Searching for Pekpek

Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest


by Andrew L Mack

Shelfmark: CP/BO/032

This personal account of twenty years spent as a researcher, educator and conservationist in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea is written in an easy to read narrative style and interspersed with photographs and sketches.  Andy charts the ups and downs of his attempts to ensure the conservation of cassowaries and their habit. The knowledge and experience gained led him to believe, and attempt to ensure, that the best way forward for conservation in Papua New Guinea is through capacity building.


Andrew Mack immersed himself in a vast expanse of roadless, old growth rainforest of Papua New Guinea in 1987. He and his co-investigator Debra Wright, built a research station by hand and lived there for years. Their mission was to study the secretive and perhaps most dinosaur-like creature still roaming the planet: the cassowary.

The ensuing adventures of this unorthodox biologist studying seeds found in cassowary droppings (pekpek), learning to live among the indigenous Pawai’ia, traversing jungles, fighting pests and loneliness, struggling against unscrupulous oil speculators, and more are woven into a compelling tale that spans two decades. Mack shares the insights he garnered about rainforest ecology while studying something as seemingly mundane as cassowary pekpek. He ultimately gained profound insight into why conservation is failing in places like Papua New Guinea and struggled to create a more viable strategy for conserving some of Earth’s last wild rainforests.


Introduction: Where? Why? My story
Chapter 1. First time in Haia
Chapter 2. Gimi gunfire and bandits
Chapter 3. Droppings galore, a good camp and a flood
Chapter 4. Why fruits and droppings?
Chapter 5. How did I get here?
Chapter 6. Searching for a place to search for droppings
Chapter 7. Deb arrives
Chapter 8. Burglars and the Ubaigubi court system
Chapter 9. Choosing the study area when malaria strikes
Chapter 10. Building the station
Chapter 11. Blazing trails and exploring
Chapter 12. Cassowaries, chiggers and conservation
Chapter 13. Two cassowaries: Huey and Louie
Chapter 14. Big Reds and radio-tracking dung
Chapter 15. Some extraordinary help
Chapter 16. Big Reds and the last contribution to Huey and Louie
Chapter 17. Back to Miami and life in the USA
Chapter 18. Data analysis in Miami and Big Red becomes “my” tree
Chapter 19. Finishing the dissertation and searching for a job
Chapter 20. Meanwhile, back at Sera
Chapter 21. Epiphany: transformation from research to conservation
Chapter 22. Hardships and danger
Chapter 23. Back to PNG (Papua New Guinea) at last and shedding baggage
Chapter 24. Finally, real conservation – capacity building
Chapter 25. InterOil arrives
Chapter 26. Spivs and liars
Chapter 27. Moving ahead despite InterOil
Chapter 28. The dealbreaker
Chapter 29. Things unravel quickly
Chapter 30. Regrouping, yet again
Chapter 31. Closing shop
About the author

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