Wrapping Up in High Camp

From the Field posts

This fall, a team of vertebrate specialists from the Museum—Brett Benz, Chris RaxworthyPaul Sweet, and Neil Duncan—is heading out to one of the most remote areas in the world in search of new species and specimens on the Explore21 Papua New Guinea expedition. Paul Sweet will be sending dispatches from the field as long as his laptop—and a signal—persist. 

[Filed October 20] If all goes according to plan, today will be the last day at Wigilia Camp, our home for the past 17 days. 

Explore21 Expedition member Paul Sweet blogs from the team’s Wigilia Camp in Papua New Guinea. © AMNH/P. Sweet 

Explore21 Expedition member Paul Sweet blogs from the team’s Wigilia Camp in Papua New Guinea.

© AMNH/P. Sweet 


Living out in the bush, so far from any road, has been an amazing experience. Although on maps the area looks uninhabited, there are small settlements scattered throughout the forest, and we are visited daily by villagers who bring in kaukau and taro to supplement our rations (we’re still bored of tinned mackerel).

We also employed many of the local people as field assistants, and they have been our daily companions. We have had a real insight into their lives, and I think they have also enjoyed observing us and our strange work.

Our surveys have been fruitful, and all the vertebrate groups were well sampled for this site. Although we occasionally find the odd new species, our species accumulation curve has flattened out—a good sign that we have made a thorough survey. We have recorded around 90 species of birds, 26 species of mammals, and 30 of amphibians and reptiles. 

Several members of the expedition team spent time at a high camp at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). © AMNH/P. Sweet

Several members of the expedition team spent time at a high camp at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters).

© AMNH/P. Sweet


Brett and Chris returned yesterday from their satellite camp at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters ) elevation—where it was reportedly “bloody cold”— and reported species not found here at 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). This is typical for montane faunas, where species drop in and out according to their elevational requirements. Comparing the picture today with data collected in historic expeditions like the Museum’s Archbold Expeditions (a series of seven expeditions to New Guinea conducted between 1933 and 1964) can give us insight into the possible effects of climate change in the tropics. For example, we know that the highest peaks of Papua New Guinea were once topped with glaciers that have disappeared in recent times. 

We spent yesterday taking out our mist nets, mammal traps, and pitfalls, and packing gear and samples. Today, people from the nearby village of Kaskale have been arriving and have started to carry loads on the two-day journey back to our base camp Maluamanda. This afternoon, we expect more people to arrive, hopefully enough to get all our gear out, but since we have no direct communication, there is always uncertainty. 

This group from the nearby village of Kaskale is helping the Explore21 Expedition team on their two-day journey back to base camp. © AMNH/P. Sweet 

This group from the nearby village of Kaskale is helping the Explore21 Expedition team on their two-day journey back to base camp.

© AMNH/P. Sweet 


Once we return to Malaumanda we hope to dry out a little and perhaps wash some clothes (and ourselves). Then we’ll survey around the village for a few days before heading to our low-elevation camp at around 200 meters (650 feet), where vertebrate diversity will be much higher. We also hope to send more updates from the field—at least, for as long as our battery power and signal holds up.

Read the first post in the series here

Tags: Explore21