By MALUM NALU
The death of leading Papua New Guinea ornithologist (bird scientist) Paul Igag –internationally renowned for his work in the Crater Mountain area of Eastern Highlands province – has left a huge vacuum and big shoes to fill within the PNG scientific community.
|Paul Igag…a lifetime passion for birds|
Igag, 46, from Krangket village in Madang province, died suddenly last Friday in Goroka after suffering pains in his chest.
The scientific community in both PNG and overseas is mourning the death of Igag, PNG’s first national expert on birds from PNG, who held a PhD
He was one of the first scientific staff at the young Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG, became one of the first scientific staff at the Wildlife Conservation Society PNG Programme, and then became a founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research.
Igag, who was born on Feb 24, 1964, was a leader in PNG's movement toward greater scientific autonomy.
Dozens of students and his co-workers affectionately called him "Uncle Paul”.
Close friends and scientific colleagues have created an online memorial in memory of Igag, which they hope will create a good profile of his life and a last record and tribute of all of his accomplishments.
The memorial, needless to say, has been overflowing, which just goes to show the respect Igag commanded both in PNG and overseas.
“Paul (Igag) was PNG's first home-grown ornithologist,” said longtime colleague Dr Andrew Mack.
“He bridged the world of village PNG and Western academia.
“In the field Paul worked well with local assistants and he always trained up a good team of young men and women to help with his various field projects.
“Back in town, Paul collaborated with top ornithologists worldwide.
“Paul's research covered many topics, but his real passion was large parrots.
“He made important discoveries about palm cockatoos and vulturine parrots that have and will continue to help guide conservation of these threatened species.
“We all grieve, but we should also celebrate how lucky we were to have been in the presence of such a wonderful man.”
Igag had worked on the conservation biology of various species at Crater Mountain since 1999 with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York).
With generous support from the Pacific Biological Foundation, he came to the Australian National University in 2001 to study for a Masters degree under the supervision of Rob Heinsohn and Sarah Legge.
The aim of Igag’s research was to outline the breeding biology and likely causes of threat to three species of large parrot found in the New Guinea rainforest.
Palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) and Pesquet’s parrots (Psittrichus fulgidus) are threatened by over-exploitation for food and the thriving trade in their feathers, and along with Eclectus parrots (Eclectus roratus) are threatened by loss of habitat.
In January this year, the work of Igag and PNGIBR colleague Miriam Supuma, was featured on a high-acclaimed BBC documentary by international environmental icon Sir David Attenborough on the increasingly-rare birds of paradise.
The documentary followed Igag and Supuma as they went about researching how killing birds of paradise for feathers for ceremonial headdress was endangering rare species.
Supuma described him as “a dear friend who will be missed”.
“I especially admired his humbleness, generosity, enthusiasm and energy for work and was in awe of his knowledge of birds when I spent some time with him and the BBC crew filming the Bird of Paradise Documentary back in Aug 2008,” she said.
“I am lucky to have worked with ‘Uncle’ Paul.
“Like most scientists, there is this thirst for knowledge, inquisitiveness about various things in life that intrigues one.
“Apart from biology, I found ‘Uncle’ Paul to be someone who read broadly especially on religion, spiritualism, astrology, and history.”
Supuma remembers Igag once telling her about a supernatural experience along the wartime Bulldog Trail between Wau in Morobe province and Gulf province.
“I once heard Uncle Paul talk about unusual or sinister encounters in the field,” she says.
“He once told us a story of an experience along Bulldog Trail, Lakekamu Basin.
“He was checking mist nests early dusk, in the mid -1990s, and mentioned of this truck in the middle of nowhere honking its horn and chasing him through the dense foliage!
“He later went on to give another example of himself and Michael Kigl doing field work in Manus and experiencing something similar.
“He wanted to understand why this phenomenon occurred - whether it was the mind playing games after a long exhausting day, or the fact that there really existed a spiritual realm.
“He read the Bible and other literature to try to understand this phenomenon.”
The National journalist Thomas Hukahu, who went to school with Igag at Aiyura National High School in Eastern Highlands and later University of PNG, has fond memories of the man.
“In reminiscing, I can understand that Igag, when getting himself into something would be completely passionate about it,” Hukahu remembers.
“He was a person who loved the outdoors and practical life; thus he chose biology - the life science - to study at UPNG.
“Igag did not come the easy way in life to get to where he was before passing away last Friday.
“I know from his stories that he was a school leaver doing College of Distance Education (CODE) studies in Lae, part-timing with doing ‘bicycle kicks’ at the soccer fields, and was accepted to continue to do grade 11 at Aiyura in 1986.
“I first met Igag a year later as his junior at Aiyura, which waste best national high school in the country at that time.
“To many of us, his juniors at Aiyura and UPNG, Igag was ‘Polex’, the jovial soccer star and big brother.
“We rarely saw him exhibiting a bad temper.
“And he had heaps of jokes and fun to put your dark days away.
“In 1989 we joined Igag again at UPNG.
“His enthusiasm for life, clean fun and soccer had him, Boga Figa from Madang and Emunare Embe from Morobe - all ex-Aiyurans - organising us, mainly ex-Aiyurans and a few ex-Kerevats, to form No Gat Nem (NGN), a soccer team participating in the campus competition.
“The competition was run by Eric Kwa, now UPNG’s associate professor in law and a peer of Igag, and his Morobe boys.
“With the leadership of the big boys, who were also playing for University in Port Moresby soccer competition, NGN scooped up three awards in the competition in its first year: best and fairest team, best midfielder and top goal scorer.
“The top goal scorer went to our striker Leonard Boaz from Solomon Islands.
“In the second year Samuel Koyama from East Sepik same on board as the coach/player of NGN and we continued the fun with Igag and others.”
“The natural science academia will certainly miss Igag, the passionate researcher and academic but we, his many friends, school mates and small boys will certainly miss him, the amiable big brother.”
Igag is survived by seven children from two wives.
“Paul (Igag) was a longtime friend and schoolmate,” PNGIBR colleague, forest ecologist Banak Gamui, said.
“He was a passionate man and never had any enemies.
“He always was an icrebreaker in people’s darkest moments.
“His death is a great loss to his friends and family, as well as the scientific community.”
Igag’s body will be flown from Goroka to Madang today and will be at Krangket village until Sunday when a service will be held at 9am.
His body will be laid to rest at 2pm on Sunday.
For more details contact Banak on 72738242 or Francis Igag on 72742102 at Krangket village.