The island of New Guinea, is famous for the beauty of its endemic birds. Demand for their feathers resulted in the first recorded international trade with New Guinea more than two thousand years ago when traders sought feathers to fulfil growing demand from Asia. More recently the feathers from Birds of Paradise became highly sought after in a global phenomenon known as the ‘plume bloom’ (at its height between 1900 and 1920) which resulted in millions of birds being harvested for their feathers. The use of feathers however was not limited to foreign fashion interests. Many of the 800+ indigenous cultures within Papua New Guinea continue to use feathers as part of their cultural ornamentation. The highland cultures of Papua New Guinea, especially from Chimbu and Jiwaka provinces are renowned for their extravagant use of feathers in headdresses which can contain 10 or more species. In these provinces the vibrant red feathers of Pesquet's Parrot typically make up the surface of the headbands.
Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), also known as the New Guinea Vulturine Parrot, is one of Papua New Guinea’s most charismatic parrot species. This parrot is widely but patchily distributed in lowland and mid-montane forest. Exact population estimates are uncertain, but the best estimate to date suggests there may be around 21,000 pairs across New Guinea. Currently, the species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
In an intensive study, WCS PNG has revealed that a single district (Kerowagi in Chimbu Province) between 160,000 ‒ 280,000 Pesquet’s Parrots have been harvested for the headdresses currently in use. Our survey results suggests approximately 3,200 Pesquet’s Parrots will be killed annually for headdresses in Kerowagi District alone. This is equivalent to ~8% of the estimated wild population. Given that the Pesquet’s Parrot population is widely dispersed and highly mobile across areas of remote foothill forest site-based conservation management is unlikely to be economically viable. However, given that a greater number of Pesquet’s Parrot exist in headdresses than are alive in the wild, WCS PNG has realised that the most practical conservation intervention is to focus on prolonging the lifespan of existing headdresses. As a result we have developed a protection kit (comprised of naphthalene moth balls, paper and heavy duty plastic sheets, with instructions) to improve the preservation of the headdresses through enhanced protection against mould, mouse, and insect damage. The rationale behind such an initiative is that it is in the interest of the owner to avoid the cost of replacement feathers, and maintain the overall condition of their headdress. The conservation return is that any extension of the lifespan of the headdress should result in a lower demand for replacement parts and therefore lower hunting pressure.