More dead than alive: harvest for ceremonial headdresses threatens Pesquet’s Parrot in Papua New Guinea

2019-11-18T04:01:52Z (GMT) by Grace Nugi Nathan Whitmore

The red feathers of Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus) are highly sought after for use in the headdresses of the highland cultures of Papuan New Guinea, however, it is unclear whether the harvest for headdresses represents a serious threat to the species’ survival. To quantify the potential impact of harvesting, we surveyed 170 people in Mingende of Kerowagi District, Chimbu Province, a locality well known for their use of Pesquet’s Parrot feathers. Of the survey respondents, 43% had headdresses containing Pesquet’s Parrot feathers, owning an average of 2.9 headdresses (± 2.4 SD, N = 69) with each contained 2.9 (± 1.9 SD, N = 35) Pesquet’s Parrots. We estimated that an average of 8.4 Pesquet’s Parrots are contained within each owner’s headdresses. Extrapolating for the adult population of Kerowagi District, via a bootstrap methodology, suggested that between ~160,000 ‒ 280,000 Pesquet’s Parrots may have been harvested for the headdresses present in this district alone. Our survey results suggest an annual purchase rate of 1.5% which equates to approximately 3,200 Pesquet’s Parrots being required annually for Kerowagi District alone. This is equivalent to ~8% of the estimated wild population. Given that the extant population is widely dispersed and highly mobile across areas of remote foothill forest, in situ 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, we suggest that the most practical conservation intervention is to focus on prolonging the lifespan of existing headdresses.