Long-lost pigeon species ‘rediscovered’ in Papua New Guinea

Long-lost pigeon species 'rediscovered' in Papua New Guinea
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A bird thought to be extinct for 140 years has been rediscovered in the forests of Papua New Guinea.

The black-naped pheasant-dove was documented by scientists for the first and last time in 1882, according to a press release from the nonprofit organization Re:wild, which helped fund the search effort.

Rediscovering the bird required an expedition team to spend a grueling month on Fergusson, a rugged island in the D’Entrecasteaux archipelago in eastern Papua New Guinea where the bird was originally documented. The team consisted of local staff from the National Museum of Papua New Guinea, as well as international scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.

Fergusson Island is covered in rugged, mountainous terrain, making the expedition especially challenging for scientists. Many community members told the team they had not seen the black-naped pheasant-dove in decades, the news release says.

But just two days before the researchers left the island, a camera trap captured images of the exceptionally rare bird.

“After a month of searching, seeing those first photos of the pheasant dove was like finding a unicorn,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of the lost birds program at the American Bird Conservancy and co-leader of the expedition. release. . “It’s the kind of moment you dream about your whole life as a conservationist and bird watcher.”

The black-naped pheasant pigeon is a large ground-dwelling pigeon with a broad tail, according to the release. Scientists still know little about the species and believe the population is small and declining.

Information from local residents was crucial for scientists to track down the elusive bird.

“It wasn’t until we reached the villages on the western slope of Mt. Kilkerran that we began meeting with hunters who had seen and heard the pheasant pigeon,” Jason Gregg, a conservation biologist and expedition team co-leader, said in the statement. “We were more confident in the local name for the bird, which is ‘Auwo’, and felt we were getting closer to the main habitat where the black-naped pheasant-dove lives.”

They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mt. Kilkerran, which is the highest mountain on the island. And they placed another eight cameras in places where local hunters have reported seeing the bird in the past.

A hunter named Augustin Gregory, based in the mountain village of Duda Ununa, provided the final breakthrough that helped scientists locate the pheasant-dove.

Gregory told the team that he had seen the black-naped pheasant-dove in an area with “steep ridges and valleys,” the news release says. And he had heard the distinctive songs of the bird.

So the expedition team placed a camera on a 3,200-foot-high ridge near the Kwama River above Duda Ununa, according to the statement. And finally, just as its journey ended, they captured images of the bird walking across the forest floor.

The discovery came as a shock to both the scientists and the local community.

“The communities were very excited when they saw the results of the survey, because many people had not seen or heard of the bird until we started our project and got the camera trap photos,” said Serena Ketaloya, a conservationist from Milne Bay, Papua. New. Guinea, in the press release. “Now they hope to work with us to try to protect the pheasant pigeon.”

It is not yet clear how many of the black-naped pheasant-doves remain, and the rugged terrain will make it difficult to identify the population. A two-week survey in 2019 was unable to find any evidence of the bird, though it uncovered some hunter reports that helped pinpoint locations for the 2022 expedition.

And the discovery could provide hope that other bird species thought to be extinct are still out there somewhere.

“This rediscovery is an incredible beacon of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” said Christina Biggs, manager of Search for Lost Species at Re:wild, in the statement. “The terrain the team sought was incredibly difficult, but their determination never wavered, despite the fact that very few people remember seeing the pheasant-dove in decades.”

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