that guided the creation of five stepping stone habitats resulting in the population revival from an extinction vortex low of several hundred spoonbills to almost 2700 birds in 2012. SAVE has known no other scientist who so seamlessly could work with land use planners and community designers in so many cultures to create scientifically-based plans. He will be missed; he can never be replaced.

Upon word of his death SAVE members around the world paid tribute to Dr. Coulter reflecting the breadth of his reach in saving the spoonbill:

The birding community has lost one of its best.

He was our most important ally in the science community without whom the movement would not have succeeded.

His Black-faced Spoonbill friends of the world grieve. I learned important knowledge from his lectures about the Black-faced Spoonbill; he was a fantastic educator about ecology.

Malcolm was a nerdy kind of guy, but very friendly, nice, and often funny. He was always a delight as part of a team here in Taiwan. We will miss him, but we will carry on with a lasting memory of his contributions.

Dr. Coulter held degrees from Stanford, Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania. He was always at odds with invasive plants and predators and spent his career trying to overcome habitat loss. In his early years he carried out research on birds and plants on the Farallon Islands in California, devising plans to control invasives in order to maintain a rare ecosystem. He worked at the Darwin Research Center in an effort to conserve the Dark-rumped Petrel. At the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory he led a program to create habitat for the American Wood Stork. He worked for years on conservation efforts for the Oriental White Stork and Oriental Crested Ibis. Dr. Coulter posthumously received the Pacific Seabird Group’s Lifetime Conservation Award from Birdlife International for the effort he had so long worked for to protect habitat for the Black-faced Spoonbill.

Ornithology Exchange reported on Malcolm Coulter’s “Last Testament, December 9, 2012.” It is classic Malcolm, ranking up there with the truism he often began his lectures, “The Black-faced Spoonbill is the rarest of all spoonbills…” In Dr. Coulter’s words, “LIFE is the most wonderful thing in this world…If it weren’t for LIFE, none of us would exist.” He went on to say, “There are four or more aspects of our lives that are most important: Honesty, Loving, Caring, Humor…”

Those of us at SAVE experienced all four of his core characteristics. The fact that Malcolm looked and from time-to-time acted like an elder Dennis the Menace reinforced his belief in the value of humor. He extended irresistible love and caring attention to every member of the SAVE team.  And of course Malcolm’s honesty sometimes upset our impulsive activists’ applecart. Exact science was his trade but he never shunned radical activists. He knew the ultimate value of his role: to keep us scientifically informed and honest.  He would never tolerate our overreaching on the basis of his science. “No I didn’t say that exactly” often curbed our jumps to conclusion.

We inspired his science, but activism never tainted his scientific honesty. His precise science, therefore, informed our plans and actions in unique ways which largely explains the success of his work to save the spoonbill in Taiwan. But unlike most scientists he contributed to dramatic innovations by working so effectively with us. In Taiwan when other scientists created questionable findings to support governmental agendas, when they distanced themselves from environmental activists and dismissed SAVE, Dr. Coulter worked the political inside and outside. He was astute but patient. And he expected honesty in every action.

These values of honesty, loving, caring, and humor kept him going. There was no other immediate gratification for one who saw the big picture and the long-term on a low budget beyond the daily joy he shared with those with whom he worked. So it is again classic Malcolm to conclude his testament thus, “It’s not what individuals can do but what we can all do together!”


We would love for Malcolm’s whole community to remember him, celebrate him, share memories, stories, and feelings.  Please feel free to add your voice using the comment-form below.

Comments are closed.