PNG’s Disappearing Forest Birds
At the beginning of this year, the journal Biological Conservation revealed troubling facts regarding the serious threat PNG’s forest birds face, particularly those located on the island of New Britain.
The revelations were a result of conservationists analysing satellite images of New Britain – the first time that the use of satellite imagery (‘remote-sensing’) has been used to determine the likely threat status of a complete set of birds present in a given region or locality.
The journal claimed that the total number of threatened or ‘near threatened’ birds on the island will almost double to 21 and that the ‘before-and-after’ high resolution images of New Britain showed that approximately 12% of forest cover was lost between 1989 and 2000, including over 20% of forest under 100 m altitude – with substantial areas cleared for commercial oil palm plantations.
New Britain island is home to 37 endemic (occurring nowhere else on Earth) or ‘restricted-range’ bird species. Species most affected by deforestation on the island are those which cannot tolerate degraded or non-forest habitats, and that only occur in the lowlands.
The paper reports that hardest hit is the strikingly iridescent Bismarck Kingfisher Alcedo websteri (which co-incidentally, I now recall somewhat ashamedly, a cousin of mine shot and maimed unmercifully with his katapel in the days of my youth and which at the time I thought was pretty cool) – a specialist of lowland forest streams which lost a fifth of its habitat during the ten year period.
Other birds to suffer include the Green-fronted Hanging-parrot Loriculus tener, which lost 18% of its habitat in the same period.
The paper also highlighted the main factor behind the extensive lowland forest loss on New Britain: the largely unregulated and expanding palm oil industry fuelled by increasing global demand.
The authors of the paper, Dr Graeme Buchanan of RSPB, and Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Coordinator, stated the following:
“Examining the satellite images of New Britain, we were struck immediately by the clear and extensive loss of forest in many parts of the island. Deforestation was particular severe in the flat coastal lowlands.
The findings show that New Britain’s endemic birds are being driven to extinction by our thirst for palm oil, which is widely used in foodstuffs and industry. After wiping out the lowland forests of Malaysia and Indonesia, companies are now moving eastwards, to New Guinea and Melanesia, where they now threaten a whole new suite of species”.
The paper recommends potential areas to be designated as protected areas, concluding “there is clearly a pressing need to survey these areas to confirm that they are refuges for New Britain’s endemic fauna, and to ensure their immediate and effective protection”.
So, note to New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NBPOL): Maybe here’s something you may want to consider supporting since it is your palm oil that is being planted and causing the destruction of these species’ natural habitats.
And I’m pretty sure you can afford it too – after all, you only posted a 2007 pre-tax profit of $US 121.58 million.