Pesquet’s Parrot in danger

Street seller with Pesquet Parrot. –Picture by ELODIE VAN LIERDE.
Lead author Grace Nugi’s family members adding finishing touches to her bilas featureing Pesquet Parrot feathers in her head dress. – Picture by ALEX NUGI.

IN PAPUA New Guinea, a land renown for the beauty of its birds, people retain a close relationship with nature ? particularly with birds.
Coming from the highlands province of Chimbu, where the feathers of birds continue to be used in extravagant ceremonial headdresses, Grace Nugi, a conservation scientist, wondered what the impact of this harvesting might be.
As part of her honours degree at University of Papua New Guinea, Nugi worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to understand the impacts of cultural use on Pesquet’s Parrot (also known as the New Guinean Vulturine Parrot) a species with vibrant red feathers which are typically used to decorate headbands.
Nugi focused her study on Kerowagi District in Chimbu.
Her study was supported by funding from The Christensen Fund.
The results of her study have just been published internationally in the scientific journal Emu – Austral Ornithology with the assistance of her co-author, Nathan Whitmore of WCS:
Using a combination of surveying techniques and mathematical methods she revealed between 160,000 and 280,000 Pesquet’s Parrots were likely harvested for the headdresses in Kerowagi District alone.
Although these headdresses are treated as heirlooms her data suggests that around ~8 per cent of the Pesquet’s Parrot population would get harvested every year for demand in Kerowagi District alone.
Given that her study only focused on one district in the highlands Nugi considers her results alarming.

A performer a the 2019 Goroka Show wearing Pesquet Parrot feathers. -Picture by ELODIE VAN LIERDE

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. My study only focused on one of the six districts in Chimbu, so imagine if every headdress owner in the province, let alone the highlands is accounted for.”
Nugi also points out that the numbers of dead birds present in the headdresses in Kerowagi dwarfs the best estimates of the total Pesquet’s Parrot population by four to six times.
She suggests that since the Pesquet’s Parrot population is widely spread across areas of remote foothill forest, direct protection conservation management is not likely to be viable in PNG.
Nugi said, “Site based conservation of these parrots just isn’t that feasible. The cost and logistics of operating in such remote areas of PNG would be prohibitive.”
Rather Nugi advocates the most practical conservation intervention is to reduce hunting by prolonging the lifespan of the existing headdresses already in existence.
She added, “We should focus on what is more practical and realistic when it comes to making conservation decisions.
For these parrots, it comes down to encouraging people to protect their headdresses. It may seem odd but we have to conserve the dead to protect the living.”
Nugi is mindful that while Pesquet’s Parrot is a must-have in headdresses of Chimbu today, this was doesn’t appear to be the case 100 years ago, and that the future generations of highlanders users may have substantially different perceptions of beauty and cultural authenticity.

  • Stories and pictues on this page are supplied by Wildlife Conservation Society PNG.

Nursery programme supports livelihoods

THE magnificent forests of the region have supported the culture and livelihoods of communities for millennia and are famed around the world for iconic species such as birds-of-paradise and tree kangaroos. However, as the population rapidly grows and communities seek to increase cash incomes the region’s incredible biodiversity is declining. Iconic species such as the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo and Pesquet’s parrot are now at risk of extinction and forest areas are being degraded and deforested for timber and to extend garden areas. In an effort to protect the region’s biodiversity, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working to support communities committed to sustainably managing their forests and wildlife while also increasing community livelihoods.
As part of this work WCS has supported three community-based organisations to establish community forest nurseries in their communities: KGwan eco-habitat (Danbagl, Simbu Province), Individual Restoration and Reform Movement (Womkama, Simbu Province) and WAM U5 (Wamuifa, Eastern Highlands Province). In each community, forest nurseries have been established and seven community foresters have been trained in the basics of identifying native timber tree species, seed handling (seed collection, extraction and propagation), nursery management and outplanting. Propagation methods for 11 native species have been developed and taught to the community foresters. In total, over the last two years, more than 30,000 community-grown

Native timber species (Ficus demaropsis) growing at the Afoya community nursery in Wamuifa village, Eastern Highlands. -Picture by ELODIE VAN LIERDE

Highlands timber and tree crops seedlings have been produced. These have been outplanted over 42 hectares, which is approximately equal to the total calculated area deforested in these communities between 2001-2013.
The community nursery program supports both human livelihoods and wildlife conservation in the communities. Many formerly abundant Highlands hardwood timber species such as Nothofagus (beech wood) and Fagraea (iron wood) species have now been overharvested.
“The timber from these trees used to last for generations, now people are often forced to use young or softwood trees which might not even last a decade,” says WCS forest ecologist Tory Kuria.
This means a much greater number of trees now need to be harvested over a person’s lifetime for housing and construction.
When combined with rapid population growth, this pressure could drive extensive deforestation in the region.
The community nursery program has therefore been propagating traditional hardwood timbers and growing them in community woodlots.
These trees are also used to reforest degraded areas and improve soil quality in non-native grasslands for future agricultural use. To provide alternative high-protein and drought-resistant food sources tree crops such as Pandanus (karuka) are also grown.
These tree crops are then ouplanted in community identified areas in need of erosion control, such as around water sources and alongside roads. Such activities support native wildlife through the expansion of usable habitat, unlike non-native timber species, such as eucalypts and pine, which degrade forest function, despite their popularity. WCS is therefore working with the communities to develop participatory land use plans which ban the planting of these trees in intact forest areas and also put community-designed limits on unsustainable hunting and deforestation practices.
The community nursery program was established with support from the United Kingdom’s Darwin Initiative and is now being continued under funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the European Union’s Sustainable Wildlife Management programme.
The WCS team is currently traveling to remote village of Kwiop in Jiwaka to establish a new nursery and support the community’s goal of establishing a conservation area.