National Geographic is famous for their vibrant, detailed photography and documentaries about the amazing wildlife that can be found across the world. But have you ever wondered what it takes to get those perfect shots? Well through National Geographic Live: Birds of Paradise, Tim Laman, photographer and forest canopy researcher, and ornithologist Ed Scholes gave us the inside scoop on all the effort they had to go through in order to document the 39 different known species of birds of paradise.
After 8 years of working on this project, they captured 39,568 photographs. In order to take these pictures, they traveled all around New Guinea and Australia. Essentially, Scholes and Laman would be dropped off in the jungle and Scholes would pick up the calls of the bird they intended to document and head towards them. Once the calls were followed, they would set up a camouflaged hideout that is called a blind, near where they expected the birds would gather to perform mating rituals. A couple of the birds liked open clean areas, a fallen log or even the highest tree, so they could make an educated guess that eventually, a bird would make an appearance. In these blinds, they spent over 2,000 hours waiting around, practicing their camera techniques so they could be ready when the birds came and to do their mating rituals so they could get a perfect shot of them.
If you have never heard or seen a bird of paradise before, their mating rituals and wild looking feathers are the main things that make these birds so fascinating. Essentially, the males flaunt their vibrant, giant feathers during their grand performances, some of which seem like dances, and call out to the females. Every species is different in their characteristics and their rituals but across all species, the male who puts on the best performance and presents themselves the best is the male who gets to mate. As Laman and Scholes put it, the females are the drivers for these physical characteristics and behavior, so for these species its the "survival of the sexiest".
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation as I was absolutely amazed at the lengths Laman and Scholes went to document these species for the sake of science. The footage that they showed us I thought was so fascinating and you can actually find some of it on youtube if you search National Geographic Live: Birds of Paradise. I could try to explain further about some of the birds, but I wouldn't do it justice. Anyhow, what I loved the most about the presentation was how they ended it. They brought the reality of development into the picture. Currently, the areas on New Guinea where the birds are found are mostly undisturbed and protected, but there have been plans made to start building roads through these rainforests. While that may be good for the connectivity of the nation, this opens up many doors for the potential destruction of the rainforest. When roads are constructed through big forested areas like this, the chances of it being deforested for logging or even mining drastically increase.
However, development doesn't have to result in massive deforestation of the area if we continue to encourage its protection by promoting what the rainforest can bring to the nation and the world. Thankfully, the government plans to keep 70% of the rainforest intact, but everyone needs to demonstrate their support for this policy. Ultimately, Scholes and Laman want people to know about birds of paradise because they are the easiest animals to fall in love with due to how pretty and charismatic they are. If they are used as "ambassadors of the rainforest" then its more likely people will make sure the forest stays protected. There are many other species in the rainforest that one may argue are more important from an ecological aspect and probably many species that haven't even been discovered yet, but we can't save those if nobody cares about the forest or is even aware of its potential threats.
Ultimately, I feel like this presentation succeeded in spreading awareness to its attendees and that this series of National Geographic Live presentations have a lot of potential in impacting the community overall. I hope that through this article I too have successfully spread awareness about these animals, but truly awareness is the first step of many on the path to saving the biodiversity present in rainforests.
If you want to learn how you can help save rainforests, besides just being an advocate, check out these links: