Showing posts from 2019

A New Statue of Alfred Wallace and Ali - and a Standardwing Bird of Paradise - in Singapore

Friday 30th August 2019 saw a delightful gathering at Singapore's Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum . The event, in Singapore's 200th anniversary year, was the unveiling of a new bronze statue of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, and his trusted Sarawakian assistant Ali. Wallace had arrived in Singapore in April 1854 and used the city as a base for his explorations, including his ascent of Mount Ophir later that year. The crowd assembled for the unveiling gathered in the foyer of the museum and was then ushered out by a keen group of volunteers to a tented area in front of the museum's steps. A curved poster announcing "Launch of Wallace & Ali statue" stood behind a dark green sheet covering the hidden statue. After a lively introduction by Professor Peter Ng, senior minister Teo Chee Hean delivered an elegant speech on the significance of Wallace and Ali for Singapore and the merits of a spir

Stone axes from the highlands of Papua New Guinea

The story of first contact in 1933 with the peoples of the central Wahgi Valley in the Papuan highlands is a remarkable one. An unsuspected group of thriving stone-age cultures came to the attention of the outside world when the Leahy brothers first flew over the area and later reached it on foot. Tribal men carried elaborate stone axes and this contact with extant stone-age cultures provided fascinating insights on how their stone tools, such as axes and adzes were hafted. The available evidence was collated in Burton's (1984) Thesis at the Australia National University, on "AXE MAKERS OF THE WAHGI: Pre-colonial industrialists of the Papua New Guinea highlands." I saw a number of these old axes during a visit to the highlands near Mount Hagen in October 2018 (see the Paiya chief photograph below). The area of that journey is shown in the google Earth image shown below. The upper Wahgi River valley with locations of Paiya Village, Mount Giluwe and Mount Hagen t

Moluccan Paradise Kingfishers in Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago" and in the present

I had seen pictures of the amazing paradise kingfishers in books. Beyond the normal colourful kingfisher body, they have incredible long tails terminating in flared tips. The other weekend on the island of Halmahera in the northern Moluccas of Indonesia, I saw a paradise kingfisher in person for the first time. The bird did not present itself in the open for a photograph so I had to peer through the undergrowth, with many blocking leaves and do the best I could under the circumstances. Here it is. Paradise kingfisher, Tanysiptera galatea , near Weda, eastern Halmahera, Saturday 9th March 2019 Alfred Russel Wallace devoted part of his 1869 book "The Malay Archipelago" to these beautiful birds. " I also obtained one or two specimens of the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais , one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family. These birds differ from all other kingfishers (which have usually short tails) by having th

"A great prize, no less than a completely new form of the Bird of Paradise" - an encounter with Wallace's Standardwing

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Wallace's standardwing bird of paradise, named for Alfred Russel Wallace in 1859 by G.R. Gray, " for the indefatigable energy he has hitherto shown in the advancement of ornithological and entomological knowledge, by visiting localities rarely if ever travelled by naturalists ." Standardwing ( Semioptera wallacii halmaherae Salvadori 1881), Saturday 9th March 2019, Weda, Halmahera Alfred Wallace , co-discoverer of the Wallace-Darwin theory of evolution by natural selection, had a particular fascination with the birds of paradise, but, " Five voyages to different parts of the district they inhabit, each occupying in its preparation and execution the larger part of a year, produced only five species out of the fourteen known to exist in the New Guinea district. " On a visit to Batchian Island (Bacan these days), however, there was a great treasure awaiting. When his assistant Ali one day brought him a " curious

Mount Ophir, Malaysia: Alfred Wallace's 1854 ascent and a climb in the present

Over 2017 and 2018, I reached many of the areas Alfred Wallace visited on the journeys he described in "The Malay Archipelago" (1869), from Sumatra and other Indonesian Islands to Borneo to Papua New Guinea. I was missing one excursion that's quite close to home, however, this being Mount Ophir, the highest mountain in southern peninsular Malaysia. Wallace made the climb in 1854. " Having determined to visit Mount Ophir, which is situated in the middle of the peninsula about fifty miles east of Malacca, we engaged six Malays to accompany us and carry our baggage. As we meant to stay at least a week at the mountain, we took with us a good supply of rice, a little biscuit, butter and coffee, some dried fish and a little brandy, with blankets, a change of clothes, insect and bird boxes, nets, guns and ammunition. " View of the forest-clad Mount Ophir, (1276 m), looking south with the Straits of Malacca behind, Google Earth image James and I decided to m