Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – A bird believed to have been extinct 140 years ago has been re-discovered in the forests of Papua New Guinea.
The black-necked pheasant pigeon has been 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 research effort.
The bird’s rediscovery forced an expedition team to spend an exhausting month on Ferguson Island, the rugged island in the Entrecasteaux archipelago off eastern Papua New Guinea, where the bird was originally documented. The team is made up 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.
Ferguson Island is covered in rugged, mountainous terrain, making the expedition particularly difficult for scientists. The press release says that several community members told the team that they had not seen a black-naped bird in decades.
But just two days before the researchers left the island, a trap camera captured footage of an extremely rare bird.
“After a month of searching, seeing these first images of pheasant pigeons was like finding a rhino,” said John C. Mittermeyer, director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Lost Bird Program and co-leader of the expedition. . “It’s that moment when you dream about your whole life as a conservationist and ornithologist.”
According to the statement, the black-naped pheasant pigeon is a large, broad-tailed pigeon. Scientists still know little about the species and believe the population is small and declining.
Seeing the locals was crucial for the scientists to track down the elusive bird.
Jason Gregg, a conservation biologist and co-leader of the expedition team, said in the statement. “We became more confident about the local name for the bird, ‘Auwo,’ and felt we were getting closer to the prime habitat where the black pheasant lives.”
They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mount Kilkaran, the highest mountain on the island. They placed eight more cameras at locations where local hunters said they had seen the bird in the past.
A hunter named Augustin Gregory, based in the mountain village of Doda Onona, has carried out the latest feat that has helped scientists locate the pheasant pigeon.
Gregory told the team that he saw the black-naped pheasant in an area with “steep hills and valleys,” the press release reads. And the characteristic cries of the bird were heard.
The statement said the mission team placed a camera on a ridge 3,200 feet high near the Kwama River above Doda Ununa. Finally, when their journey was over, they pictured a bird walking on the forest floor.
This discovery came as a shock to the scientists and the local community.
Serena Kitaluya, an ecologist from Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, said in a news release. “They are now looking forward to working with us to try to protect the cyclists.”
It is still not clear how many black-necked pheasants exist, and the rough terrain would make population identification difficult. A two-week investigation in 2019 found no evidence of the bird’s existence, although it did uncover some hunter reports that helped locate the 2022 flight.
The discovery may give hope that other bird species once thought to be extinct may still be around.
“This rediscovery is a wonderful beacon of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” Christina Biggs, director of lost species research at Re:wild, said in the release. “The terrain the team explored was very challenging, but their determination never wavered, even though very few people remember seeing a flying bird diving in the past decades.”
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