Seeing This Image Was 'Most Surreal Moment of My Life'

Scientists capture footage of black-naped pheasant-pigeon for first time since 1882
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 21, 2022 10:15 AM CST
Updated Nov 26, 2022 1:00 PM CST
Seeing This Image Was 'Most Surreal Moment of My Life'
The black-naped pheasant-pigeon, a species long-lost to science since 1882, was rediscovered after camera traps setup by an expedition team with the Search for Lost Birds in Papua New Guinea captured photos of the large, ground-dwelling bird in Papua New Guinea.   (Doka Nason/American Bird Conservancy)

The researchers had to gun it in their boat to outrun pirates after departing Fergusson Island off of Papua New Guinea. But as the BBC tells it, the likely adrenaline rush that produced may have been dwarfed by the one they experienced on the island itself. The eight-person team in September managed to confirm the existence of the black-naped pheasant-pigeon—a rare ground-dwelling chicken-size pigeon that hadn't been seen by scientists since 1882. The bird only lives on the island, and a 2019 expedition to try to sight it came up empty. The 2022 effort to do the same nearly ended the same way. Then came, "without exaggeration, the most surreal moment of my life," says expedition co-leader Jordan Boersma.

The National Audubon Society reports that with just hours left in their monthlong quest on the island—during which they put up with "bloodthirsty mosquitoes and leeches"—Boersma sat down at one point to take a breather. He started paging through the images he'd just collected using the 20 camera traps the team had set up after getting input from local hunters who'd reported seeing and hearing the bird. And he saw it, an "image of what at that time felt like a mythical creature." Footage of the bird was captured in a "rugged and inaccessible forest" area, per a press release.

Adds co-lead John C. Mittermeier, per the Audubon Society: "To find something that’s been gone for that long, that you're thinking is almost extinct, and then to figure out that it's not extinct, it feels like finding a unicorn or a Bigfoot." The team later discovered more footage on another black-naped pheasant-pigeon taken by another camera; the cameras were stationed several kilometers from each other, meaning they almost certainly captured two different members of the species. That said, it's not clear how big the population is on the island. The team plans to next work on preventing the critically endangered species from going extinct; they've identified potential threats like logging and feral cats. (More discoveries stories.)

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