About the Author

An Informal Autobiography of Andy Mack

andy mackExecutive Director of the IndoPacific Conservation Alliance (IPCA Jan 2013 - Nov 2015), Scientific Director of Green Capacity and Author of Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest

“I began serious bird watching around age 12. While still in high school, my passion led to an offer to join an expedition to Mexico. I took a night and weekend job as a busboy to save for the trip.  This grand adventure at 16 included the company of several friends, including Mark Robbins and Steve Hilty (now both top experts on South American birds). I became hooked on tropical forests for life.  

After high school I went to the University of Arizona, mainly for its proximity to Mexico, and made several field trips to Mexico with Mark Robbins, Ted Parker, Kenn Kaufmann and other young bird enthusiasts (all successful ornithologists, though Ted died in a plane crash in Ecuador about 20 years ago).

After that first year, I dropped out to work and save money for a longer trip to Central and South America, which I took when I was 19-20.  Falling in love with Costa Rica, I stayed there for about 5 months, joining a sea turtle project in Tortuguero before moving on to Peru and joining Ted in Madre de Dios.  I was fully hooked on field research.

On a trip to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (to look at specimens of birds I had seen in Latin America),  I happened to meet the curator, Frank Gill, at a time when he needed help moving the entire bird collection to a different building.  I volunteered and moved to Philly.  I guess I made a good impression and Frank hired me as collections manager.

I got to know the collection really well, an astounding assemblage of around 165,000 bird specimens.  It was a great job an allowed field work in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Borneo.

But without a degree I knew I would never get to do my own research, so around 1982 I went back to college, getting a Bachelor's at the University of Delaware.  From there I went to the University of Miami for PhD studies in their tropical biology program.

In my first year at Miami I got a call “out of the blue” asking if I would like to go to Papua New Guinea, and that is where Searching for Pekpek:  Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest begins.

After spending half a year in PNG during 1987, I went back to Miami for a year, but returned to the rain forests I so enjoyed newly married to Debra D. Wright, also working on a Ph.D. in tropical biology at the University of Miami.  Deb and I went out to a jungle village called Haia, hiked about 10 hours to a place called Wara Sera, and built a research station there.  We spent about 5 months on the initial construction, all done with hand tools and wood cut by axe from the surrounding forest.

The years 1990-1993 were fully occupied studying cassowaries around Wara Sera.  I particularly studied seed dispersal, what happens to seeds after they are moved and defecated by a cassowary.  Deb studied what the cassowaries eat and why they select their diet.  

Eventually we had to return to the States; I finished my PhD in 1995 and soon took a job with Conservation International.  Working with CI, I led expeditions and conducted field training courses in New Guinea until 1999.

andy mackIn 1999 Deb and I moved back to PNG fulltime to be co-directors of the Wildlife Conservation Society PNG country program.  We mentored many students and increased our field training efforts.  We developed a small campus with many staff and student interns, all doing field research on various subjects.  Deb and I divorced, but kept working together for the sake of our program.

Unfortunately, WCS (for no known reason known to me) closed our program abruptly in 2007. I had to leave PNG and took an endowed position as a conservation biologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I left Carnegie so I would be free to focus on my research and conservation issues in New Guinea, and to write.

The team we had mentored in PNG formed the PNG Institute of Biological Research - a fully national conservation and research organization.

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