Saturday, January 19, 2008

Goodbye Garden of Eden!

Our local rag reported on the Conservation International expedition to the Foja Mountains in New Guinea in December 2005. It was the fulfillment of a 30 year dream for Bruce Beehler, the co-leader of the team. He had wanted to go there since his graduate student days at Princeton University. As soon as the team got off the helicopter, they spotted a new bird species, the first in 60 years on New Guinea. They gave it no name in our newspaper so we may as well call it the Newest New Guinea Honeyeater or the Taylor Jonesâ€"the Hack Writerâ€"Honeyeater until they come up with some more appropriate name. Here are some excerpts from “The honeyeaters are a large and diverse family of small to medium sized birds most common in Australia and New Guinea, but also found in New Zealand, the Pacific islands as far east as Hawaii, and the islands to the north and west of New Guinea known as Wallacia. Bali, on the other side of the Wallace Line, has a single species. “Honeyeaters and the closely related Australian chats make up the family Meliphagidae. In total there are 182 species in 42 genera, roughly half of them native to Australia, many of the remainder occupying New Guinea. Like their closest relatives, the Maluridae (Australian wrens), Pardalotidae (pardalotes and thornbills), and Petroicidae (Australian robins), they originated as part of the great corvid radiation in Australia-New Guinea (which were joined in a single landmass until quite recent geological times).” Beehler is an ornithologist so he knows this: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Aves; Order: Passeriformes; Family: Meliphagidae. He has the following Genera to choose from or he can make up his own: Anthochaera, Acanthagenys, Plectorhyncha, Philemon, Xanthornyzma, Entomyzon, Manorina, Xanthotis, Meliphaga, Lichenostomus, Melithreptus, Notiomystis, Glycichaera, Lichmera, Trichodere, Grantiella, Phylidonyris, Ramsayornis, Conopophila, Acanthorhynchus, Certhionyx, Myzomela, Anthornis, Prosthemadera, Epthianura, Ashbyia. My computer spell checker asked if I would like to switch to the Spanish Dictionary right after I typed in Xanthotis. I said that I didn’t. I don’t know if these Genera are spelled correctly. Neither does my spell checker. Hell, let’s just call it the Foja Mountain Honeyearter. Beechler is a fine looking fellow. Read about him at He reminds me of the gentlemen that taught me about birds after he got home from New Guinia after WW II. That was Thayer D. “Turk” Evans the famous Utah bird artist. I have a couple of his prints above my desk, one of Mule Deer and the other of Snowy Owls. I have an original of a Peregrine Falcon still packed away in the garage. Turk told me about the Japanese, the jungle, and the birds of New Zealand and Australia. When I was a teenager my friend and I found the first “nesting” starling in Utah and Turk verified the find. We had seen a zillion of them on the Christmas Bird Count but not yet nesting. Of course they were nesting somewhere. You can’t have that many birds without something going on. A bad species was moving in to drive out the song birds that survived the English Sparrow infiltration. Well, I miss Turk so I’m glad to meet Bruce Beehler. My new friend Bruce wrote an article with A. Mack called Constraints to Characterizing Spatial Heterogeneity in a Lowland Forest Avifauna in New Guinea so he knows what he is talking about. (Don’t e-mail me asking me to explain this. It must be obvious. Well then, call Bruce. His number is on the site.) This article (the one you are reading) has a point as indicated by the title. Look at it this way: Nobody could get to the top of Mount Everest until Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and his Serpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, did it in 1953. Now the slopes of Everest look like a Boy Scout jamboree, people climbing up Everest thinking it must be easy with all the new equipment and technology, some tumbling falling down to their death or nursing where there fingers and toes use to be. I wonder who picks up the candy bar wrappers. Incidently, I learned while attending the Yeti Confutation in Tibet that the Yeti have been driven out of Tibet by mountain climbers and they were heading for Foja Mountain as soon as they complete their extended-duration levitation and long-distance swimming lessons. You can read my report on the Confutation at Turk Evans took me to a Great Blue Heron rookery when I was a teenager. It was pretty well isolated from the populace. You had to enjoy tromping through swamps as we did. Still, we could see that people had been in the area and we were disturbing the parents of the half-grown chicks just by being near. I believe that if it were not for bird sanctuaries the bird populations would be reduced worse then they are. Where we once counted 139 bird species and thousands of individuals along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City, Utah, recent census have shown only a few species have survived. Developers could have easily preserved the habitat along the banks of the river. Maybe they would have if someone had told them they needed to do that. An old man that lived near my house told me before World War II that when he was a boy that the Jordan River was a beautiful stream full of trout and other wildlife. By the time I swam in the slime of the river it was a polluted death trap, unknowingly killing two of my friends while my grandfather played his accordion to a crowd that had gathered in Riverside Park. Still even a polluted river supports wildlife. Bruce Beehler said of the Foja Mountains, “It’s a spectacularly beautiful Garden of Eden.” I’m afraid that first the environmentalist will go into the Foja Mountains in large numbers, then the public, then the unwanted species. Soon we will have to say “Goodbye” to the Garden of Eden just like we had to say goodbye to a large number of bird species on Guam after the Brown Snakes moved in. Oh, they had fun playing with a Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo. Well, yes. We wildlife loves are part of the problem. John T. Jones, Ph.D. (, a retired VP of RandD for Lenox China, is author of detective and western novels, nonfiction (business, scientific, engineering, humor), poetry, etc. Former editor of Ceramic Industry Magazine. He calls himself Taylor Jones, the hack writer. More info: Business web site: .

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