Malcolm C. Coulter, 1947 – 2013
Malcolm was unassuming and worked in the background, so it was only after he passed, when his friends and colleagues began to compare notes, that we realized the many lives and projects he had touched and encouraged. Shortly before he died, he wrote: “It’s not what individuals can do but what we can all do together!”
Malcolm, a product of a comfortable Northern Virginia upbringing and New England boarding school, showed an early interest in animals, eventually focusing on birds. He went on to Stanford, took a master’s at Oxford, then did his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, studying Western Gulls on the Farallon Islands. While there he started a 40-year monitoring project on the islands’ vegetation, one of many such long-term projects unlikely to have a quick payoff but invaluable as the years went by. Healso spent time in Antarctica and Great Gull Island. The Darwin Station in Galapagos offered him a position to lead a conservation program for the Galapagos Petrel which was being threatened by introduced mammals. His budget was small and the logistics were challenging but he put together a team of both islanders and visitors that helped stem the decline of the species. He then went on to run a program at Savannah River National Lab in South Carolina, studying the endangered American Wood Stork. Again he put together a tightly knit team that worked under difficult field conditions that Malcolm characteristically never mentioned, but were the stuff of later stories by Birdville alumni. A growing interest in the conservation of storks and relatives led to him becoming co-chair of the Wetlands International/IUCN specialist group on storks, ibis and spoonbills. It was here that he came into his own. He moved to a small house in rural New Hampshire and used it as a base for visits to countries, particularly in Asia, with species that needed help.
Malcolm kept a very low profile. He mentored and financially sponsored young biologists and conservationists so they could build programs themselves. He would get flustered if he received attention for something, responding: “No, no that is really x’s work. I just gave some advice”. The specialist group grew to over 900 around the world. Like his Farallon plant work, his efforts were geared to the longer term and he seemed to have a great deal of patience as he watched programs grow or waited for them to germinate. His travels took him to interesting places, from the Amur River, to the Korean DMZ to small villages in Xian, China, even as his health began its slow decline. He worked with others in Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, India and Africa. He helped Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo (SAVE International), a multinational effort, bring the Black-faced Spoonbill back from the edge of extinction. Even when he couldn’t travel, he continued his long term participation in a range of committees, leading the Waterbird Society’s awards committee for years, and serving other groups such as the Pacific Seabird Group.
Ultimately, Malcolm’s life is best described as a 1,000 acts of kindness.
– David Duffy, Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawaii Manoa, Honolulu HI 96822, USA