Traditional bilas (adornment) has been a part of the Papua New Guinean culture for centuries. The use of bird’s feathers was and is still the most common and spectacular sight during cultural shows and festivals. In the recent years, PNG’s cultural heritage and the cultural shows have gained recognition widely thus resulting in the demand for more birds’ feathers for the adornment (bilas). Over hunting and several other factors have threatened and led to a decline in the number of some of the country’s endemic bird species such as the Bird of Paradise and the Pesquet parrot.
WCS in line with its mission had come up with conservation initiatives of which the study of traditional costumes or the ‘Bilas project’ evolved. The study focuses on the use of traditional adornment (bilas) including the use of the most demanded Pesquet or Vulturine Parrot’s red and black feathers and its wildlife.
In February this year, WCS took on board female research intern Grace Nugi (pictured) for the challenge. Grace who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Papua New Guinea is from the Kerowagi district in Simbu province. She joined the Bilas study team with the hope to graduate with an honours degree. She is currently conducting a two part research on the Pesquet Parrot. One part of her research is based on the factors affecting the parrot on the Simbu traditional adornment in Kerowagi while the other part is on data collection of the elements of the basic ecology of the parrot in Ikundu.
Joining WCS was a turning point in her study background. She said studying biology at the university was broad and the experience with WCS was new, challenging and an eye-opener mainly with the exposure to terrestrial biology. She added that pursuing further studies was to broaden her knowledge and enable her to gain specialised skills in biology. “Here with WCS, I have the best expertise and guidance,” said Grace.
Research on the Pesquet parrot is expected to end around mid next year (2015) with the hope to create awareness on the use of the parrot’s feathers and conservation measures to prevent overhunting of the bird species.