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.

Black fungus pheasant-pigeon has been documented by scientists for the first and last time in 1882, according to a report from Re:wild, a nonprofit organization that helped fund the search effort.

Rediscovering the bird required the expedition team to spend a grueling month on Fergusson, a rugged island in the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago in eastern Papua New Guinea. The team consists of local staff from the National Museum of Papua New Guinea, as well as international scientists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.

Fergusson Island is covered with rugged, mountainous terrain – making the expedition particularly difficult for scientists. Many members of the community told the team that they had not seen a black crested pheasant-pigeon in decades, the report said.

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

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

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

Local residents’ opinions were crucial for scientists to track down the elusive bird.

“It wasn’t until we reached the villages on the western side of the mountain. “We started meeting hunters who were seeing and hearing pheasants,” said Jason Gregg, a conservation biologist and co-leader of the expedition, Kilkerran said. “We became more confident about the bird’s local name, ‘Auwo’, and felt that we were approaching the main habitat of the black-skinned pheasant-pigeon.”

They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of the mountain. Kilkerran is the highest mountain on the island. They placed eight more cameras in places where local hunters reported seeing the bird in the past.

Augustin Gregory, a hunter living in the mountain village of Duda Ununa, provided the final breakthrough that helped scientists locate the pheasant-pigeon.

Gregory told the team that he saw the black-haired pheasant doves in an area with “steep mountains and valleys.” And he had heard the different calls of the bird.

So the expedition team placed a camera on a 3,200-foot ridge near the Kwama River above Duda Ununa. And finally, as their trip came to an end, they captured images of a bird roaming the forest floor.

This discovery was a shock to both scientists and the local community.

“The communities were very excited to see the results of the survey because many people had never seen or heard of the bird before we started our project and received the camera trap photos,” said Serena Ketaloya, a ranger from Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Guinea, in a news release. “They are now looking forward to working with us to protect pheasant pigeons.”

It is still unclear how many of the Black-crested Pheasants-Doves remain, and the rugged terrain will make it difficult to identify the population. A two-week survey in 2019 failed to find any evidence of the bird, although it did turn up some reports of hunters helping to pinpoint locations for the 2022 expedition.

The discovery may give hope that other bird species thought to be extinct are still out there.

“This rediscovery is an incredible ray of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” said Christina Biggs, Lost Species Search Manager at Re:Wild. “The area the team searched was incredibly difficult, but their determination never wavered, even though only a few people remembered seeing a pheasant-pigeon in recent decades.”

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