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Podcast: Protecting New Guinea’s forests with birds-of-paradise and ecotourism

A Cendrawasih (bird of paradise) on a tree in Malagufuk village, located in the rainforest in Kalasou valley, Sorong, West Papua. Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

  • The island of New Guinea is home to 44 species of unique birds-of-paradise that are found nowhere else on Earth.
  • The EcoNusa Foundation in Indonesia and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have partnered on a campaign called “defending paradise,” using the birds as ambassadors for the island’s biodiversity and communities.
  • Home to the third-largest tract of tropical rainforest in the world, of which 80% is still intact, New Guinea is in a unique position to conserve its forest cover as part of an economy that serves its local inhabitants, rather than extracting from and deforesting these communities.
  • For this episode of Mongabay Explores, we interview Bustar Maitar, founder and CEO of the EcoNusa Foundation, and Edwin Scholes, head of the Birds-of-Paradise Project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The third episode in the New Guinea series of Mongabay Explores covers the island’s unique birds-of-paradise, and their symbolism as ambassadors for both the island’s beautiful landscape, and also the culture of the people who live there:

Listen here:

The provinces of Papua and West Papua contain roughly half of Indonesia’s remaining tropical forests. Comprised of many remote villages separated by an extreme topography, the land is mostly undeveloped, which has attracted the attention of extractive industries as well as infrastructure development from the central Indonesian government. Yet much of this kind of development in Indonesia has ended up degrading tropical rainforests and the livelihoods of local and Indigenous communities.

Tanah Papua (or “the land of Papua”) can fairly be described as paradise. Potentially, it could develop an economy centered around protecting its forests through conservation efforts powered by ecotourism. This week on Mongabay Explores, we speak with Bustar Maitar, founder and CEO of the EcoNusa Foundation, which advocates for sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. Bustar says ecotourism can be the future of economic development in eastern Indonesia.

Portrait size close view of the lesser bird-of-paradise on a branch seen from behind. Greenpeace / Takeshi Mizukoshi

In addition to ecotourism and developing independent and renewable energy sources, Bustar sees greater potential for the local and Indigenous inhabitants to create income streams by maximizing commodities they already produce sustainably.

The birds-of-paradise endemic to New Guinea, which ornithologist Edwin Scholes describes as “an evolutionary and biodiversity treasure,” were chosen by Scholes’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology and EcoNusa to serve as ambassadors and an impetus for conservation funding, as they attract the attention of ecotourism stakeholders such as birders and tourists from around the globe. Scholes describes how New Guinea’s landscape contributes to the sprawling diversity of these unique and beautiful birds as well as their mating and behavioral practices.

Like Bustar, Scholes believes that New Guinea holds promise to take a development path less traveled.

Mongabay Explores is an ongoing episodic podcast series about the world’s unique places and species. Each season dives into new areas of amazing natural heritage to environmental challenges and conservation solutions. This season, it’s exploring the great conservation and cultural richness of New Guinea. If you missed Episode 1 or 2 in this season, you can listen to both:

Sounds heard during the intro and outro include the following: rusty mouse-warbler, growling riflebird, raggiana/lesser bird-of-paradise, superb fruit-dove, long-billed honeyeater, little shrike-thrush, brown cuckoo-dove, black-capped lory. Special thanks to Tim Boucher and Bruce Beehler for identifying them.

Soundscape credit: recorded in the Adelbert Mountains in Papua New Guinea by the communities of Musiamunat, Yavera and Iwarame in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Zuzana Burivalova/Sound Forest Lab.

Related reading:

Helping Papuans protect Indonesia’s last frontier: Q&A with Bustar Maitar

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Banner Image: A Cendrawasih (bird of paradise) on a tree in Malagufuk village, located in the rainforest in Kalasou valley, Sorong, West Papua. Copyright: Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, Instagram or TikTok via @midigirolamo.