The Book

Cassowaries and Conservation

Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest, by Andrew L. Mack, Ph.D. offers readers an exhilarating mix of adventure and scientific insight.

In 1987 the vast majority of U.S. tropical biologists worked in the New World tropics, and you could find more U.S. tropical biologists in one Costa Rican research station in one month than in all of Papua New Guinea over a year.

For a young Andy Mack, at the start of his research studies in conservation, Papua New Guinea represented a new frontier.

Drawn to PNG by the cassowary, a flightless, dinosaur-like bird whose natural shyness belies the damage it can do with its dagger like claws if provoked, Andy was quickly immersed in the complex culture and verdant beauty of the island.  In time he came to appreciate and even champion the cause of Papua New Guinea’s people as they struggle to maintain their identities amid globalization and Western efforts at “big conservation.”

From the Book:

“Conservationists, though well-intentioned, have been cultivating reputations as white people full of talk who often can’t spend even a single night in a village, much less out in the bush. An important aspect of our research and program was that we did more than talk. Both Deb and I spent hundreds of days out in the rain, sharing food with the Pawai’ia, swatting the same biting flies, and having prolonged conversations about conservation.

To build a conservation ethos, we had to be out there, in the forest, working side by side with the forest’s owners. When I came upon the den of a wallaby or hornbill nest, I took the opportunity to ask the Pawai’ia workers questions and to talk with them, not at them, about wildlife management. I listened to their stories and told them my own, describing, for instance, how the water here I grew up was undrinkable and much of it too polluted even for swimming. This always amazed them because we drank from every stream and bathed anywhere we liked.”

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