Background – Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus), also known as the Vulturine Parrot, is one of Papua New Guinea’s most charismatic parrot species, occurring nowhere else other than the island of New Guinea. The species is well known within PNG for its bright red and black feathers that are used in traditional costumes. The alternative name of “Vulturine Parrot” is derived from the species black and naked head and long-hooked bill. It is a specialist frugivore , only consuming fruits from a few species of fig, and nests in cavities in large trees.
Pesquet’s Parrot is widely but patchily distributed in lowland and mid-montane forest. Population estimates are very uncertain, due to the large range and the large scale movements that birds make, but the best estimate to date suggests there may be around 21,000 pairs across New Guinea. The still large intact areas of forest habitat that remain in PNG and the widespread distribution of this species mean that the Pesquet’s Parrot is not at imminent risk of extinction, however the species is threatened by unsustainable hunting for its feathers and is believed to have undergone rapid population declines in the last decades.
As a consequence the species is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Feathers, fur, shells and plant materials form an important part of the traditional costumes and ceremonial dress of many clans in Papua New Guinea, and the use of “bilas” remains culturally important .The vivid crimson and black feathers of Pesquet’s parrot have always been used for bilas and have been an important item of trade.
With increasing wealth in the country and increasing recognition of PNG’s cultural heritage and an upsurge in the number of cultural shows the demand for the red and black feathers of Pesquet’s Parrot has increased. Conservation Initiatives – WCS PNG has been studying the use of bilas, including the use of Pesquet’s Parrot feathers feathers and wildlife, through interviews and studies at cultural shows around the country (follow this link to learn more on WCS’s study of bilas).
This work will determine how many birds are being hunted and their provenance. To further our knowledge on the use of Pesquet’s Parrot we are undertaking research with groups who traditionally loan and trade their feathers, to determine what proportion of feathers are from hunted birds versus the use of older feathers that are preserved and passed down from performer to performer, or loaned out to different groups. We are also undertaking ecological studies of Pesquet’s Parrot in the Souwi Valley to increase knowledge of this still little known species. These studies aim to research the species’ feeding ecology, movements and if possible nesting habits.