The Homelands of the Birds-of-Paradise are Under Threat

Learn more about their native forest habitats and efforts to safeguard them

New Guinea's Cloud Forest Canopy by Tim Laman

More than 40 species of birds-of-paradise live in New Guinea’s swaths of the Indo-Pacific rainforest region, one of the largest intact tropical forested areas on Earth. In the slideshow and sections below, explore the landscapes of New Guinea—the most species-rich island on Earth.

Protecting Paradise

  • birders observing birds-of -paradise in forest
    Tanah Papua: A Paradise for Birds

    Experience the beauty of the island of New Guinea and meet the people in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua who are determined to save its forests.


    In collaboration with the EcoNusa Foundation, “Defending Paradise” is a campaign to preserve the tropical rainforests of Tanah Papua and Maluku Islands as habitat for birds-of-paradise in Indonesia.

The Intact Forests of the Indo-Pacific

The rainforests of New Guinea in the Indo-Pacific region are rich with biodiversity and indigenous cultures. They are also one of the world’s most important greenhouse gas reservoirs, as they store vast amounts of carbon in their trees and soils. The future of the planet is tied to the forest home of the birds-of-paradise.

Watch the video below to learn more about how these forests provide many benefits to people at local and global scales.

Show Transcript

[animal sounds]
[dramatic music]
[city sounds]

The Indo-Pacific. A region of diverse landscapes, wildlife, and cultures.

Its natural resources, including one of the world’s three major rainforests, have helped to create some of today’s fastest growing economies.

It is also home to a tenth of the world’s remaining intact tropical forests.

[animal sounds]

Intact forest are more than just tree-covered landscapes.

They are complex networks of living and non-living elements, with few signs of human activity, that are large enough to sustain entire ecosystem functions.

[monkeys howling]

They improve food security and water availability while protecting people from natural disasters and climate change.

And as the world confronts the health, social, and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific’s intact forests will play a key role in creating more resilient societies.

Maintaining the forests’ integrity will improve human wellbeing and support the natural systems we depend on.

And yet, their trajectory has been in decline for decades.

Twenty years ago, the Indo-Pacific was home to the second largest expanse of undisturbed rainforest in the world.

It covered roughly 188 million hectares, an area about twice the size of the island of New Guinea.

But it was losing forest more quickly than anywhere else.

Satellite records show that by 2019, this forest had been reduced to less than half of what it had been in 2001 with most cleared for resource extraction and infrastructure expansion.

In the northwest, the main drivers have been forestry, shifting small farms, and large-scale commercial agriculture.

In the central region, the leading factor was clear-cutting for palm oil production.

And in the east, losses came from shifting small farms and palm oil plantations.

Today with forests fragmented and degraded, few are large enough, and intact enough, to sustain all ecosystem functions while providing the full range of benefits that people depend on.

The intact forests that remain are essential.

[rainforest sounds]

About 30% are scattered widely, but roughly 70% are concentrated just within the islands of

Borneo and new Guinea, with around half, about 30 million hectares, in the New Guinea region alone.

[bird sounds]

These forest systems provide many undervalued benefits that are easy to overlook.

They support the highest levels of terrestrial biodiversity.

Up to 25,000 species of trees provide habitat and food for millions of forest-dependent plants, animals, fungi, and microbes.

Together their interconnected networks provide services that societies depend on, like nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, pollination, and pest resistance.

All for free.

[thunder crackling]

Beyond supporting biodiversity, intact forest systems also influence cloud cover and rainfall.

[thunder crackling]

They redistribute runoff, stabilize water tables, and regulate movement of nutrients and sediments, helping to maintain soil fertility for food production and preventing erosion.

And with today’s climate extremes, intact forests buffer people from the increasing intensity and frequency of heat waves, droughts, and floods.

These forests have also provided material and spiritual resources for forest-dependent communities for over 50,000 years.

And today, over 100 million people, roughly one quarter of the indigenous peoples worldwide, rely on their direct use for food, water, shelter, and livelihoods.

Forests provide benefits to human health by decreasing the negative impacts of smoke and haze by being better able to withstand wildfires than disturbed forests.

They yield compounds that supply millions of people with medicines worldwide.

Intact forests also reduce contact between humans and disease vectors, preventing the transmission of established and emerging infectious diseases that can impact human health and economic stability at global scales.

[rainforest sounds]

The benefits of intact forests also reach worldwide.

They provide a free service for mitigating the impacts of global climate change by storing carbon in their trees, soils, and peatlands.

The Indo-Pacific is estimated to hold up to 140 billion tons of carbon, with more than 40 billion tons in tree biomass alone.

Keeping them intact will play a vital role in preventing global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030.

[airplane whirring]

The benefits of intact forests are increasingly clear.

Yet current land use plans are often at odds with maintaining their integrity.

For example, as of 2020, land concessions have been issued for much of the western half of New Guinea.

Millions of hectares have been allocated for industrial logging and wood pulp production, mining operations, and oil palm plantations.

Major infrastructure projects, including a 4,000-kilometer-long road network, are under way to facilitate these land use plans.

Throughout the Indo-Pacific, many intact forests face similar pressures.

[upbeat music]

If human health, indigenous cultures, food security, and low-cost tools for fighting climate change are to be provided by intact natural systems, then the current trajectory of use needs to be reconsidered.

Once intact forests are degraded, their benefits are lost for generations.

No known alternatives can restore all the services they provide.

[rainforest sounds]

Societies around the globe have exploited nature to shape the world we live in without recognizing the full value of intact natural systems.

This relationship has fueled development for centuries, but it is not sustainable for achieving economic growth while also reducing carbon emissions and ensuring human wellbeing.

Only by safeguarding these natural systems can we continue to draw on the environmental, economic, and human benefits they provide.

[bird noise]

For the forest-rich regions of the Indo-Pacific, protecting intact forests is a low-cost pathway for building more resilient and prosperous societies for today and for the future.

[rainforest sounds fade]

End of Transcript

The Cape York Region of northern Australia

Join the Birds-of-Paradise Project team as they explore the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cape York region of northern Australia. Watch them encounter the beauty and diversity of the area’s wildlife as they search for the Magnificent Riflebird, one of the most surprising and spectacular species that the sanctuary harbors.

Show Transcript

[lively music]

[natural sounds]

[helicopter sounds]

[camera sounds]

[natural sounds]

[whistle-like call of the Magnificent Riflebird]

End of Transcript

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