Today CI announced the overwhelming success of last year’s Rapid Assessment program (RAP) surveys in Papua New Guinea: the discovery of around 200 species new to science. Below, entomologist and RAP Director Leeanne Alonso reflects on the people and species she encountered on the expedition in the country’s Muller Mountains.
Word came through the satellite phone that the clouds were too low for the helicopter to land at our camp site that day. It was supposed to come to take some of the local Northern Highlands field guides across the mountains to set up our next camp site. However, the lack of helicopter did not bother them. They just put on their rubber boots, slung some food in backpacks over their shoulders, and headed off on unmarked trails through the mountains to the second camp – a walk that took them three days (and would have taken me a week). They got to the second site – over 1,100 meters [3,600 feet] higher than our first camp – cut a small clearing in the forest, and built us a little helipad.
As I flew to this site in a helicopter kindly provided by the nearby Porgera gold mine, I strained to see the clearing and helipad among the endless expanse of forest. We finally saw a tiny white speck and headed down. The helipad consisted of tree trunks tied together with vines and it held tough as we landed. This site was like a wonderland of moss, dripping water everywhere. I wondered if I’d be able to find any ants living in such a wet place. I didn’t need to worry – there were plenty, including several species new to science!
But even more than the diverse forest around us, I marveled at the amazing Papua New Guinean people who were helping us. They are incredibly strong and at home in the forest. They could build a shelter in no time using only materials from the forest; they could walk miles in the forest and not get lost. I was therefore very happy when they told us that they were pleased with our study because we had come to learn and share knowledge about the forest instead of coming to take something from them. I sincerely hope that the RAP data we collected will be used to keep their forests intact as a healthy resource for these people and the generations that will follow them.